Randall Jarrell


American Poet, Novelist, Critic, Children's Author, Essayist

Author Quotes

Who would be such a fool as to make advances to his reader, advances which might end in rejection or, worse still, in acceptance?

You Americans do not rear children, you incite them; you give them food and shelter and applause.

You give me the feeling that the universe was made by something more than human for something less than human. But I identify myself, as always, with something that there's something wrong with, with something human.

You often feel about something in Shakespeare or Dostoevsky that nobody ever said such a thing, but it's just the sort of thing people would say if they could ? is more real, in some sense, than what people do say. If you have given your imagination free rein, let things go as far as they want to go, the world they made for themselves while you watched can have, for you and later watchers, a spontaneous finality.

When you begin to read a poem you are entering a foreign country whose laws and language and life are a kind of translation of your own; but to accept it because its stews taste exactly like your old mother's hash, or to reject it because the owl-headed goddess of wisdom in its temple is fatter than the Statue of Liberty, is an equal mark of that want of imagination, that inaccessibility to experience, of which each of us who dies a natural death will die.

When you call people we you find it easy to be unfair to them, since you yourself are included in the condemnation.

When you're young you try to be methodical and philosophical, but reality keeps breaking in.

Whether they write poems or don't write poems, poets are best.

Whitehead is supposed to have said of Russell: Bertie thinks me muddleheaded and I think Bertie simple-minded.

We were given drinks, and drank them, and talked while we drank them. But talked, here, is a euphemism: we had that conversation about how you make a Martini. The people in Hell, Dr. Rosenbaum had told me once, say nothing but What? Americans in Hell tell each other how to make Martinis.

What Miss Moore?s best poetry does, I can say best in her words: it ?comes into and steadies the soul,? so that the reader feels himself ?a life prisoner, but reconciled.?

What to leave out is the first thing the artist has to decide; a painter who ?held the mirror up to nature? would spend his life on the leaves of one landscape. The work of art?s fluctuating and idiosyncratic threshold of attention?the great things disregarded, the small things seized and dwelt on?is as much of a signature as anything in it.

What we are most anxious about is our anxiety itself: the greatest of all sins, Auden learns from Kafka, is impatience?and he decides that the hero ?is, in fact, one who is not anxious.? But it was inevitable that Auden should arrive at this point. His anxiety is fundamental; and the one thing that anxiety cannot do is to accept itself, to do nothing about itself?consequently it admires more than anything else in the world doing nothing, sitting still, waiting.

When General Eisenhower defined an intellectual as ?a man who takes more words than is necessary to tell more than he knows?, he was speaking not as a Republican but as an American.

When I was asked to talk about the Obscurity of the Modern Poet I was delighted, for I have suffered from this obscurity all my life. But then I realized that I was being asked to talk not about the fact that people don?t read poetry, but about the fact that most of them wouldn?t understand it if they did: about the difficulty, not the neglect, of contemporary poetry. And yet it is not just modern poetry, but poetry, that is today obscure. Paradise Lost is what it was; but the ordinary reader no longer makes the mistake of trying to read it ? instead he glances at it, weighs it in his hand, shudders, and suddenly, his eyes shining, puts it on his list of the ten dullest books he has ever read, along with Moby-Dick,War and Peace, Faust, and Boswell?s Life of Johnson. But I am doing this ordinary reader an injustice: it was not the Public, nodding over its lunch-pail, but the educated reader, the reader the universities have trained, who a few weeks ago, to the Public?s sympathetic delight, put together this list of the world?s dullest books.

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.

When she said primal scene there was so much youth and knowledge in her face, so much of our first joy in created things, that I could not think of Benton for thinking of life. I suppose she was right: it is as hard to satisfy our elders? demands of Independence as of Dependence. Harder: how much more complicated and indefinite a rationalization the first usually is!?and in both cases, it is their demands that must be satisfied, not our own. The faculty of Benton had for their students great expectations, and the students shook, sometimes gave, beneath the weight of them. If the intellectual demands were not so great as they might have been, the emotional demands made up for it. Many a girl, about to deliver to one of her teachers a final report on a year?s not-quite-completed project, had wanted to cry out like a child, ?Whip me, whip me, Mother, just don?t be Reasonable!?

When we look at the age in which we live?no matter what age it happens to be?it is hard for us not to be depressed by it. The taste of the age is, always, a bitter one. ?What kind of a time is this when one must envy the dead and buried!? said Goethe about his age; yet Matthew Arnold would have traded his own time for Goethe?s almost as willingly as he would have traded his own self for Goethe?s. How often, after a long day witnessing elementary education, School Inspector Arnold came home, sank into what I hope was a Morris chair, looked ?round him at the Age of Victoria, that Indian Summer of the Western World, and gave way to a wistful, exacting, articulate despair! Do people feel this way because our time is worse than Arnold?s, and Arnold?s than Goethe?s, and so on back to Paradise? Or because forbidden fruits?the fruits forbidden to us by time?are always the sweetest? Or because we can never compare our own age with an earlier age, but only with books about that age? We say that somebody doesn?t know what he is missing; Arnold, pretty plainly, didn?t know what he was having. The people who live in a Golden Age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks. Maybe we too are living in a Golden or, anyway, Gold-Plated Age, and the people of the future will look back at us and say ruefully: ?We never had it so good.? And yet the thought that they will say this isn?t as reassuring as it might be. We can see that Goethe?s and Arnold?s ages weren?t as bad as Goethe and Arnold thought them: after all, they produced Goethe and Arnold. In the same way, our times may not be as bad as we think them: after all, they have produced us. Yet this too is a thought that isn?t as reassuring as it might be.

When we read what Goethe says about men we are ashamed of what we have said; when we read what he says about painting and statues we are ashamed of what Goethe has said.

When we think of the masterpieces that nobody praised and nobody read, back there in the past, we feel an impatient superiority to the readers of the past. If we had been there, we can?t help feeling, we?d have known that Moby-Dick was a good book?-why, how could anyone help knowing? But suppose someone says to us, Well, you?re here now: what?s our own Moby-Dick? What?s the book that, a hundred years from now, everybody will look down on us for not having liked? What do we say then?

These calves, grown muscular with certainties; this nose, three medium-sized pink strawberries.

They have thrown away her electric toothbrush, someone else slips the key into the lock of her safety-deposit box at the Crocker-Anglo Bank; her seat at the cricket matches is warmed by buttocks less delectable than hers.

They said, Here are the maps; we burned the cities. It was not dying?no, not ever dying; but the night I died I dreamed that I was dead, and the cities said to me: Why are you dying? We are satisfied, if you are; but why did I die?

This poet is now, most of the time, an elder statesman like Baruch or Smuts, full of complacent wisdom and cast-iron whimsy. But of course there was always a good deal of this in the official r“le that Frost created for himself; one imagines Yeats saying about Frost, as Sarah Bernhardt said about Nijinsky: ?I fear, I greatly fear, that I have just seen the greatest actor in the world.? Sometimes it is this public figure, this official r“le ? the Only Genuine Robert Frost in Captivity ? that writes the poems, and not the poet himself; and then one gets a self-made man?s political editorials, full of cracker-box philosophizing, almanac joke-cracking ? of a snake-oil salesman?s mysticism; one gets the public figure?s relishing consciousness of himself, an astonishing constriction of imagination and sympathy; one gets sentimentality and whimsicality; an arch complacency, a complacent archness; and one gets Homely Wisdom till the cows come home.

This sort of admission of error, of change, makes us trust a critic as nothing else but omniscience could...

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American Poet, Novelist, Critic, Children's Author, Essayist