Randall Jarrell


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

Author Quotes

Human life without some form of poetry is not human life but animal existence.

Girls who had read Wittgenstein as high school baby-sitters were rejected because the school's quota of abnormally intelligent students had already been filled that year.

I decided that Europeans and Americans are like men and women: they understand each other worse, and it matters less, than either of them suppose.

Goethe said that the worst thing in art is technical facility accompanied by triteness. Many an artist, like God, has never needed to think twice about anything. His works are the mad scene from Giselle, on ice skates: he weeps, pulls out his hair?holding his wrists like Lifar?and tells you what Life is, all at a gliding forty miles an hour.

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.

Everybody must have wished at some time that poetry were written by nice ordinary people instead of poets?and, in a better world, it may be; but in this world writers like Constance Carrier are the well oysters that don't have the pearls.

Before the bat could answer, the mockingbird exclaimed angrily: You sound as if there were something wrong with imitating things! Oh no, the bat said. Well then, you sound as if there something wrong with driving them off. It's my territory, isn't it? If you can't drive things off your own territory what can you do? The bat didn't know what to say; after a minute the chipmunk said uneasily, He just meant it's odd to drive them all off and then imitate them so well too. Odd! cried the mockingbird. Odd! If I didn't it really would be odd. Did you ever hear of a mockingbird that didn't? The bat said politely, No indeed. No, it's just what mockingbirds do. That's really why I made up the poem about it--I admire mockingbirds so much, you know. The chipmunk said, He talks about them all the time. A mockingbird's sensitive, said the mockingbird; when he said sensitive his voice went way up and way back down. They get on my nerves. You just don't understand how much they get on my nerves. Sometimes I think if I can't get rid of them I'll go crazy. If they didn't get on your nerves so, maybe you wouldn't be able to imitate them so well, the chipmunk said in a helpful, hopeful voice.

Ezra Pound - idiosyncrasy on a monument.

Both in verse and in prose [Karl] Shapiro loves, partly out of indignation and partly out of sheer mischievousness, to tell the naked truths or half-truths or quarter-truths that will make anybody?s hair stand on end; he is always crying: ?But he hasn?t any clothes on!? about an emperor who is half the time surprisingly well-dressed.

Few poets have made a more interesting rhetoric out of just fooling around: turning things upside down, looking at them from under the sofa, considering them (and their observer) curiously enough to make the reader protest, That were to consider it too curiously.

Bunched upside down, they sleep in air. Their sharp ears, their sharp teeth, their quick sharp faces are dull and slow and mild. All the bright day, as the mother sleeps, she folds her wings about her sleeping child.

First one gets works of art, then criticism of them, then criticism of the criticism, and, finally, a book on The Literary Situation, a book which tells you all about writers, critics, publishing, paperbacked books, the tendencies of the (literary) time, what sells and how much, what writers wear and drink and want, what their wives wear and drink and want, and so on.

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.

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