“Thinking of the Lost World” is a long (ninety lines) free-verse meditation that imitates the associative structure of reverie. The last poem in Randall Jarrell’s last book of poetry, it almost demands to be read with the three-part poem “The Lost World” in the same volume. “Thinking of the Lost World” begins with a deliberate echo of Marcel Proust and the madeleine pastry in A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931), partly because Proust was one of Jarrell’s favorite authors, but primarily because Jarrell himself is interested in a similar project: recovering the past through imagination. In this sense, the title becomes doubly evocative, referring at once to the 1925 film based on an Arthur Conan Doyle short story (“The Lost World”) and to the poet’s lost world of childhood, part of which he spent in Hollywood in the care of his grandparents and great-grandmother, “Mama and Pop and Dandeen.”
At this point in his career, partly influenced by his friend Robert Lowell’s autobiographical experiments in Life Studies (1959), Jarrell confronts his own past head-on in the poems, infusing them with an intensely personal tone, risking the charge of sentimentality. In a voice alternately diffident and emphatic, he invites the reader to undertake this trip through time to his childhood, assuming that even though the experience is singular, its universality will be...
(The entire section is 468 words.)