Thursday, May 11, 2006

Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

Randall Jarrell said, “It is terrible to be alive,” and “Man is born in chains and everywhere we see him dead.” These dire themes and others, such as loneliness and loss, resonate throughout his poetry. In 1965, at the age of 50, he attempted suicide and later that year was struck and killed by a car while walking along a highway—reopening the unavoidable question of suicide. It might have been that his self-protective poetry finally deserted him during a mid-life crisis, leaving him defenseless against the harshness of life as he saw it. In his own words, “I don’t know whether you’d guess it, but I have an even, cheerful, and optimistic disposition: what I write is therapeutically the opposite.” His dear friend Elizabeth Bishop said, “I like to think of him as I saw him once after we had gone swimming together on Cape Cod; wearing only bathing trunks and a very queer straw cap…seated on the crest of a high sand dune, writing in a notebook. It was a bright and dazzling day. Randall looked small and rather delicate, but bright and dazzling too.”

--From Poetry Speaks

Peter Sacks on Randall Jarrell

Much of [Jarrell’s] poetry searches desperately for some egress from the prison of exclusively personal experience and identity—via the use of personae, fairy tales, Chekhovian significant detail, translation, or by the way of crying out for the kind of violent but passive metamorphosis (“change me, change me!”) that does not require a greater strength or effort of will….at best, Jarrell’s intuitive sympathies and his sad, almost fixated love for the fugitive sweetness of life and for the marred innocence of dream, yield poems of stubborn fidelity to imaginary or lost worlds evoked with a crystalline grace.

--From Poetry Speaks


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