poem index

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)

Well Water

Randall Jarrell, 1914 - 1965
What a girl called "the dailiness of life"
(Adding an errand to your errand.  Saying,
"Since you're up . . ." Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours.  And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

From The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1969, 1996 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell. Used with permission.

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
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
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