Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

One of our universities recently made a survey of the reading habits of the American public; it decided that forty-eight percent of all Americans read, during a year, no book at all. I picture to myself that reader ? that non-reader, rather; one man out of every two ? and I reflect, with shame: "Our poems are too hard for him." But so, too, are Treasure Island, Peter Rabbit, pornographic novels ? any book whatsoever.

One of the most obvious facts about grown-ups, to a child, is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a child. The child has not yet had the chance to know what it is like to be a grownup; he believes, even, that being a grownup is a mistake he will never make?when he grows up he will keep on being a child, a big child with power. So the child and grownup live in mutual love, misunderstanding, and distaste. Children shout and play and cry and want candy; grownups say Ssh! and work and scold and want steak. There is no disputing tastes as contradictory as these. It is not just Mowgli who was raised by a couple of wolves; any child is raised by a couple of grownups. Father and Mother may be nearer and dearer than anyone will ever be again?still, they are members of a different species. God is, I suppose, what our parents were; certainly the ogre of the stories is so huge, so powerful, and so stupid because that is the way a grownup looks to a child. Grownups forget or cannot believe that they seem even more unreasonable to children than children seem to them.

One of the most puzzling things about a novel is that ?the way it really was? half the time is, and half the time isn?t, the way it ought to be in the novel.

One straggles gracelessly through a wilderness of common sense. It is an experience for which the reader of modern criticism is unprepared: in that jungle through which one wanders, with its misshapen and extravagant and cannibalistic growths, bent double with fruit and tentacles, disquieting with their rank eccentric life, one comes surprisingly on something so palely healthy: a decorous plant, without thorns or flowers, rootless in the thin sand of the drawing room.

One thinks with awe and longing of this real and extraordinary popularity of hers : if there were some poet?Frost, Stevens, Eliot?whom people still read in canoes!

One thinks with awe and longing of this real and extraordinary popularity of hers [Edna St. Vincent Millay?s]: if there were some poet?Frost, Stevens, Eliot?whom people still read in canoes!

One Whitman is miracle enough, and when he comes again it will be the end of the world.

One year they sent a million here: here men were drunk like water, burnt like wood. The fat of good and evil, the breast's star of hope were rendered into soap.

Many poets...write as if they had been decerebrated, and not simply lobotomized, as a cure for their melancholia.

Many young poets, nowadays, are insured against everything. For them poetry is a game like court tennis or squash racquets ? one they learned at college ? and they play it with propriety, as part of their social and academic existence; their poems are occasional verse for which life itself is only one more occasion.

Marx said that he had stood Hegel on his head; often Mr. [Horace] Gregory has simply stood Pollyanna on her head.

Miss Rasmussen made a welded sculpture. Her statues were?as she would say, smiling?untouched by human hands; and they looked it. You could tell one from another, if you wanted to, but it was hard to want to. You felt, yawning: It?s ugly, but is it Art? Miss Rasmussen also designed furniture, but people persisted in sitting down in her sculpture, and in asking ?What is that named?? of her chairs. This showed how advanced her work was, and pleased her; yet when she laughed to show her pleasure, her laugh sounded thin and strained.

Modern poetry is necessarily obscure; if the reader can't get it, let him eat Browning.

Modern poetry is, essentially, an extension of romanticism; it is what romantic poetry wishes or finds it necessary to become. It is the end product of romanticism, all past and no future; it is impossible to go further by any extrapolation of the process by which we have arrived, and certainly it is impossible to remain where we are?who could endure a century of transition?

More and more people think of the critic as an indispensable middle man between writer and reader, and would no more read a book alone, if they could help it, than have a baby alone.

Most of the people in a war never fight for even a minute?though they bear for years and die forever. They do not fight, but only starve, only suffer, only die: the sum of all this passive misery is that great activity, War.

Most people don't listen to classical music at all, but to rock-and-roll or hillbilly songs or some album named Music To Listen To Music By.

Most poets, most good poets even, no longer have the heart to write about what is most terrible in the world of the present: the bombs waiting beside the rockets, the hundreds of millions staring into the temporary shelter of their television sets, the decline of the West that seems less a decline than the fall preceding an explosion.

Most works of art are, necessarily, bad...; one suffers through the many for the few.

Mrs. Robbins asked: ?If I am not for myself, who then is for me???and she was for herself so passionately that the other people in the world decided that they were not going to let Pamela Robbins beat them at her own game, and stopped playing.

My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers, her undressed, operated-on, dressed body were my face and body.

New Directions is a reviewer?s nightmare; it?s enough punishment to read it all, without writing about it too.

Now that I'm old, my wish is womanish: that the boy putting groceries in my car see me.

Nowadays when a poet with one privately printed book can have his next three years taken care of by a Guggenheim fellowship, a Kenyon Reviewfellowship, and the Prix de Rome, it is hard to remember what chances the poet took in that small-town world, how precariously hand-to-mouth his existence was. And yet in one way the old days were better; [Vachel] Lindsay after a while, by luck and skill, got far more readers than any poet could get today.

Individualism, isolation, alienation. The poet is not only different from society, he is as different as possible from other poets; all this differentness is exploited to the limit?is used as subject matter, even. Each poet develops an elaborate, ?personalized?, bureaucratized machinery of effect; refine your singularities is everybody?s maxim.

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