The Bat-Poet Essay - Critical Context

Randall Jarrell

Critical Context

Randall Jarrell was not primarily a writer of children’s stories. Although his reputation as a literary critic overshadowed his importance as a poet during his lifetime, Jarrell’s most important work was his poetry. He had a lifelong interest in fairy tales, however, and in 1962 was commissioned to translate some of the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Jarrell’s editor was pleased by the result and suggested that he write a children’s story. That summer, Jarrell wrote The Gingerbread Rabbit (1964) and began The Bat-Poet. He completed this book and wrote two more children’s stories, The Animal Family (1965) and Fly by Night (1976), as well as one of his finest books of poetry, The Lost World (1965), before his death in 1965. The lost world of this title is, among other things, the lost world of childhood. Jarrell included three poems from The Bat-Poet in this book.

Although The Bat-Poet is Jarrell’s most popular children’s story, it is difficult to narrow its audience to a specific age group. A two-year-old would enjoy listening to it, and students and teachers of literature have reason to study it for what it reveals about Jarrell’s poetic theory and for its treatment of themes that are characteristic of Jarrell’s work. Not least among its readers are poets and creative writers of all ages. The Bat-Poet truly is one of those stories that can be read and enjoyed by anyone. With its combination of children’s story and allegory about poetry, it is especially suited for introducing elementary students to literature, as well as interesting them in writing their own stories and poems.