Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

To Americans, English manners are far more frightening than none at all.

Underneath all his writing there is the settled determination to use certain words, to take certain attitudes, to produce a certain atmosphere; what he is seeing or thinking or feeling has hardly any influence on the way he writes. The reader can reply, ironically, "That's what it means to have a style"; but few people have so much of one, or one so obdurate that you can say of it, "It is a style that no subject can change."

We always tend to distrust geniuses about genius, as if what they say didn't arouse much empathy in us, or as if we were waiting till some more reliable source of information came along...

We are all?so to speak?intellectuals about something.

We are willing to admit the normality of the abnormal?are willing to admit that we never understood the normal better than when it has been allowed to reach its full growth and become the abnormal.

We died like aunts of pets or foreigners.

We know from many experiences that this is what the work of art does: its life ? in which we have shared the alien existences both of this world and of that different world to which the work of art alone gives us access ? unwillingly accuses our lives.

The writer does not get from his work as he writes and reads it the same aesthetic shock that the reader does; and since the writer is so accustomed to reading other stories, and having them produce a decided effect upon him, he is disquieted at not being equally affected by his own.

We like somebody who succeeds with such bad conscience, and who seems to wish that he had the nerve to be a failure or, better still, something to which the terms success and failure don?t apply?as when Mallory said, about Everest: ?Success is meaningless here.?

There are some good things and some fantastic ones in Auden?s early attitude; if the reader calls it a muddle I shall acquiesce, with the remark that the later position might be considered a more rarefied muddle. But poets rather specialize in muddles?and I have no doubt which of the muddles was better for Auden?s poetry: one was fertile and usable, the other decidedly is not. Auden sometimes seems to be saying with Henry Clay, ?I had rather be right than poetry?; but I am not sure, then, that he is either.

We live in an age which eschews sentimentality as if it were a good deal more than the devil. (Actually, of course, a writer may be just as sentimental in laying undue emphasis on sexual crimes as on dying mothers: sentimental, like scientific, is an adjective that relates to method, not to matter.)

There is in this world no line so bad that someone won?t someday copy it.

We never step twice into the same Auden.?HERACLITUS

There is something essentially ridiculous about critics, anyway: what is good is good without our saying so, and beneath all our majesty we know this.

We read our mail and counted up our missions ? in bombers named for girls, we burned the cities we had learned about in school ? till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among the people we had killed and never seen. When we lasted long enough they gave us medals; when we died they said, "Our casualties were low." They said, "Here are the maps"; we burned the cities.

The round-square may be impossible, but we believe in it because it is impossible. [e.e.] cummings is a very great expert in all these, so to speak, illegal syntactical devices: his misuse of parts of speech, his use of negative prefixes, his word-coining, his systematic relation of words that grammar and syntax don?t permit us to relate?all this makes him a magical bootlegger or moonshiner of language, one who intoxicates us on a clear liquor no government has legalized with its stamp.

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.

The soul has no assignments, neither cooks nor referees: it wastes its time. It wastes its time. Here in this enclave there are centuries for you to waste: the short and narrow stream of life meanders into a thousand valleys of all that was, or might have been, or is to be. The books, just leafed through, whisper endlessly.

The Southern past, the Southern present, the Southern future, concentrated into Gertrude's voice, became one of red clay pine-barrens, of chain-gang camps, of housewives dressed in flour sacks who stare all day dully down into dirty sinks.

The tags' chain stirs with the wind; and I sleep paid, dead, and a soldier. Who fights for his own life loses, loses: I have killed for my world, and am free.

The usual bad poem in somebody?s Collected Works is a learned, mannered, valued habit, a habit a little more careful than, and little emptier than, brushing one?s teeth.

The firelight of a long, blind, dreaming story lingers upon your lips; and I have seen firm, fixed forever in your closing eyes, the Corn King beckoning to his Spring Queen.

The usual criticism of a novel about an artist is that, no matter how real he is as a man, he is not real to us as an artist, since we have to take on trust the works of art he produces.

The greatest American industry?why has no one ever said so??is the industry of using words. We pay tens of millions of people to spend their lives lying to us, or telling us the truth, or supplying us with a nourishing medicinal compound of the two. All of us are living in the middle of a dark wood?a bright Technicolored forest?of words, words, words. It is a forest in which the wind is never still: there isn?t a tree in the forest that is not, for every moment of its life and our lives, persuading or ordering or seducing or overawing us into buying this, believing that, voting for the other.

The ways we miss our lives are life.

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