Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

The motto of his [Robinson Jeffers?s] work is ?More! More!??but as Tolstoy says, ?A wee bit omitted, overemphasized, or exaggerated in poetry, and there is no contagion?; and Frost, bearing him out, says magnificently: ?A very little of anything goes a long way in a work of art.?

The work of a poet who has a real talent, but not for words.

The nurse is the night to wake to, to die in: and the day I live, the world and its life are her dreams.

The world goes by my cage and never sees me.

The poet needs to be deluded about his poems?for who can be sure that it is delusion? In his strongest hours the public hardly exists for the writer; he does what he ought to do, has to do, and if afterwards some Public wishes to come and crown him with laurel crowns, well, let it! if critics wish to tell people all that he isn?t, well, let them?he knows what he is. But at night when he can?t get to sleep it seems to him that it is what he is, his own particular personal quality, that he is being disliked for. It is this that the future will like him for, if it likes him for anything; but will it like him for anything? The poet?s hope is in posterity, but it is a pale hope; and now that posterity itself has become a pale hope.

The poets of the last generation were extremely erudite, but their erudition was of the rather specialized type that passed as currency of the realm in a somewhat literary realm. About Darwin, Marx, Freud and Co., about all characteristically ?scientific? or ?modern? thinkers most of them concluded regretfully: ?If they had not existed, it would not have been necessary to ignore them.? (Or deplore them.)

The real war poets are always war poets, peace or any time.

The really damned not only like Hell, they feel loyal to it.

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 critic said that once a year he read Kim; and he read Kim, it was plain, at whim: not to teach, not to criticize, just for love?he read it, as Kipling wrote it, just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn?t help himself. To him it wasn?t a means to a lecture or article, it was an end; he read it not for anything he could get out of it, but for itself. And isn?t this what the work of art demands of us? The work of art, Rilke said, says to us always: You must change your life. It demands of us that we too see things as ends, not as means?that we too know them and love them for their own sake. This change is beyond us, perhaps, during the active, greedy, and powerful hours of our lives; but duringthe contemplative and sympathetic hours of our reading, our listening, our looking, it is surely within our power, if we choose to make it so, if we choose to let one part of our nature follow its natural desires. So I say to you, for a closing sentence, Read at whim! read at whim!

She said to Constance, parodying a line of poetry that attracted her, "In the United States, there one feels free." But she spoiled it by continuing, "Except from the Americans?but every pearl has its oyster."

The dark, uneasy world of family life - where the greatest can fail and the humblest succeed.

She would have come from Paradise and complained to God that the apple wasn?t a winesap at all, but a great big pulpy Washington Delicious; and after the Ark she would have said that there had not been the animals, the spring rains, and the nice long ocean-voyage the prospectus from the travel agency had led her to expect?and that she had been most disappointed at not finding on Mount Ararat Prometheus.

Since most people know about the modern poet only that he is obscure?i.e., that he is difficult, i.e., that he is neglected ? they naturally make a causal connection between the two meanings of the word, and decide that he is unread because he is difficult. Some of the time this is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry.

Since Pharaoh?s bits were pushed into the jaws of kings, these dyings?patient or impatient, but dyings?have happened, by the hundreds of millions; they were all wasted. They taught us to kill others and to die ourselves, but never how to live. Who is ?taught to live? by cruelty, suffering, stupidity, and that occupational disease of soldiers, death?

Some of Mr. Gregory?s poems have merely appeared in The New Yorker; others are New Yorker poems: the inclusive topicality, the informed and casual smartness, the flat fashionable irony, meaningless because it proceeds from a frame of reference whose amorphous superiority is the most definite thing about it?they are the trademark not simply of a magazine but of a class.

Somewhere there must be something that's different from everything. All that I've never thought of ? think of me!

Stevens does not think of inspiration (or whatever you want to call it) as a condition of composition. He too is waiting for the spark from heaven to fall?poets have no choice about this?but he waits writing; and this?other things being equal, when it?s possible, if it?s possible?is the best way for a poet to wait.

Stevens?s poetry makes one understand how valuable it can be for a poet to write a great deal. Not too much of that great deal, ever, is good poetry; but out of quantity can come practice, naturalness, accustomed mastery, adaptations and elaborations and reversals of old ways, new ways, even?so that the poet can put into the poems, at the end of a lifetime, what the end of a lifetime brings him. Stevens has learned to write at will, for pleasure; his methods of writing, his ways of imagining, have made this possible for him as it is impossible for many living poets?Eliot, for instance. Anything can be looked at, felt about, meditated upon, so Stevens can write about anything; he does not demand of his poems the greatest concentration, intensity, dramatic immediacy, the shattering and inexplicable rightness the poet calls inspiration.

Such cultural homosexuality is an alienation more or less forced upon certain groups of Auden?s society by the form of their education and the nature of their social and financial conditions. Where the members of a class and a sex are taught, in a prolonged narcissistic isolation, to hero-worship themselves?class and sex; where?to a different class?unemployment is normal, where one?s pay is inadequate or impossible for more than one; where children are expensive liabilities instead of assets; where women are business competitors; where most social relationships have become as abstract, individualistic, and mobile as the relations of the labor market, homosexuality is a welcome asset to the state, one of the cheapest and least dangerous forms of revolution.

Taking the chance of making a complete fool of himself ? and, sometimes, doing so ? is the first demand that is made upon any real critic: he must stick his neck out just as the artist does, if he is to be of any real use to art.

That most human and American of presidents?of Americans?Abraham Lincoln, said as a young man: ?The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who?ll get me a book I ain?t read.? It?s a hard heart, and a dull one, that doesn?t go out to that sentence. The man who will make us see what we haven?t seen, feel what we haven?t felt, understand what we haven?t understood?he is our best friend. And if he knows more than we do, that is an invitation to us, not an indictment of us. And it is not an indictment of him, either; it takes all sorts of people to make a world?to make, even, a United States of America.

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