Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

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 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.

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.

The Author to the Reader I?ve read that Luther said (it?s come to me so often that I?ve made it into meter): and even if the world should end tomorrow I still would plant my little apple-tree. Here, reader, is my little apple-tree.

The best of cause ruins as quickly as the worst; and the road to Limbo is paved with writers who have done everything?I am being sympathetic, not satiric?for the very best reasons.

The cat's asleep; I whisper kitten till he stirs a little and begins to purr-- he doesn't wake. Today out on the limb (The limb he thinks he can't climb down from). He mewed until I heard him in the house. I climbed up to get him down: he mewed. What he says and what he sees are limited. My own response is even more constricted. I think, It's lucky; what you have is too. What do you have except--well, me? I joke about it but it's not a joke; the house and I are all he remembers. Next month how will he guess that it is winter and not just entropy, the universe plunging at last into its cold decline? I cannot think of him without a pang. Poor rumpled thing, why don't you see that you have no more, really, than a man? Men aren't happy; why are you?

The characteristic poetic strategy of our time?refine your singularities?is something Auden has not learned; so his best poems are very peculiarly good, nearly the most interesting poems of our time. When he writes badly, we can afford to be angry at him, and he can afford to laugh at us.

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!

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

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