Randall Jarrell Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226246-Jarrell.jpg Randall Jarrell Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 671 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Randall Jarrell has constructed a persuasive persona whose meditations on loss and isolation continue to speak to new generations of readers; his poems read all together in The Complete Poems (1969) provide the full impact of his vision. His first-hand observations of World War II give a memorable account in poems of this time period and the atmosphere of the war; many students have had their impression of that war shaped in part by these poems. Jarrell greatly admired war correspondent Ernie Pyle, and his own poetry is like Pyle’s war dispatches in the combination of precision and passion. Moreover, his belief in the sad integrity of the child’s vision remains persuasive. Jarrell merges personal losses with those of others to produce poems that are a telling indictment of war. Their mixture of modernist disillusionment with a thwarted romanticism produce a crescendo of sadness for a lost world—a world that never was and which Jarrell himself realized never existed.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Randall Jarrell spent his youth in Tennessee and California, living with his grandparents in Hollywood for a time when his parents separated. Although his family expected him to go into his uncle’s candy business, Jarrell enrolled in psychology at Vanderbilt University, where he met the poet and critic John Crowe Ransom and, through him, other members of the waning Fugitive movement, including Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson. In 1937, Jarrell and his associate Peter Taylor followed Ransom to Kenyon College, where Jarrell began a lifelong association with Robert Lowell. During this period, Jarrell also completed work for his M.A. degree in literature, including a critical thesis on A. E. Housman under the direction of Donald Davidson.

Jarrell began his career as a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, where he met Mackie Langham, who became his wife in 1940. He enlisted in a ferry-pilot training program soon after Pearl Harbor, but actually began his military career as a private in the Army Air Corps. He served as a celestial navigation tower operator at Chanute Field in Illinois and Davis-Monthan Field in Arizona. After the war, he taught at Sarah Lawrence College and then at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. In the summer of 1948, Jarrell traveled to Europe, teaching American civilization at the Salzburg Summer Seminar. In 1951, Randall and Mackie Jarrell separated, and in 1952, they were divorced. Jarrell married Mary von Schrader late in 1952.

Jarrell was hospitalized briefly for a nervous disorder in 1965. He continued to teach at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro until October of that year, when he was struck and killed by an automobile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Randall Jarrell spent much of his childhood in California but returned to Nashville for his high school education. He attended Vanderbilt University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1935. After two years of graduate study at Vanderbilt, he became an instructor of English at Kenyon College. He received his master’s degree from Vanderbilt upon completion of his thesis in 1939. From 1939 until 1942 he taught at the University of Texas, then spent the next four years in the U.S. Army Air Force. After the war he taught briefly at Sarah Lawrence College, then joined the faculty of the Women’s College of North Carolina in 1947, where he taught for the rest of his life. In 1952 he married Mary von Schrader.

In addition to his teaching, he served on the editorial boards of several magazines, including The Nation and The American Scholar. From 1956 until 1958 he was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The Woman at the Washington Zoo received the National Book Award for Poetry in 1961. In October of 1965, while walking beside a highway near Chapel Hill, he was struck by a car and killed.

The poetry in Jarrell’s first four books is based heavily on his war experience; he examines the lives of individual fighting men in compassionate detail, revealing war’s horrors even through lines spoken by characters to whom war is merely a way of living in the world. In later poems Jarrell turned his attention to the “dailiness of life” in the civilian United States, often in modified dramatic monologues spoken by some of the most memorable characters in twentieth century American verse. The language of many of these poems is that of a person trying to be understood; its repetitiousness is occasionally excessive, but most often it lends a distinctive authenticity to the poet’s search for meaning in ordinary life.

Jarrell’s only novel, Pictures from an Institution, is a trenchant but affectionate satire on academic life, set at a fictional “progressive” college for women. Though its characters sound at first like stereotypes—the young “boy wonder” president, the visiting woman novelist of vituperative tongue, the vapidly enthusiastic teacher of creative writing—Jarrell brings them convincingly to life.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Randall Jackson Jarrell was born on May 6, 1914 in Nashville, Tennessee. After moving to California in his youth, Jarrell returned to...

(The entire section is 215 words.)