Randall Jarrell was born to Owen and Anna Jarrell in Nashville on May 6, 1914, to the shifting landscapes of modernism and looming war. Jarrell, whose name is accented on the second syllable, had a difficult childhood marked by the separation of his parents and by being moved around from place to place; the desire for true “home” is a topic for much of his poetry. Attending college at Vanderbilt University, he was drawn into literature by his association with John Crowe Ransom, who, with his friends Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate, was active during the 1920’s and 1930’s in reinvigorating Southern poetry. Ransom was a major influence on Jarrell’s poetry, as was Robert Lowell, with whom he would share a lifelong friendship.
Jarrell took both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Vanderbilt University in 1935 and 1938 and then went to teach at Kenyon College, following his mentor Ransom. Jarrell taught at Kenyon from 1937 to 1939. He left Kenyon for the University of Texas at Austin (then University of Texas Main University), where he roomed at first with Robert Lowell. In 1939, he married Mackie Langham. He taught at the University of Texas until 1942, published his first book, Blood for a Stranger, in that year, and then went to war. Though he never fought in battle, having been rejected as a potential pilot, he trained Air Force pilots and worked with them in the “celestial navigation tower.” This position gave him plenty of knowledge and war experience to lend authority to his poetry and reinforced his sense that the commonality of human experience was a sense of loss.
After the war he...
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