Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

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.

Just as great men are great disasters, overwhelmingly good poets are overwhelmingly bad influences.

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?

If I tell you that Mrs. Robbins had bad teeth and looked like a horse, you will laugh at me as a clich‚-monger; yet it is the truth. I can do nothing with the teeth; but let me tell you that she looked like a French horse, a dark, Mediterranean, market-type horse that has all its life begrudged to the poor the adhesive-tape on a torn five-franc note - that has tiptoed (to save its shoes) for centuries along that razor-edge where Greed and Caution meet.

If my tone is mocking, the tone of someone accustomed to helplessness, this is natural: the poet is a condemned man for whom the State will not even buy breakfast ? and as someone said, ?If you?re going to hang me, you mustn?t expect to be able to intimidate me into sparing your feelings during the execution.?

If poetry were nothing but texture, [Dylan] Thomas would be as good as any poet alive. The what of his poems is hardly essential to their success, and the best and most brilliantly written pieces usually say less than the worst.

If sometimes we are bogged down in lines full of ?corybulous?, ?hypogeum?, ?plangent?, ?irrefragably?, ?glozening?, ?tellurian?, ?conclamant?, sometimes we are caught up in the soaring rapture of something unprecedented, absolutely individual.

If there were only some mechanism (like Seurat's proposed system of painting, or the projected Universal Algebra that G”del believes Leibnitz to have perfected and mislaid) for reasonably and systematically converting into poetry what we see and feel and are! When one reads the verse of people who cannot write poems ? people who sometimes have more intelligence, sensibility, and moral discrimination than most of the poets ? it is hard not to regard the Muse as a sort of fairy godmother who says to the poet, after her colleagues have showered on him the most disconcerting and ambiguous gifts, "Well, never mind. You're still the only one that can write poetry."

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

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