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About this poet

On May 6, 1914, Randall Jarrell was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Vanderbilt University. From 1937 to 1939 he taught at Kenyon College, where he met John Crowe Ransom and Robert Lowell, and then at the University of Texas.

His first book of poems, Blood for a Stranger (Harcourt, 1942), was published in 1942, the same year he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He soon left the Air Corps for the army and worked as a control tower operator, an experience which provided much material for his poetry.

Jarrell's reputation as a poet was established in 1945, while he was still serving in the army, with the publication of his second book, Little Friend, Little Friend (Dial Press, 1945), which bitterly and dramatically documents the intense fears and moral struggles of young soldiers. Other volumes followed, all characterized by great technical skill, empathy with the lives of others, and an almost painful sensitivity.

Following the war, Jarrell accepted a teaching position at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and remained there, except for occasional absences to teach elsewhere, until his death. Jarrell is highly regarded not only as a poet, but also as a peerless literary essayist, and was considered the most astute (and most feared) poetry critic of his generation. Robert Lowell, in an essay published after Jarrell's death, wrote, "What Jarrell's inner life was in all its wonder, variety, and subtlety is best told in his poetry...His gifts, both by nature and by a lifetime of hard dedication and growth, were wit, pathos, and brilliance of intelligence. These qualities, dazzling in themselves, were often so well employed that he became, I think, the most heartbreaking English poet of his generation...Always behind the sharpened edge of his lines, there is the merciful vision, his vision, partial like all others, but an illumination of life, too sad and radiant for us to stay with long—or forget."

Randall Jarrell was struck by a car and killed at the age of fifty-one on October 14, 1965, a death which may have been a suicide.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)
Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969)
The Lost World (Macmillan, 1965)
The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Poems & Translations (Atheneum, 1960)
Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1955)
The Seven-league Crutches (Harcourt, 1951)
Losses (Harcourt, 1948)
Little Friend, Little Friend (Dial Press, 1945)
Blood for a Stranger (Harcourt, 1942)

Prose

No Other Book: Selected Essays (HarperCollins, 1999)
Jarrell's Letters: An Autobiographical and Literary Selection (Houghton Mifflin, 1985)
Kipling, Auden and Co.: Essays and Reviews 1935-1964 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980)
The Third Book of Criticism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975)
A Sad Heart at the Supermarket (Atheneum, 1962)
Poetry and the Age (Vintage, 1955)

Fiction

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy (Meridan Fiction, 1960)

A Man Meets a Woman in the Street

Randall Jarrell, 1914 - 1965
Under the separated leaves of shade
Of the gingko, that old tree
That has existed essentially unchanged
Longer than any other living tree, 
I walk behind a woman. Her hair's coarse gold
Is spun from the sunlight that it rides upon.
Women were paid to knit from sweet champagne
Her second skin: it winds and unwinds, winds
Up her long legs, delectable haunches,
As she sways, in sunlight, up the gazing aisle.
The shade of the tree that is called maidenhair,
That is not positively known
To exist in a wild state, spots her fair or almost fair
Hair twisted in a French twist; tall or almost tall,
She walks through the air the rain has washed, a clear thing
Moving easily on its high heels, seeming to men
Miraculous . . . Since I can call her, as Swann couldn't,
A woman who is my type, I follow with the warmth
Of familiarity, of novelty, this new
Example of the type,
Reminded of how Lorenz's just-hatched goslings
Shook off the last remnants of the egg
And, looking at Lorenz, realized that Lorenz
Was their mother. Quacking, his little family
Followed him everywhere; and when they met a goose, 
Their mother, they ran to him afraid. 

Imprinted upon me
Is the shape I run to, the sweet strange
Breath-taking contours that breathe to me: "I am yours,
Be mine!"
              Following this new
Body, somehow familiar, this young shape, somehow old,
For a moment I'm younger, the century is younger.
The living Strauss, his moustache just getting gray,
Is shouting to the players: "Louder!
Louder! I can still hear Madame Schumann-Heink—"
Or else, white, bald, the old man's joyfully
Telling conductors they must play Elektra
Like A Midsummer Night's Dream—like fairy music;
Proust, dying, is swallowing his iced beer
And changing in proof the death of Bergotte
According to his own experience; Garbo, 
A commissar in Paris, is listening attentively
To the voice telling how McGillicuddy met McGillivray, 
And McGillivray said to McGillicuddy—no, McGillicuddy
Said to McGillivray—that is, McGillivray . . . Garbo
Says seriously: "I vish dey'd never met."

As I walk behind this woman I remember
That before I flew here—waked in the forest
At dawn, by the piece called Birds Beginning Day
That, each day, birds play to begin the day—
I wished as men wish: "May this day be different!"
The birds were wishing, as birds wish—over and over, 
With a last firmness, intensity, reality—
"May this day be the same!"
                                        Ah, turn to me
And look into my eyes, say: "I am yours, 
Be mine!"
              My wish will have come true. And yet
When your eyes meet my eyes, they'll bring into 
The weightlessness of my pure wish the weight
Of a human being: someone to help or hurt,
Someone to be good to me, to be good to, 
Someone to cry when I am angry
That she doesn't like Elektra, someone to start out on Proust with.
A wish, come true, is life. I have my life.
When you turn just slide your eyes across my eyes
And show in a look flickering across your face
As lightly as a leaf's shade, a bird's wing, 
That there is no one in the world quite like me, 
That if only . . . If only . . . 
                                      That will be enough.

But I've pretended long enough: I walk faster
And come close, touch with the tip of my finger
The nape of her neck, just where the gold
Hair stops, and the champagne-colored dress begins. 
My finger touches her as the gingko's shadow
Touches her. 
                  Because, after all, it is my wife
In a new dress from Bergdorf's, walking toward the park.
She cries out, we kiss each other, and walk arm in arm
Through the sunlight that's much too good for New York, 
The sunlight of our own house in the forest.
Still, though, the poor things need it . . . We've no need
To start out on Proust, to ask each other about Strauss. 
We first helped each other, hurt each other, years ago.
After so many changes made and joys repeated, 
Our first bewildered, transcending recognition 
Is pure acceptance. We can't tell our life
From our wish. Really I began the day
Not with a man's wish: "May this day be different,"
But with the birds' wish: "May this day
Be the same day, the day of my life."

From The Complete Poems. Copyright © 1969 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

From The Complete Poems. Copyright © 1969 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Randall Jarrell

Randall Jarrell

Known for his essays, criticism, and poetry, Randall Jarrell was born in 1914

by this poet

poem
The saris go by me from the embassies.

Cloth from the moon.  Cloth from another planet.  
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.

And I. . . .
          this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed
poem
From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
poem
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook.  Wisdom, said William James,

Is learning what to overlook.  And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy