Monday, June 26, 2017 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)


American poet, novelist, critic, children's book author and essayist.
Randall Jarrell
One of the most obvious facts about grown-ups, to a child, is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a child. The child has not yet had the chance to know what it is like to be a grownup; he believes, even, that being a grownup is a mistake he will never make—when he grows up he will keep on being a child, a big child with power. So the child and grownup live in mutual love, misunderstanding, and distaste. Children shout and play and cry and want candy; grownups say Ssh! and work and scold and want steak. There is no disputing tastes as contradictory as these. It is not just Mowgli who was raised by a couple of wolves; any child is raised by a couple of grownups. Father and Mother may be nearer and dearer than anyone will ever be again—still, they are members of a different species. God is, I suppose, what our parents were; certainly the ogre of the stories is so huge, so powerful, and so stupid because that is the way a grownup looks to a child.
Grownups forget or cannot believe that they seem even more unreasonable to children than children seem to them.
Jarrell quotes
Underneath all his writing there is the settled determination to use certain words, to take certain attitudes, to produce a certain atmosphere; what he is seeing or thinking or feeling has hardly any influence on the way he writes. The reader can reply, ironically, "That's what it means to have a style"; but few people have so much of one, or one so obdurate that you can say of it, "It is a style that no subject can change."
Jarrell
...I simply don’t want the poems mixed up with my life or opinions or picture or any other regrettable concomitants. I look like a bear and live in a cave; but you should worry.




Jarrell Randall quotes
Sam is a repetitive, comic process that merely marks time: he gets nowhere, but then he doesn’t want to get anywhere. Although there is no possibility of any real change in Sam, he never stops changing: Sam stays there inside Sam, getting less and less like the rest of mankind and more and more like Sam, Sam squared, Sam cubed, Sam to the nth.
Jarrell Randall
Such cultural homosexuality is an alienation more or less forced upon certain groups of Auden’s society by the form of their education and the nature of their social and financial conditions. Where the members of a class and a sex are taught, in a prolonged narcissistic isolation, to hero-worship themselves—class and sex; where—to a different class—unemployment is normal, where one’s pay is inadequate or impossible for more than one; where children are expensive liabilities instead of assets; where women are business competitors; where most social relationships have become as abstract, individualistic, and mobile as the relations of the labor market, homosexuality is a welcome asset to the state, one of the cheapest and least dangerous forms of revolution.
Randall Jarrell quotes
His eye a ring inside a ring inside a ring
That leers up, joyless, vile, in meek obscenity —
This is the devil. Flesh to flesh, he bleats
The herd back to the pit of being.
Randall Jarrell
...modern poetry is necessarily obscure; if the reader can’t get it, let him eat Browning...
Jarrell Randall quotes
A few months ago I read an interview with a critic; a well-known critic; an unusually humane and intelligent critic. The interviewer had just said that the critic “sounded like a happy man”, and the interview was drawing to a close; the critic said, ending it all: “I read, but I don’t get any time to read at whim. All the reading I do is in order to write or teach, and I resent it. We have no TV, and I don’t listen to the radio or records, or go to art galleries or the theater. I’m a completely negative personality.”
As I thought of that busy, artless life—no records, no paintings, no plays, no books except those you lecture on or write articles about—I was so depressed that I went back over the interview looking for some bright spot, and I found it, one beautiful sentence: for a moment I had left the gray, dutiful world of the professional critic, and was back in the sunlight and shadow, the unconsidered joys, the unreasoned sorrows, of ordinary readers and writers, amateurishly reading and writing “at whim”. The critic said that once a year he read Kim, it was plain, at whim: not to teach, not to criticize, just for love—he read it, as Kipling wrote it, just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn’t help himself. To him it wasn’t a means to a lecture or an article, it was an end; he read it not for anything he could get out of it, but for itself. And isn’t this what the work of art demands of us? The work of art, Rilke said, says to us always: You must change your life. It demands of us that we too see things as ends, not as means—that we too know them and love them for their own sake. This change is beyond us, perhaps, during the active, greedy, and powerful hours of our lives, but during the contemplative and sympathetic hours of our reading, our listening, our looking, it is surely within our power, if we choose to make it so, if we choose to let one part of our nature follow its natural desires. So I say to you, for a closing sentence: Read at whim! read at whim!
Jarrell
Somewhere there must be
Something that's different from everything.
All that I've never thought of — think of me!
Jarrell Randall
The usual bad poem in somebody’s Collected Works is a learned, mannered, valued habit, a habit a little more careful than, and little emptier than, brushing one’s teeth.
Randall Jarrell
Age could not wither nor custom stale her infinite monotony: in fact, neither Age nor Custom could do anything (as they said, their voices rising) with the American novelist Gertrude Johnson.




Randall Jarrell quotes
For this last savior, man,
I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying?
Men wash their hands in blood, as best they can:
I find no fault in this just man.
Randall Jarrell
Animals, these beings trapped
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death
— Oh, bars of my own body, open, open!
Jarrell quotes
...“progress”, in poetry at least, comes not so much from digesting the last age as from rejecting it altogether (or, rather, from eating a little and leaving a lot), and...the world’s dialectic is a sort of neo-Hegelian one in which one progresses not by resolving contradictions but by ignoring them.
Jarrell Randall
...good American poets are surprisingly individual and independent; they have little of the member-of-the-Academy, official man-of-letters feel that English or continental poets often have. When American poets join literary political parties, doctrinaire groups with immutable principles, whose poems themselves are manifestoes, the poets are ruined by it. We see this in the beatniks, with their official theory that you write a poem by putting down anything that happens to come into your head; this iron spontaneity of theirs makes it impossible for even a talented beatnik to write a good poem except by accident, since it eliminates the selection, exclusion, and concentration that are an essential part of writing a poem. Besides, their poems are as direct as true works of art are indirect: ironically, these conscious social manifestoes of theirs, these bohemian public speeches, make it impossible for the artist’s unconscious to operate as it normally does in the process of producing a work of art.
Jarrell Randall quotes
Our universities should produce good criticism; they do not—or, at best, they do so only as federal prisons produce counterfeit money: a few hardened prisoners are more or less surreptitiously continuing their real vocations.
Randall Jarrell
The poets of the last generation were extremely erudite, but their erudition was of the rather specialized type that passed as currency of the realm in a somewhat literary realm. About Darwin, Marx, Freud and Co., about all characteristically “scientific” or “modern” thinkers most of them concluded regretfully: “If they had not existed, it would not have been necessary to ignore them.” (Or deplore them.)
Randall Jarrell quotes
We always tend to distrust geniuses about genius, as if what they say didn’t arouse much empathy in us, or as if we were waiting till some more reliable source of information came along...
Randall Jarrell
We are all—so to speak—intellectuals about something.
Jarrell Randall
A culture is no better than its woods,” Auden writes. Fortunately for him, a book of poetry can be better than its poems. Two-thirds of The Shield of Achilles is non-Euclidean needlepoint, a man sitting on a chaise longue juggling four cups, four saucers, four sugar lumps, and the round-square: this is what great and good poets do when they don’t even bother to write great and good poems, now that they’ve learned that—it’s Auden’s leitmotif, these days—art is essentially frivolous. But a little of the time Auden is essentially serious, and the rest of the time he’s so witty, intelligent, and individual, so angelically skillful, that one reads with despairing enthusiasm, and enjoys Auden’s most complacently self-indulgent idiosyncrasy almost as one enjoys Sherlock Holmes’s writing Victoria Rex on the wall in bullet holes.


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