Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

I don?t need to praise anything so justly famous as Frost?s observation of and empathy with everything in Nature from a hornet to a hillside; and he has observed his own nature, one person?s random or consequential chains of thoughts and feelings and perceptions, quite as well. (And this person, in the poems, is not the ?alienated artist? cut off from everybody who isn?t, yum-yum, another alienated artist; he is someone like normal people only more so ? a normal person in the less common and more important sense of normal.)

Goethe said, ?The author whom a lexicon can keep up with is worth nothing?; Somerset Maugham says that the finest compliment he ever received was a letter in which one of his readers said: ?I read your novel without having to look up a single word in the dictionary.? These writers, plainly, lived in different worlds.

I have trouble knowing what to do at parties. Prisoners tame mice, or make rings out of spoons: I analyze people?s handwriting...or else ask you to tell me what you read when you were a child. (People speak unusually well of the books of their childhood, don?t they? Or is this one more life-giving illusion?) I love to see a hard eye grow soft over Little Women... And, I?ve found, there?s no children?s book so bad that I mind your having liked it: about the tastes of dead children there is no disputing.

Good American poets are surprisingly individual and independent; they have little of the member-of-the-Academy, official man-of-letters feel that English or continental poets often have. When American poets join literary political parties, doctrinaire groups with immutable principles, whose poems themselves are manifestoes, the poets are ruined by it. We see this in the beatniks, with their official theory that you write a poem by putting down anything that happens to come into your head; this iron spontaneity of theirs makes it impossible for even a talented beatnik to write a good poem except by accident, since it eliminates the selection, exclusion, and concentration that are an essential part of writing a poem. Besides, their poems are as direct as true works of art are indirect: ironically, these conscious social manifestoes of theirs, these bohemian public speeches, make it impossible for the artist?s unconscious to operate as it normally does in the process of producing a work of art.

I see you, now that you aren't here. Before You were and I saw nothing. I shut my eyes.

Habits are happiness of a sort.

I shook myself; I was dreaming. As I went to bed the words of the eighth-grade class?s teacher, when the class got to Evangeline, kept echoing in my ears: ?We?re coming to a long poem now, boys and girls. Now don?t be babies and start counting the pages.? I lay there like a baby, counting the pages over and over, counting the pages.

Half the campus was designed by Bottom the Weaver, half by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Benton had been endowed with one to begin with, and had smiled and sweated and spoken for the other. A visitor looked under black beams, through leaded casements (past apple boughs, past box, past chairs like bath-tubs on broomsticks) to a lawn ornamented with one of the statues of David Smith; in the months since the figure had been put in its place a shrike had deserted for it a neighboring thorn tree, and an archer had skinned her leg against its farthest spike. On the table in the President?s waiting-room there were copies of Town and Country, the Journal of the History of Ideas, and a small magazine?a little magazine?that had no name. One walked by a mahogany hat-rack, glanced at the coat of arms on an umbrella-stand, and brushed with one?s sleeve something that gave a ghostly tinkle?four or five black and orange ellipsoids, set on grey wires, trembled in the faint breeze of the air-conditioning unit: a mobile. A cloud passed over the sun, and there came trailing from the gymnasium, in maillots and blue jeans, a melancholy procession, four dancers helping to the infirmary a friend who had dislocated her shoulder in the final variation of The Eye of Anguish.

Has a real, but disorganized, self-indulgent, but rather commonplace talent.

He loved hitherto-unthought-of, thereafter-unthinkable combinations of instruments. When some extraordinary array of players filed half-proudly, half-sheepishly on to the stage, looking like the Bremen Town Musicians?if those were, as I think they were, a rooster, a cat, a dog, and a donkey?you could guess beforehand that it was to be one of Gottfried?s compositions. His Joyous Celebration of the Memory of the Master Johann Sebastian Bachhad a tone-row composed of the notes B, A, C, and H (in the German notation), of these inverted, and of these transposed; and there were four movements, the first played on instruments beginning with the letter b, the second on instruments beginning with the letter a, and so on. After the magnificent group that ushered in the piece (bugle, bass-viol, bassoon, basset-horn, bombardon, bass-drum, baritone, and a violinist with only his bow) it was sad to see an Alp horn and an accordion come in to play the second movement. Gottfriend himself said about the first group: ?Vot a bunch!? When I asked him how he had thought of it he said placidly: ?De devil soldt me his soul.?

He thinks that Schiller and St Paul were just two Partisan Review editors.

Her point of view about student work was that of a social worker teaching finger-painting to children or the insane. I was impressed with how common such an attitude was at Benton: the faculty?insofar as they were real Benton faculty, and not just nomadic barbarians?reasoned with the students, ?appreciated their point of view?, used Socratic methods on them, made allowances for them, kept looking into the oven to see if they were done; but there was one allowance they never under any circumstances made?that the students might be right about something, and they wrong. Education, to them, was a psychiatric process: the sign under which they conquered had embroidered at the bottom, in small letters, Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased??and half of them gave it its Babu paraphrase of Can you wait upon a lunatic? One expected them to refer to former students as psychonanalysts do: ?Oh, she?s an old analysand of mine.? They felt that the mind was a delicate plant which, carefully nurtured, judiciously left alone, must inevitably adopt for itself even the slightest of their own beliefs. One Benton student, a girl noted for her breadth of reading and absence of co”peration, described things in a queer, exaggerated, plausible way. According to her, a professor at an ordinary school tells you ?what?s so?, you admit that it is on examination, and what you really believe or come to believe has ?that obscurity which is the privilege of young things?. But at Benton, where education was as democratic as in ?that book about America by that French writer?de, de?you know the one I mean?; she meant de Tocqueville; there at Benton they wanted you really to believe everything they did, especially if they hadn?t told you what it was. You gave them the facts, the opinions of authorities, what you hoped was their own opinion; but they replied, ?That?s not the point. What do you yourself really believe?? If it wasn?t what your professors believed, you and they could go on searching for your real belief forever?unless you stumbled at last upon that primal scene which is, by definition, at the root of anything....

Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence of the unbroken ice. I stand here, the dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare at the North Pole. . . and now what? Why, go back. Turn as I please, my step is to the south.

But be, as you have been, my happiness.

But really no one is exceptional, no one has anything, I'm anybody, I stand beside my grave confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

But there is a Pope in the breast of each of us whom is hard to silence. Long ago a lady said to me, when I asked her the composers she liked: ?Dvorak.? I said before I could stop myself: ?Dvorak!? How many times, and with what shame, I?ve remembered it. And now I like Dvorak.

Butter not only wouldn?t melt in this mouth, it wouldn?t go in; one runs away, an urchin in the gutter and glad to be, murmuring: ?The Queen of Spain hasno legs.? ... One?s eyes widen; one sits the poet down in the porch swing, starts to go off to get her a glass of lemonade, and sees her metamorphosed before one?s eyes into a new Critique of Practical Reason.., feminine gender.

Carl Becker has defined a professor as a man who thinks otherwise; a scholar is a man who otherwise thinks.

Christina Stead has a Chinese say, ?Our old age is perhaps life?s decision about us??or, worse, the decision we have made about ourselves without ever realizing we were making it.

Compare the saint who, asked what he would do if he had only an hour to live, replied that he would go on with his game of chess, since it was as much worship as anything else he had ever done.

Consider some of the qualities of typical modernistic poetry: very interesting language, a great emphasis on connotation, "texture"; extreme intensity, forced emotion ? violence; a good deal of obscurity; emphasis on sensation, perceptual nuances; emphasis on details, on the part rather than on the whole; experimental or novel qualities of some sort; a tendency toward external formlessness and internal disorganization ? these are justified, generally, as the disorganization required to express a disorganized age, or, alternatively, as newly discovered and more complex types of organization; an extremely personal style ? refine your singularities; lack of restraint ? all tendencies are forced to their limits; there is a good deal of emphasis on the unconscious, dream structure, the thoroughly subjective; the poet's attitudes are usually anti-scientific, anti-common-sense, anti-public ? he is, essentially, removed; poetry is primarily lyric, intensive ? the few long poems are aggregations of lyric details; poems usually have, not a logical, but the more or less associational style of dramatic monologue; and so on and so on. This complex of qualities is essentially romantic; and the poetry that exhibits it represents the culminating point of romanticism.

Critics disagree about almost every quality of a writer?s work; and when some agree about a quality, they disagree about whether it is to be praised or blamed, nurtured or rooted out. After enough criticism the writer is covered with lipstick and bruises, and the two are surprisingly evenly distributed.

Death and the devil, what are these to him? His being accuses him ? and yet his face is firm in resolution, in absolute persistence; the folds of smiling do for steadiness; the face is its own fate ? a man does what he must ? and the body underneath it says: I am.

Delmore carries such a petty, personally involved, New Yorkish atmosphere around with him it's almost unpleasant for me to see him. He thinks that Schiller and St Paul were just two Partisan Review editors.

Early in his life Mr. [Ezra] Pound met with strong, continued, and unintelligent opposition. If people keep opposing you when you are right, you think them fools; and after a time, right or wrong, you think them fools simply because they oppose you. Similarly, you write true things or good things, and end by thinking things true or good simply because you write them

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