Randall Jarrell Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Randall Jarrell use form? What poetic devices can you find in his work that either augment the effectiveness of or take the place of regular rhyme and traditional rhythms?

What is Jarrell’s attitude toward war as he expresses it in his poems? Does his attitude always seem the same?

If, as one of Jarrell’s titles suggests, his poems are often about losses, what different kinds of losses can you find in his work?

Are Jarrell’s women speakers persuasive as women, do you think? Why or why not? Why do you think he chooses to speak as a woman in some of his poems?

Books and reading are a major theme in Jarrell’s poetry. What does he do with this theme? Consider especially “Girl in a Library” in your discussion.

For what things do Jarrell’s poetry express nostalgia?

How does Jarrell portray children? Are his children all the same, or different? Why do you think they have so much in common?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

An important critic and teacher of literature as well as a poet, Randall Jarrell published critical essays, translations, children’s books, and a novel. His first book of criticism, Poetry and the Age (1953), examines the function of the poet in modern society, the nature of criticism, and the work of John Crowe Ransom,Wallace Stevens,Marianne Moore, andWilliam Carlos Williams. Direct, witty, and sometimes harsh commentary in these essays aims at expanding the appreciative faculty in its broadest sense. The next collection, A Sad Heart at the Supermarket (1962), examines values and literature, including the American obsession with consumption. The Third Book of Criticism (1969), collected posthumously, includes discussions of Wallace Stevens, Robert Graves, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, Russian novels, and American poetry since 1900. Close reading, Freudian analysis, myth interpretation, and religious considerations are features of Jarrell’s method. His translations include The Golden Bird, and Other Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1962) and Faust, Part I (1976), as well as other works for children and adults. Jarrell’s novel, Pictures from an Institution (1954), presents life in an academic community from a satirical point of view. His children’s books are The Gingerbread Rabbit (1964), The Bat-Poet (1964), and The Animal Family (1965).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Randall Jarrell’s reputation as an artist and critic spans a writing career of thirty-three years. Initially recognized as a poet of World War II, Jarrell received a Guggenheim Post-Service Award in 1946. He also served as literary editor of The Nation, visiting lecturer at the Salzburg Seminar, and visiting fellow in creative writing at Princeton. He received the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine in 1948 and a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1951. Awarded a second Guggenheim Fellowship in 1963, he served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1956-1965) and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1960-1965). One of his collections of poetry and translations, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, won the National Book Award in Poetry in 1961. He served as consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress from 1956 to 1958.

Jarrell’s chief contribution to the poetry of the twentieth century is his insistence that the experience of ordinary people is worth exploring to discover truth. His work reflects a determination to communicate everyday experience in a language and a form that speaks to the general reader as well as to the literary scholar.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bryant, J. A. Understanding Randall Jarrell. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986. An easy book to read. Contains biographical information and an overview of Jarrell’s writings, including a breakdown of his earlier poems, his criticism and essays, his children’s poems, and his later poetry. Includes bibliography and an index.

Burt, Stephen. Randall Jarrell and His Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. This illuminating examination of Jarrell’s contributions to American letters situates the poet-critic’s work within a dynamically interactive frame, embracing social and cultural as well as aesthetic and psychological concerns.

Ferguson, Suzanne. The Poetry of Randall Jarrell. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971. This excellent book stresses Jarrell as first a teacher and second a poet. Ferguson gives a solid, in-depth analysis of his major works, taking selections from all of his different areas of interest. Includes select bibliography and an exhaustive index.

Flynn, Richard. Randall Jarrell and the Lost World of Childhood. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990. Addresses the importance of Jarrell redetermining the “child’s set face” in the tumultuous lifestyle of modern-day society. The critical analysis that he offers is very insightful in this...

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