Jarrell Randall

Randall Jarrell (1914-1965). Courtesy New World Encyclopedia.

Randall Jarrell
Born May 6, 1914(1914-Template:MONTHNUMBER-06)
Nashville, Tennessee
Died October 14, 1965(1965-Template:MONTHNUMBER-14) (aged 51)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Occupation poet, critic, novelist, and essayist
Nationality United States American
Notable award(s) National Book Award

Randall Jarrell (May 6, 1914 - October 14, 1965) was an American poet, literary critic, and novelist.[1] He was the 11th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.


Jarrell was a native of Nashville, Tennessee. He received a B.A. from Vanderbilt University in 1935. While at Vanderbilt, he edited the student humor magazine the Masquerader, was captain of the tennis team, made Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude. He studied there under Robert Penn Warren, who first published his criticism; Allen Tate, who first published his poetry; and John Crowe Ransom, who gave him his first teaching job as a Freshman Composition instructor and tennis coach at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1938, the year that he finished his master's degree from Vanderbilt.[2]

While teaching at Kenyon, Jarrell wrote his master's thesis on the poetry of A.E. Housman, and roomed with writers Robie Macauley, Peter Taylor,[3] and poet Robert Lowell. Lowell and Jarrell remained good friends and peers until Jarrell's death. According to Lowell biographer Paul Mariani, "Jarrell was the first person of [Lowell's] own generation [whom he] genuinely held in awe" due to Jarrell's brilliance and confidence even at the age of 23.[4]

Jarrell went on to teach at the University of Texas at Austin from 1939 to 1942, where he met his first wife, Mackie Langham. In 1942 he left the university to join the U.S. Army Air Forces. According to his obituary, he "[started] as a flying cadet, [then] he later became a celestial navigation tower operator, a job title he considered the most poetic in the Air Force."[5] His early poetry would focus on the subject of his war-time experiences in the Air Force.

The Jarrell obit goes on to state that "after being discharged from the service he joined the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., for a year before going to the then Woman's College of the University of North Carolina where, as an associate professor of English, he taught modern poetry and imaginative writing." [5]

Jarrell translated poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and others, a play by Anton Chekhov, and several Grimm fairy tales.

On October 14, 1965, while walking along a road in Chapel Hill near dusk, Jarrell was struck by a car and killed. The coroner ruled the death accidental, but Jarrell had recently been treated for mental illness and a previous suicide attempt, so some of the people closest to Jarrell suspected that he might have committed suicide. In a letter to Elizabeth Bishop about a week after Jarrell's death, Lowell wrote: "There's a small chance [that Jarrell's death] was an accident. . . [but] I think it was suicide, and so does everyone else, who knew him well."[6] Still, Jarrell's 2nd wife, Mary (whom he'd married in 1952), held that his death was an accident.


His first collection of poetry, Blood from a Stranger, which was heavily influenced by W.H. Auden, was published in 1942 - the same year he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. His second and third books, Little Friend, Little Friend (1945) and Losses (1948), drew heavily on his Army experiences. It was in these books that Jarrell broke free of Auden's influence and developed his own style and poetic philosophy which he would later document in his critical essays. "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" is the most famous of Jarrell's war-poems and one that is frequently anthologized. It presents the soldier as innocent and child-like, placing blame for war on "the State."

However, during this period, he earned a reputation primarily as a literary critic, rather than as a poet. Encouraged by Edmund Wilson, who published Jarrell's criticism in The New Republic, Jarrell quickly became a fiercely humorous critic of fellow poets. In the post-war period, his criticism began to change, showing a more positive emphasis. His appreciations of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams helped to establish or resuscitate their reputations as significant American poets, and his poet/friends often returned the favor, as when Lowell wrote a review of Jarrell's book of poems, The Seven League Crutches in 1951. Lowell wrote that Jarrell was "the most talented poet under forty, and one whose wit, pathos, and grace remind us more of Pope or Matthew Arnold than of any of his contemporaries." In the same review, Lowell calls Jarrell's first book of poems, Blood for A Stranger "a tour-de-force in the manner of Auden."[7] And in another book review for Jarrell's Selected Poems, a few years later, fellow-poet Karl Shapiro compared Jarrell to "the great modern Rainer Maria Rilke" and stated that the book "should certainly influence our poetry for the better. It should become a point of reference, not only for younger poets, but for all readers of twentieth-century poetry."[8]

Jarrell is also noted for his essays on Robert Frost – whose poetry was a large influence on Jarrell's own – Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and others, which were mostly collected in Poetry and the Age (1953). Many scholars consider him the most astute poetry critic of his generation, and in 1979, the author and poet Peter Levi went so far as to advise younger writers, "Take more notice of Randall Jarrell than you do of any academic critic."[9]

His reputation as a poet was not firmly established until 1960, when his National Book Award-winning collection The Woman at the Washington Zoo was published. His final volume, The Lost World, published in 1965, cemented that reputation; many critics consider it his best work. The book's subject, one of Jarrell's favorites, is childhood. Jarrell also published a satiric novel, Pictures from an Institution, in 1954 (nominated for the 1955 National Book Award) - drawing upon his teaching experiences at Sarah Lawrence College, which served as the model for the fictional Benton College - and several children's stories, among which The Bat-Poet (1964) and The Animal Family (1965) are considered prominent (and feature illustrations by Maurice Sendak).

Recognition Edit

Awards that Jarrell received during his lifetime included a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1947-1948, a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1951, and the National Book Award in 1961.

He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position today known as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry) from 1956 to 1958.

On February 28, 1966, a memorial service was held in Jarrell's honor at Yale University, and some of the best-known poets in the country attended and spoke at the event, including Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, John Berryman, Stanley Kunitz, and Robert Penn Warren. Reporting on the memorial service, the New York Times quoted Robert Lowell, who said that Jarrell was, "'the most heartbreaking poet of our time'. . . [and] had written 'the best poetry in English about the Second World War.'"[10]

In 2004, the Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission approved placement of a historical marker in his honor, to be placed at Hume-Fogg High School, which he attended.



  • Five Young American Poets (by Mary Barnard, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, W.R. Moses, & George Marion O'Donnell). Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1940.[11]
  • Blood for A Stranger. New York: Harcourt, 1942.
  • Little Friend, Little Friend. New York: Dial, 1945.
  • Losses. New York: Harcourt, 1948.
  • The Seven League Crutches. NY: Harcourt, 1951.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Knopf, 1955.
  • Uncollected Poems. Cincinnati: 1958.
  • The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Poems and translations. New York: Atheneum, 1960.
  • Selected Poems, including The woman at the Washington Zoo. NY: Macmillan, 1964.
  • The Lost World: New poems. New York: Macmillan, 1965.
  • The Complete Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1969.
  • The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner (illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker). David Lewis, 1969.
  • The Achievement of Jarrell: A comprehensive selection of his poems (edited by Frederick J. Hoffman). Scott Foresman, 1970.
  • Selected Poems (edited by William Pritchard). New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1990.



  • Poetry and the Age (criticism). New York: Knopf, 1953; Noonday, 1972.
  • A Sad Heart at the Supermarket: Essays & fables. New York: Atheneum, 1962.
  • Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965 (edited by Robert Lowell, Peter Taylor, & Robert Penn Warren). New York: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1968.
  • The Third Book of Criticism. NY: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1969.
  • Kipling, Auden & Co.: Essays and Reviews, 1935-1964. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1979.
  • No Other Book: Selected Essays (edited by Brad Leithauser). NY: HarperCollins, 1995.


  • The Gingerbread Rabbit (illustrated by Garth Williams). New York: Macmillan, 1963.
  • The Bat-Poet (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). New York: Macmillan, 1964.
  • The Animal Family (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
  • Fly by Night (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976.


  • Ferdinand Gregorovius, The Ghetto and the Jews of Rome, Schocken, 1948.
  • Ludwig Bechstein, The Rabbit Catcher, and other fairy tales. New York: Macmillan, 1962.
  • Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm, The Golden Bird, and other fairy tales of the brothers Grimm. New York: Macmillan, 1962.
  • Anton Chekhov, The Three Sisters, produced at Morosco Theatre, 1964.
  • Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm, Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, Farrar, Straus, 1972.
  • Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm, The Juniper Tree, and other tales from Grimm, edited by Lore Segal and Sendak, Farrar, Straus, 1973.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe's Faust, Part I. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1976.


  • The Anchor Book of Stories, Doubleday-Anchor, 1958.
  • Rudyard Kipling, The Best Short Stories of Rudyard Kipling. New York: Doubleday, 1961.
  • Rudyard Kipling, The English in England. New York: Doubleday, 1963.
  • Rudyard Kipling, In the Vernacular: The English in India. New York: Doubleday, 1963.
  • Six Russian Short Novels. New York: Doubleday, 1963.


  • Randall Jarrell's Letters: An autobiographical and literary selection (edited by Mary Jarrell & Stuart Wright). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[12]

Audio / videoEdit

Randall Jarrell reads "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"01:16

Randall Jarrell reads "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"

  • Randall Jarrell Reading (LP). Detroit, MI: Poets Co., 1966.
  • Randall Jarrell Reads and Discusses His Poems against War (cassette). New York: Caedmon, 1972.
  • Randall Jarrell Reading The Gingerbread Rabbit (LP). New York: Caedmon, 1972.
  • Randall Jarrell / John Berryman (cassette). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.
  • Randall Jarrell (CD).Santa Ana, CA : Books on Tape, 2005.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. Randall Jarrell, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Mar. 29, 2013.
  2. North Carolina Writer's Network, Biography of Randall Jarrell
  3. McAlexander, Hugh, "Peter Taylor: The Undergraduate Years at Kenyon," The Kenyon Review, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 3/4 (Summer - Autumn, 1999), pp. 43-57
  4. Mariani, Paul. Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell. New York: Norton, 1994.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Randall Jarrell, Poet, Killed By Car in Carolina." The New York Times 15 October 1965.
  6. Lowell, Robert. "To Elizabeth Bishop." 28 October 1965. Letter 464 in The Letters of Robert Lowell. Ed. Saskia Hamilton. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2005. 465.
  7. Lowell, Robert. "With Wild Dogmatism." New York Times Book Review 7 October 1951, p. 7.
  8. Shapiro, Karl. "In the Forest of the Little People." The New York Times Book Review 13 March 1955.
  9. The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 14 Peter Levi, Interviewed by Jannika Hurwitt. Issue 76, Fall 1979.
  10. Gilroy, Harry. "Poets Honor Memory of Jarrell at Yale." The New York Times 1 March 1966.
  11. Search results = Five Young American Poets, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 24, 2014.
  12. Randall Jarrell 1914-1965, Poetry Foundation, Web, June 23, 2012.
  13. Search results = au:Randall Jarrell + audiobook, WorldCat, OCLC, Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 7 2017.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
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