Randall Jarrell Essay - Jarrell, Randall (Vol. 2)

Jarrell, Randall (Vol. 2)

Jarrell, Randall 1914–1965

An American poet, novelist, and critic, Jarrell is remembered for his World War II poems and his novel, Pictures from an Institution. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 25-28.)

The intelligence and the humanity [that inform Jarrell's poems] are not bland or neutral; they are spotted and streaked with the unexpected, the idiosyncratic, even the quixotic and contradictory. Jarrell, both as man and poet, commits himself willingly to experience as a thing often not to be understood rationally yet always to be curiously examined and tested on one's own terms….

[Despite his] preoccupation with suffering and death, [the] sad conviction that as "The Place of Death" concludes, "'Only man is miserable,'" Jarrell's poems in Losses and his other mature books are not depressing when taken as a whole…. [Though] Jarrell is often ironic, he is much less frequently satiric; irony may cut painfully to the bone, but at least it does not inflict the burning smart that satire does. Again, even while reproaching us and himself for our inhumanity, Jarrell usually tempers his anger with compassion; like Mark Twain he feels pity for the "poor damned human race." Furthermore, he is aware of the humanity that may paradoxically exist in conjunction with or in spite of inhumanity…. Finally, Jarrell manages in some of his poems to convey a kind of irrational sense of limited hopefulness, a sense that, despite man's external subjection to the State or to economic forces and his internal subjection to his own nature, life is nevertheless an open affair rather than a closed one if only because of man's imaginative powers.

It is in this last context that we can perhaps best understand Jarrell's long preoccupation with fairy tales, a preoccupation evident as early as Blood for a Stranger….

Change and transformation, Jarrell argues …, are at the very heart of the fairy tales, and, logical or not, the fairy tale is a metaphor for life. The prince is transformed by magic in the tale, the child's self or way of living is changed by the unintelligible powers of adults, we change by some incomprehensible process of necessity, which grants our wishes provided we know what to wish.

For an author to consider life so metaphorically can be irritating to those who prefer a more rationalistic philosophy, and I must admit myself to accepting Jarrell's fairytale metaphor primarily as a sort of "as if" assumption that helps him to get some of his poetry written….

Several poems in The Seven-League Crutches unite psychology and philosophy in other ways than by the use of fairy tale or similar materials….

From the beginning humor had been a minor note in Jarrell's poetry, somewhat unexpectedly so when one thinks of his reputation for committing witty outrage in prose. Wisecracks and wry observations had appeared occasionally in his first three volumes of verse; but in The Seven-League Crutches … humor has become part of the poet's way of looking at life.

Walter B. Rideout, "'To Change, To Change!': The Poetry of Randall Jarrell," in Poets in Progress, edited by Edward Hungerford, Northwestern University Press, 1962.

Randall Jarrell had his own particular and important excellence as a poet, and outdistanced all others in the things he could do well. His gifts, both by nature and by a lifetime of hard dedication and growth, were wit, pathos, and brilliance of intelligence. These qualities, dazzling in themselves, were often so well employed that he became, I think, the most heartbreaking English poet of his generation.

Most good poets are also good critics on occasion, but Jarrell was much more than this. He was a critic of genius, a poet-critic of genius at a time when, as he wrote, most criticism was "astonishingly graceless, joyless, humorless, long-winded, niggling, blinkered, methodical, self-important, cliché-ridden, prestige-obsessed, and almost autonomous." He had a deadly hand for killing what he despised…. [But] both his likes and dislikes were a terror to everyone, that is to everyone who either saw himself as important or wished to see himself as important. Although he was almost without vices, heads of colleges and English departments found his frankness more unsettling and unpredictable than the drunken explosions of some divine enfant terrible, such as Dylan Thomas.

In his last and best book, The Lost World, he used subjects and methods he had been developing and improving for almost twenty years. Most of the poems are dramatic monologues. Their speakers, though mostly women, are intentionally, and unlike Browning's, very close to the author. Their themes, repeated with endless variations, are solitude, the solitude of the unmarried, the solitude of the married, the love, strife, dependency, and indifference of man and woman—how mortals age, and brood over their lost and raw childhood, only recapturable in memory and imagination. Above all, childhood! This subject for many a careless and tarnished cliché was for him what it was for his two favorite poets, Rilke and Wordsworth, a governing and transcendent vision. For shallower creatures, recollections of childhood and youth are drenched in a mist of plaintive pathos, or even bathos, but for Jarrell this was the divine glimpse, life-long to be lived with, painfully and tenderly relived, transformed, matured—man with and against woman, child with and against adult.

Robert Lowell, "Randall Jarrell," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1965 by NYREV, Inc.), November 25, 1965.

Randall Jarrell came into prominence as a poet in a time of economic troubles, Fascism, war, and revolution….

Reflecting on the crimes, terrors, and guilts of a period that W. H. Auden once characterized as low and dishonest, Jarrell's poems [in his first book, Blood for a Stranger] suggest the pain and incredulity of a child discovering the hypocritical ways of adults. One finds images of rejection, social disruption, flight, and transformation….

The imagery of war and revolution and the bloody changes they produce is central to many of the poems in Blood for a Stranger….

Some of these poems are written from the point of view of a child, a convenient symbol of innocence for Jarrell as for Blake, of what each man imagines himself to be in the secret center of his being, no matter how old he is, for there he can always resist the coercions of circumstance, the agonies and corruptions of experience. In reality, of course, he can't. Jarrell feels pity for the child who inevitably becomes an adult by suffering the blows of time and by assuming the guilt of his desires. This preoccupation with childhood is perhaps astonishing in the case of the least naive of all contemporary poets. Jarrell's sophistication, wit, and quickness of mind are extraordinary, and yet, again and again, he returns to the theme of babes lost in a dark wood…. Fairy-tale characters like Jack of beanstalk fame populate the poems. No doubt Jarrell sees these figures as archetypes of human experience, as revelations like those of Freudian and Jungian psychology, but they lack the deep, obsessional power of the images in Robert Lowell's poetry. They are tamed by the consciousness of the poet; they have the surface persuasion of something lighted by the mind. For the poet of unusual intelligence sentiment often substitutes for passion….

Jarrell's fourth book of poems, The Seven-League Crutches, appeared in 1951. It represented a notable decline in intensity and involvement, for the poet could no longer work in the galvanizing "otherness" of themes relating to public peril; he had to settle for the minor crises of personal, peacetime life. The journey motif is still present, as the title suggests, but the metaphysics is muted…. The theme of innocence persists in poems about children bemused by illness, dream, and myths of transformation…. The poems are relaxed, garrulous, pleasant; they lack urgency….

[When Jarrell published] The Woman at the Washington Zoo [in 1960],… his readers could now see whether he was responding to the spirited technical controversies of the middle 1950's. The answer was that he had not responded at all; if anything, the new book was formally tighter than his last one. Jarrell's style had crystallized in the 1940's and had proved to be an adequate instrument for dealing with his experiences in war and peace, and he obviously felt no need to change….

No discussion of Randall Jarrell would be complete without a word about his prose. He is a literary critic of extraordinary wit and brilliance, especially notable in his demolitions of literary pretense and deflations of overblown reputations….

[Jarrell's novel, Pictures from an Institution] is deficient in plot, and the characterization is of the sort that deduction or surmise suggests. But the style crackles and glitters with witty perceptions. It makes for enjoyable reading.

Jarrell's third volume of prose, A Sad Heart at the Supermarket, was published in 1962 and is the least engaging of his books…. [Most] of the essays in the book are on such matters as anti-intellectualism in American life, Instant Literature, and the horrors of education in schools where reading matter is adjusted to the age level of pupils. These essays find Jarrell engaged in the curious activity of beating a dead horse.

The poetry and prose of Randall Jarrell make clear that he is a man of social interests. He has the eye and passions of the moralist. He writes most movingly when private and public predicaments coincide, as they did in World War II. When, in the 1950's, he turned to psychological, dream-haunted poetry, he lost the power and intensity that come from involvement in congenial subject matter. Prose then became his medium, and he produced brilliant evaluations of American literature and society. His technique as a poet developed early, in the 1940's; it was so supple that he saw little reason to change it in later years. It enabled him to write some excellent poems.

Stephen Stepanchev, "Randall Jarrell," in his American Poetry Since 1945 (copyright © 1965 by Stephen Stepanchev; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1965, pp. 37-52.

Indeed, one feels, what a properly ambitious and intellectual poet Jarrell was! [The Lost World] … shows his virtues in miniature. Here is that rare sense of effects hard worked for, and actually achieved; of a frontal but flexible assault on themes seen to be demanding; of the assumption of poetic duties and poetic craft, tempered all the while with the warmth necessary to breathe life into the statue. Here was a poet whose wit saluted his tenderness, and whose tenderness returned the salute….

[Jarrell's] poetry has groped for no epiphanies, created no symbols, forged no new language; and he is a poet who often seems vulnerable and tentative without, strangely enough, losing that particular kind of fertile authority that he shares with a poet like MacNeice. This authority is fully in evidence in The Lost World: the supple sensibility, sharpened by wit, sense and humane concern, will be much missed.

John Fuller, "Randall Jarrell," in Review, No. 16, October, 1966, pp. 5-9.

He was not born a poet—he made himself that—but a teacher. He taught everyone: his friends, his teachers, his students, his wife, his readers. Anything he learned, if it interested him, he was soon teaching: poetry, fiction, Freudian psychology, art appreciation, music appreciation, tennis, animal psychology, anything. Where many poets of our time have taught in colleges in order to make a living, Randall Jarrell taught because it was his nature, his vocation in almost a religious sense. His critical writings are all teaching; teaching readers how to know and love Frost, Stevens, Williams, Marianne Moore, Whitman, Kipling, Lowell, and more; teaching the difference between good writing and bad writing, truth and falsehood; teaching his audience, directly and incidentally, to read all his own favorite writers by commanding, cajoling, dropping tempting allusions. His poetry, too, is teaching. In the broadest sense it teaches that men must learn to know themselves, to recognize and understand their wishes, their fears, their cruelty, their love, the meaning of their myths and dreams, the ineluctable facts of aging and death. The characters of his poems are children or grownups who learn the lessons of life sometimes from books, sometimes from dreams or waking experience, sometimes from the poet who speaks out to them from the context of the poem. (p. 3)

He sought a universal experience and tried to define it as truly and exactly as possible; he believed others needed to know themselves and mankind generally much more desperately than they needed to know Randall Jarrell, and through his poetry he tried to teach all he saw of human needs and modes of fulfillment in contemporary society. Strongly influenced from his adolescence by Freudian analytical psychology, Jarrell attempted in his poetry to show how men's conscious motives and actions, and the largely unconscious imagery of fulfillment in their dreams and literature, spring from one primal need—inevitably frustrated in the phenomenal world—to feel secure in their loves and lives. (p. 4)

Although he became famous as a poet of the Second World War, a great part of his work presents the lives of his civilian peers—middle-class, middle-income, moderately intelligent, moderately neurotic, moderately good; those whom American politicians call "the silent majority," who are born, grow up, get jobs, get married, have children, grow old, and die; they make neither trouble nor joy outside their immediate environment. They are downtrodden not by poverty or physical suffering or any obvious oppressor, but only by the ordinary psychological hazards of living in the modern world. But the poems, even those about the war, are not, and will not be dated, for they continually link the lives of their characters to the permanent needs, desires, and predicaments of mankind through the dreams, fairytales, and mythology—Germanic, Classical, Judaeo-Christian—that men great and small by a common impulse have created to help themselves confront the threats and temptations of the mutable world. (p. 5)

His themes are relatively few and closely related as they evolve through his thirty-year writing career: in the poems of the thirties, the "great Necessity" of the natural world and the evils of power politics; in the poems of the early forties, the dehumanizing forces of war and ways to escape or recover from these through dreams, mythologizing, or Christian faith; in the poems of the fifties, and continuing into the sixties, loneliness and fear of aging and death, again opposed by the imagination in dreams and works of art; and in some of the last poems, the defeat of Necessity and time through imaginative recovery of one's own past. The one overriding theme that links and illuminates the others is change, the change that aims toward transcendence. The subjects of the poems are almost always human: men, women, and children in war and peace, sickness and health, sorrow and joy; dreaming, meditating, justifying, consciously resisting the trouble of their lives or seeking some escape from it. (p. 6)

Jarrell avoids unusual words; "gibbous" is by far the strangest word in all the [early] poems. Their obscurity lies in their syntax and imagery; modifying phrases in particular are often ambiguous. The reader has to supply logical connectives in many cases and assign the significance of the various symbolic figures such as the "monstrous child" of "1789–1939." Although connotation is important, as in other "modernist" poetry, there is little of the word play—punning—that became more and more prominent, even in some of the poems of Blood for a Stranger. The style is eclectic rather than personal; some poems are strikingly Audenesque—"Because of Me, Because of You," "When You and I Were All"—several echo Hardy's irony in their tone, and others recall Allen Tate—"The Winter's Tale," "A Description of Some Confederate Soldiers." This last poem seems almost a debunking of Tate's "Ode to the Confederate Dead." (p. 17)

Even more strongly than "The Rage for the Lost Penny," Blood for a Stranger exemplifies the qualities of penetration and seriousness coupled with wryly sardonic wit that would characterize Jarrell's next two volumes. It took, not the war in general, for that had already broken out well before most of the poems of Blood for a Stranger reached a finished form, but Jarrell's insight into the experience of the soldiers to give him focus for his obviously considerable gifts of language, intellection, and feeling. With the soldiers, Jarrell could look at the individuals and the world at the same time; he could dramatize in terms of specific human lives man's universal guilt and suffering. (p. 35)

Although Losses is usually thought of as a volume of war poetry, a companion to Little Friend, Little Friend, only nine of its thirty-one poems treat warfare directly, and another twelve deal with war-related subjects: the concentration camps, hospitals, prisoners, returned soldiers. The remaining ten are poems of civilian life, but from the earliest written, "Orestes at Tauris" … to the latest, "Lady Bates,"… "A Country Life," and Moving,"… these too are poems of strife and loss, and of the attempt to come to terms with loss….

Coming to terms with loss involves various stages. As in Little Friend, Little Friend, the first step is recognition and understanding of death or loss of identity: a psychological death in life. In most of the Losses poems directly concerned with the war,… recognition is the main impulse. A second stage, associated exclusively with physical death, is the acceptance of physical dissolution as the change that sets men free…. Christian reconciliation with death is explored and conditionally rejected in such a poem as "Burning the Letters," partly because Christianity as an ethic seems to have failed so utterly…. It is an interesting aspect of these poems that, although Jarrell used the Bible as a source of imagery and subject matter throughout his career, only in Losses does he treat specific problems of Christian faith, especially the concepts of Christ's saving Grace and His suffering as purgation for men's sins. (pp. 63-4)

Where the poems of Losses may be generally classified as elegiac, those of The Seven-League Crutches are meditative, although they do not belong to any formal school of disciplined meditation, such as that of seventeenth century English devotional poetry. They are meditative in the way they fix upon their subjects, methodically examining one aspect after another in an attempt to reach some new understanding. In tone and attitude, too, the poems of The Seven-League Crutches are meditative; many are hesitant, even slow as they explore the situations and characters. There is scarcely a trace of the stridency of the war poems, and if some of the poems develop comic aspects of their subjects, they are still basically serious. In some poems, especially the longest, "The Night Before the Night Before Christmas," it is as if Jarrell had come back to unfinished business, left pending when the war broke out, and returned to in a less imperative time. (p. 111)

The poems of The Seven-League Crutches range through a wide variety of subjects, sources, and settings, but thematically they present a closely unified collection, aptly described by the volume's title. After the outrage of Little Friend, after the resignation of Losses, Jarrell began to search for a remedy to man's suffering, restless soul. But before the cure comes the understanding, and in the meantime, the invalid must get along with whatever help he can find, in his dreams, in his imaginings, in stories and legends. These crutches are magic, of course, like the seven-league boots of "Hop-O'-My-Thumb" or the Grimms' tale, "Fundevogel," and they cover the ground in great strides, so that as he uses the crutches the sufferer draws nearer and nearer his goal. It is not surprising, given such a thematic center and such means of moving toward it, that the primary mode of these poems is meditation, a mental exploration of the tales, of the folklore, of history, of the individual lives. (p. 154)

The Lost World turned out to be a final volume of poetry for Randall Jarrell, yet nearly all its poems, like those of The Seven-League Crutches or Blood for a Stranger, give evidence that its author was in transit, moving to open new areas of subject matter and technique. Nearly a third of its twenty-two poems continue to explore the major themes of The Woman at the Washington Zoo—loneliness and aging—but in new ways. There are two poems about art and life, but here, too, the treatment and ultimately the meanings are different from Jarrell's earlier poems dealing with works of art. Two poems concern the child's fantasy world, the Märchen recreated in dreams, but one of these is an extension of previous development of that subject and the other, which does resemble earlier treatments, is actually a revision of a poem first published in 1948.

The distinctively new poems of The Lost World include a panegyric on women that successfully unites homely, often humorous American images with the exalted tone of Rilke's Duino Elegies; a beautiful dramatic monologue, "The Lost Children," based on a real dream of Mary Jarrell's; and two wonderful poems about Jarrell's own boyhood, "The Lost World" and "Thinking of the Lost World." Besides these, there are some very small, perfect poems about a mockingbird, an owl, and some bats taken from Jarrell's children's book, The Bat Poet, and one called simply, "Well Water."

The poems as a whole are easier, less obscure than those of any of the earlier volumes, and though the range of allusions in a few poems is far-reaching, knowledge of the sources seems almost irrelevant; the allusions are used for their intrinsic beauty and appropriateness to the subject, not for the esoteric fun of pointing to their contexts. Most of the poems are written in the subtle, flexible free verse of Jarrell's maturity, but one, "The Lost World," is in terza rima; paradoxically, it seems most free. (p. 187)

Jarrell's insistence on treating his themes of pain and loss in ordinary rather than heroic characters and in simple rather than densely packed language, has given rise to two main criticisms which are to some extent interdependent; first, that his poetry is childish and sentimental in subjects and attitudes; second, that its style lacks what James Dickey has called "verbal energy." The child's consciousness is a territory explored by a number of the finest American writers of this century, yet Jarrell's use of the child's point of view does not require the sanction of a literary convention. Of the poems I [believe are] Jarrell's best, it is true that many of the war poems utilize imagery of childhood in depicting the soldiers and their experiences. The poems are not finally about real childhood, however, but about the soldiers' feelings of ignorance and helplessness that can only be compared to the feelings of an abandoned child; the flyers, though adult, have been figuratively born again into a world over which they have no more control than a child has over his, and their education in this new world culminates in knowledge only of death….

Jarrell's poems evince his strong feeling about his subjects, but feeling is not necessarily sentimental any more than an image of childhood is necessarily childish. If it is sentimental to be outraged at the futility and inhumanity of war, to feel compassion toward people deprived of life and love for no good reason, then Jarrell is surely sentimental; however, in his best poems he presents the human situation so fully and movingly that not to express his anxiety and love would seem heartless. In the most painful of all his poems, "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," the woman is surely self-pitying, but she speaks from a life that is empty except for the constant anguish of loneliness which is her only reality, and she does not ask for sympathy—how pallid and useless that would be—but change: release from her dreadful bondage. (pp. 229-30)

Objections to Jarrell's style are difficult to answer categorically because in the less successful poems one may single out, as Dickey does … ineffective, even awkward or absurd lines and passages. I [think that] … Jarrell's interest [lay] in creating a style that, like Frost's or Ransom's, would accurately but poetically reproduce the idioms and rhythms of contemporary speech. This ideal was difficult to achieve and hard to sustain, but the best poems are astonishingly convincing. (p. 231)

To examine … passages closely is to confirm their relationship, not to the "modern" poetry of Eliot, Auden, Tate, or Wallace Stevens, the poetry described and analyzed by Jarrell in the preface to "The Rage for the Lost Penny," but to the poetry of common life and language, the tradition of Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost…. Using many of their precepts and techniques, combining them, in his later peotry, with the exaltation of simple subjects he found in Rilke, Jarrell developed a poetry that reveals his life and time with a fidelity unsurpassed by any other writer, in prose or verse, of that life and time. Indeed, it is the prose writers who approach his work most nearly. The best of his war poems express the distilled essence of Ernie Pyle's sensitive and troubled but, to later times, distractingly detained reports of World War II…. (p. 233)

Jarrell's gifts were basically a far-ranging, inquisitive, continually testing intellect; a strong perception of the ironic incongruity of men's ideals with their way of living; a sure feeling for the moral and psychological crises men have in common; and a messianic vocation to show others what he learned and saw in the world. His limitations—some consciously self-cultivated—were a narrow scope, a too-dogmatic vision of human motivation and behavior, a sense of imagery and phrase that is only sporadically overwhelming. Because he wrote a relatively large body of poetry on a small number of subjects and themes, and perhaps because of a sometimes difficult public personality, as a lecturer and critic too certain in his own demanding standards, his poems have been erratically anthologized, erratically praised and blamed for both virtues and faults.

Jarrell's is not finally a poetry of the academy, but of the people. Since the people, as Jarrell wryly knew, do not generally care much for poetry unless, like Frost's or Sandburg's, it is promulgated as a national cultural heritage, with the poet himself playing the role of National Grandfather, Jarrell's poems have not yet received the audience they intrinsically merit, an audience somewhere between academe and the popular culture. These readers may be "too few," as Jarrell once plaintively wrote, but they exist, and their numbers may well become larger as American affluence gives more people more leisure in which to despair or, hopefully, to live. Represented by his best work, and read side by side with the best poems of his contemporaries or even that brilliant generation of poets which precedes his in Anglo-American poetry, Jarrell's work requires no apology. His very best poems, some twenty or thirty-odd, chosen for the universality and truth of their subjects and the consistency and beauty of the treatment, will deserve a high place in American poetry of this century, in some measure because they record American life in this century so very well…. In his poetry, Jarrell shows Americans trying to forge some armor against fate, generally under its other name, Necessity. The fabric of the armor, as we have seen, is dreams, or fairy tales, or more sophisticated art, or memory itself turning into art. That is an old armor to Europeans, Jarrell thought: so old that only Americans could still be surprised and bewitched by it, and learn from it….

From his broad and deep reading in all kinds of writing—fiction, history, poetry, philosophy, psychology, criticism, anthropology, religion, popular culture from cars to football to fairy tales—he evolved one simple critical theory by which he measured his own poetry as well as that of others. His writing seems to ask always, both explicitly and implicitly, whether the poem tells truth about the world; whether it helps the reader see a little farther, a little more clearly the dark and light of his situation. His theory, which is not really theory but just clear-sightedness, reflects Jarrell's own great capacity for responding enthusiastically to many different kinds and styles of art and life, and it gives his mature poetry as a whole an extraordinary sense of that "accessibility to experience" he recognized as characteristic of the American consciousness. His work affirms the dignity and worth of individual human efforts to understand and change themselves and, if possible, the world. Even though he sets these efforts in his own particular time and place, their impulse is timeless, universal, and transcendent. The world of Randall Jarrell is a world that does not get lost. (pp. 234-36)

Suzanne Ferguson, in her The Poetry of Randall Jarrell, Louisiana State University Press, 1971.

Randall Jarrell's poetry will probably always discomfort his fondest readers. All the ancillary matters of his life and work arouse in us an almost painful wish to see him, to accept him, as a major contemporary poet, a fit companion, say, to Lowell and Roethke and Plath in a pantheon of post-war voices. He was a writer of unbelievably catholic interests—the collected poems are a tour of things from Freud to German Romanticism to middle-century supermarket America—and of unerring critical taste.

In fact, he was not a critic at all, but an advocate, and a man whose wit and personality almost jump at you off the pages of his essays. His poems once entered the spirit of the American soldier with such subtle empathy that perhaps his most famous piece of writing is a stark five-line lyric, [The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner], the ultimate poem of war. His later poems, especially the autobiographical [The Lost World], are an irresistible psychological record of childhood's struggle to survive and embrace the world. Most noticeably, perhaps, he was a man who captivated his contemporaries as a remarkable anachronism—an authentic man of letters in an age which is not supposed to spawn or even tolerate men of letters.

And yet, we can see in the things that Lowell and James Dickey and others have said about his poetry a nervous protectiveness, as if Jarrell's readers wink at each other and say, "Yes, of course, we all know he never really made it, never really had it, but to reduce him to a 'minor poet' would be a disgrace." Because for all these—finally—ancillary things, Jarrell, except for a few brief and really atypical bursts, never was a great poet. What stands out as his essential poetry, in a perusal of his 30-year career, is often witty, charming, moving, always immensely readable, but almost never possessed or heightened. For all the wealth of his materials, he rarely transmuted them into high art.

Robert Weisberg, "A Major Minor Poet," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 17, 1972, p. 46.