Randall Jarrell American Literature Analysis
One of Jarrell’s books is titled Losses (1948), and that single word could be his statement of theme. The losses are of loved ones, innocence, consolation, belief, and hope. He writes of young men lost to the war and other lives lost literally and figuratively. His poems express a deep sense of the inner void that comes from being able to rely on nothing, to keep nothing. His poems explore the various ways one can try to fill the inside emptiness, almost always unsuccessfully. His war poems were controversial when they first appeared, though later they were highly valued. In the poems of his 1945 collection Little Friend, Little Friend, Jarrell stresses the ironic contrast between the tough, hard war machines of the state and the vulnerable young men who are forced to serve them. Thus, the villain was not the Germans or the Japanese but the war situation itself—a message not universally appreciated during and right after the war.
Jarrell had a lonely childhood in which his only reliable companions seemed to be books; this sense of isolation and the contrast between fictional and real worlds dominates his poetry. Even his earliest work is haunted by books. Throughout his poems, libraries, books, fictional heroes, and the act of reading figure prominently. The wounded, baffled speaker may seek validation in books, but always the books let him down by seeming to make promises that the world will not keep. This is part of the message of...
(The entire section is 2779 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Randall Jarrell Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!