Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

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.

The head withdraws into its hatch (a boy's), the engines rise to their blind laboring roar, and the green, made beasts run home to air. Now in each aspect death is pure.

The weight and concentration of the poems fall upon things (and those great things, animals and people), in their tough, laconic, un-get-pastable plainness: they have kept the stolid and dangerous inertia of the objects of the sagas?the sword that snaps, the man looking at his lopped-off leg and saying, ?That was a good stroke.?

The moon rises. The red cubs rolling in the ferns by the rotten oak stare over a marsh and a meadow to the farm's white wisp of smoke. A spark burns, high in heaven. Deer thread the blossoming rows of the old orchard, rabbits hop by the well-curb. The cock crows from the tree by the widow's walk; two stars in the trees to the west, are snared, and an owl's soft cry runs like a breath through the forest. Here too, though death is hushed, though joy obscures, like night, their wars, the beings of this world are swept by the Strife that moves the stars.

The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain, pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards tearing the meat the flies have clouded.

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.

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!

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.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

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