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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 607

Randall Jarrell’s story is presented in the form of a folktale in which animals are given human characteristics. It is also an allegory about poetry. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak, whose black-and-white drawings correspond to the narrative, the story is told by a first-person narrator. The narrator refers to himself only once, at the beginning, when he focuses attention on the bats hanging upside down from the roof of his porch. The narrator then effaces himself, drawing the reader into the world of a little brown bat.

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The little bat is different from the other bats. He wakes up during the day, when bats normally sleep, and looks out into the sunlight. He has never seen the birds and the other animals before. He has heard the mockingbird, however, because the bird sings half the night, imitating the other creatures with his songs. This gives the little bat the idea to make up his own songs, or poems, to tell the other bats about the daytime. Yet, when he recites his first poem to the bats, they refuse to believe in the reality that it shows them.

The little bat is disappointed, but he continues to compose poems. He wonders if the mockingbird would listen to them. The mockingbird has bad days, when he chases everything out of the yard. On good days, he simply sings to himself, not paying attention to anything. The little bat approaches the bird with anxiety and asks if he would listen to the poem that he has made up about the owl. When the mockingbird praises the poem’s technique but says nothing about the owl—which almost killed the little bat—the bat-poet realizes that the problem is not creating poems but persuading someone to listen to them.

The little bat wonders if the chipmunk would listen to a poem about chipmunks. To show the chipmunk what a poem is, the bat-poet recites his poem about the owl. The chipmunk likes the poem, but it terrifies him. He decides to go to bed earlier from now on, before the owl is out, and to dig more holes. The bat-poet is glad that the chipmunk did not comment on technique and instead was scared by the poem. The chipmunk also likes the poem that the bat-poet writes about him. It goes in and out, like a chipmunk going in and out of his holes.

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His success with the chipmunk encourages the bat-poet to try the mockingbird again. The little bat thinks it strange that the mockingbird drives away the birds and animals that he imitates in his songs. The bat-poet makes up a poem about this fact and recites it to the mockingbird. Instead of learning something from the poem, the mockingbird becomes defensive and accuses the little bat of thinking that there is something wrong with driving things away. The bat-poet gives up on the mockingbird and decides to try again to communicate with the other bats.

He begins a poem about a mother bat and her baby. When it is finished, he tries it out on the chipmunk, who is amazed by all the things that bats can do. Winter is coming, and the bat and the chipmunk feel sleepy all the time. The little bat flies home; the other bats will be waking up. In preparation for reciting his poem to them, the bat-poet begins to say it over to himself. After a few lines, he forgets what comes next. He wishes he had said that bats sleep all winter. He starts over. After two lines, his eyes close, he yawns, and he snuggles closer to the others.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 112

Burt, Stephen. Randall Jarrell and His Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Chappell, Fred. “The Indivisible Presence of Randall Jarrell.” North Carolina Literary Review 1, no. 1 (Summer, 1992): 8-13.

Cyr, Marc D. “Randall Jarrell’s Answerable Style: Revision of Elegy in ’The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.’” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 46, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 92-106.

Flynn, Richard. Randall Jarrell and the Lost World of Childhood. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Hammer, Langdon. “Who Was Randall Jarrell?” Yale Review 79 (1990): 389-405.

Jarrell, Mary. Remembering Randall: A Memoir of Poet, Critic, and Teacher Randall Jarrell. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Pritchard, William. Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life. New York: Farrar, 1990.

Quinn, Sr. Bernetta. Randall Jarrell. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

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