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October 29, 1964Guggenhiem MuseumFrom the Academy Audio Archive

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)

Next Day

Randall Jarrell, 1914 - 1965
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 All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children.  Now that I'm old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me.  It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered.  How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life.  Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home.  Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them.  As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate.  Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old."  That's all, I'm old.

And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her I hear her telling me

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

From The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1969, renewed 1997 by Mary von S. Jarrell. Reprinted with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, LLC.

From The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1969, renewed 1997 by Mary von S. Jarrell. Reprinted with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, LLC.

Randall Jarrell

Randall Jarrell

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

by this poet

poem
If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
A puppy laps the water from a can
Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving
Whistles O Paradiso!--shall I say that man
Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?

The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one
Lies counting missions,
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
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