Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

Kenneth Burke calls form the satisfaction of an expectation; The Man Who Loved Children is full of such satisfactions, but it has a good deal of the deliberate disappointment of an expectation that is also form.

Kenneth Patchen has a real, but disorganized, self-indulgent, but rather commonplace talent. This is not Mr. Patchen?s opinion of himself. (Nor is it that of William Carlos Williams, who almost invents a new language, a kind of system of emotional nonsense syllables, in his effort to praise Mr. Patchen properly. For instance, Mr. Patchen is ?a hawk on the grave of John Donne.? I should have called him a parrot on the stones of half a cemetery.)

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.

Lending a favorite book has its risks; the borrower may not like it. I still don?t know a better novel than Crime and Punishment?still, every fourth or fifth borrower returns it unfinished: it depresses him; besides that, he didn?t believe it. More borrowers than this return the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past unfinished: they were bored. There is no book you can lend people that all of them will like.

In Heaven all reviews will be favorable; here on earth, the publisher realizes, plausibility demands an occasional bad one, some convincing lump in all that leaven, and he accepts it somewhat as a theologian accepts Evil.

Let?s say this together: ?Great me no greats?, and leave this grading to posterity.

In Stage II guilt is first of all social, liberal, moral guilt?a guilt so general as to seem almost formal. It is we who are responsible either by commission or?more generally?by omission, for everything from killing off the Tasmanians to burning the books at Alexandria.

Malraux writes in a language in which there is no way to say "perhaps" or "I don't know," so that after a while we grow accustomed to saying it for him.

In the United States, there one feels free . . . Except from the Americans - but every pearl has its oyster.

Man is the animal that moralizes. Man is also the animal that complains about being one, and says that there is an animal, a beast inside him?that he is brother to dragons. (He is certainly a brother to wolves, and to pandas too, but he is father to dragons, not brother: they, like many gods and devils, are inventions of his.)

In this world, often, there is nothing to praise but no one to blame.

Many a writer has spent his life putting his favorite words in all the places they belong; but how many, like [e.e.] cummings, have spent their lives putting their favorite words in all the places they don?t belong, thus discovering many effects that no one had even realized were possible?

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.

It is better to have the child in the chimney corner moved by what happens in the poem, in spite of his ignorance of its real meaning, than to have the poem a puzzle to which that meaning is the only key. Still, complicated subjects make complicated poems, and some of the best poems can move only the best readers; this is one more question of curves of normal distribution. I have tried to make my poems plain, and most of them are plain enough; but I wish that they were more difficult because I had known more.

It is G.E. Moore at the spinet.

It is like any other work of art. It is and never can be changed. Behind everything there is always the unknown unwanted life.

It is odd how pleasant and sympathetic her poems are, in these days when many a poet had rather walk down children like Mr. Hyde than weep over them like Swinburne, and when many a poem is gruesome occupational therapy for a poet who stays legally innocuous by means of it.

It is rare for a novel to have an ending as good as its middle and beginning.

It is ugly ducklings, grown either into swans or into remarkably big, remarkably ugly ducks, who are responsible for most works of art; and yet how few of these give a truthful account of what it was like to be an ugly duckling!?it is almost as if the grown, successful swan had repressed most of the memories of the duckling?s miserable, embarrassing, magical beginnings. (The memories are deeply humiliating in two ways: they remind the adult that he was once more ignorant and gullible and emotional than he is; and they remind him that he once was, potentially, far more than he is.)

It was not dying: everybody died.

If you look at the world with parted lips and a pure heart, and will the good, won't that make a true and beautiful poem? One's heart tells one that it will; and one's heart is wrong. There is no direct road to Parnassus.

If you never look just wrong to your contemporaries you will never look just right to posterity ? every writer has to try to be, to some extent, sometimes, a law unto himself.

I simply don?t want the poems mixed up with my life or opinions or picture or any other regrettable concomitants. I look like a bear and live in a cave; but you should worry.

Imagism was a reductio ad absurdum of one or two tendencies of romanticism, such a beautifully and finally absurd one that it is hard to believe it existed as anything but a logical construction; and what imagist found it possible to go on writing imagist poetry? A number of poets have stopped writing entirely; others, like recurring decimals, repeat the novelties they commenced with, each time less valuably than before. And there are surrealist poetry, and political poetry, and all the other refuges of the indigent.

I think Miss Moore was right to cut ?The Steeple-Jack? ? the poem seems plainer and clearer in its shortened state ? but she has cut too much... The reader may feel like saying, ?Let her do as she pleases with the poem; it?s hers, isn?t it?? No; it?s much too good a poem for that, it long ago became everybody?s, and we can protest just as we could if Donatello cut off David?s left leg.

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