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Best Famous Randall Jarrell Poems

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by Randall Jarrell |

The Black Swan

 When the swans turned my sister into a swan
 I would go to the lake, at night, from milking:
The sun would look out through the reeds like a swan,
 A swan's red beak; and the beak would open
And inside there was darkness, the stars and the moon.
Out on the lake, a girl would laugh.
"Sister, here is your porridge, sister," I would call; and the reeds would whisper, "Go to sleep, go to sleep, little swan.
" My legs were all hard and webbed, and the silky Hairs of my wings sank away like stars In the ripples that ran in and out of the reeds: I heard through the lap and hiss of water Someone's "Sister .
.
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sister," far away on the shore, And then as I opened my beak to answer I heard my harsh laugh go out to the shore And saw - saw at last, swimming up from the green Low mounds of the lake, the white stone swans: The white, named swans .
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"It is all a dream," I whispered, and reached from the down of the pallet To the lap and hiss of the floor.
And "Sleep, little sister," the swan all sang From the moon and stars and frogs of the floor.
But the swan my sister called, "Sleep at last, little sister," And stroked all night, with a black wing, my wings.


by Randall Jarrell |

The Refugees

 In the shabby train no seat is vacant.
The child in the ripped mask Sprawls undisturbed in the waste Of the smashed compartment.
Is their calm extravagant? They had faces and lives like you.
What was it they possessed That they were willing to trade for this? The dried blood sparkles along the mask Of the child who yesterday possessed A country welcomer than this.
Did he? All night into the waste The train moves silently.
The faces are vacant.
Have none of them found the cost extravagant? How could they? They gave what they possessed.
Here all the purses are vacant.
And what else could satisfy the extravagant Tears and wish of the child but this? Impose its canceling terrible mask On the days and faces and lives they waste? What else are their lives but a journey to the vacant Satisfaction of death? And the mask They wear tonight through their waste Is death's rehearsal.
Is it really extravagant To read in their faces: What is there we possessed That we were unwilling to trade for this?


by Randall Jarrell |

Cinderella

 Her imaginary playmate was a grown-up 
In sea-coal satin.
The flame-blue glances, The wings gauzy as the membrane that the ashes Draw over an old ember --as the mother In a jug of cider-- were a comfort to her.
They sat by the fire and told each other stories.
"What men want.
.
.
" said the godmother softly-- How she went on it is hard for a man to say.
Their eyes, on their Father, were monumental marble.
Then they smiled like two old women, bussed each other, Said, "Gossip, gossip"; and, lapped in each other's looks, Mirror for Mirror, drank a cup of tea.
Of cambric tea.
But there is a reality Under the good silk of the good sisters' Good ball gowns.
She knew.
.
.
Hard-breasted, naked-eyed, She pushed her silk feet into glass, and rose within A gown of imaginary gauze.
The shy prince drank A toast to her in champagne from her slipper And breathed, "Bewitching!" Breathed, "I am bewitched!" --She said to her godmother, "Men!" And, later, looking down to see her flesh Look back up from under lace, the ashy gauze And pulsing marble of a bridal veil, She wished it all a widow's coal-black weeds.
A sullen wife and a reluctant mother, She sat all day in silence by the fire.
Better, later, to stare past her sons' sons, Her daughters' daughter, and tell stories to the fire.
But best, dead, damned, to rock forever Beside Hell's fireside-- to see within the flames The Heaven to whosee gold-gauzed door there comes A little dark old woman, the God's Mother, And cries, "Come in, come in! My son's out now, Out now, will be back soon, may be back never, Who knows, eh? We know what they are--men, men! But come, come in till then! Come in till then!


by Randall Jarrell |

The Woman At The Washington Zoo

 The saris go by me from the embassies.
Cloth from the moon.
Cloth from another planet.
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.
And I.
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.
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this print of mine, that has kept its color Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so To my bed, so to my grave, with no Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief, The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief-- Only I complain.
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this serviceable Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns, Wavy beneath fountains--small, far-off, shining In the eyes of 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! The world goes by my cage and never sees me.
And there come not to me, as come to these, The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain, Pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards Tearing the meat the flies have clouded.
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Vulture, When you come for the white rat that the foxes left, Take off the red helmet of your head, the black Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man: The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn, To whose hand of power the great lioness Stalks, purring.
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You know what I was, You see what I am: change me, change me!


by Randall Jarrell |

A Sick Child

 The postman comes when I am still in bed.
"Postman, what do you have for me today?" I say to him.
(But really I'm in bed.
) Then he says - what shall I have him say? "This letter says that you are president Of - this word here; it's a republic.
" Tell them I can't answer right away.
"It's your duty.
" No, I'd rather just be sick.
Then he tells me there are letters saying everything That I can think of that I want for them to say.
I say, "Well, thank you very much.
Good-bye.
" He is ashamed, and turns and walks away.
If I can think of it, it isn't what I want.
I want .
.
.
I want a ship from some near star To land in the yard, and beings to come out And think to me: "So this is where you are! Come.
" Except that they won't do, I thought of them.
.
.
.
And yet somewhere there must be Something that's different from everything.
All that I've never thought of - think of me!


by Randall Jarrell |

The Olive Garden

 (Rainer Maria Rilke)

He went up under the gray leaves
All gray and lost in the olive lands
And laid his forehead, gray with dust,
Deep in the dustiness of his hot hands.
After everything this.
And this was the end.
-- Now I must go, as I am going blind.
And why is it Thy will that I must say Thou art, when I myself no more can find Thee.
I find Thee no more.
Not in me, no.
Not in others.
Not in this stone, I find Thee no more.
I am alone.
I am alone with all men's sorrow -- All that, through Thee, I thought to lighten, Thou who art not, O nameless shame .
.
.
Men said, later: an angel came.
Why an angel? Alas, there came the night, And leafed through the trees, indifferently.
The disciples moved a little in their dreams.
Why an angel? Alas, there came the night.
The night that came was no uncommon night: So hundreds of nights go by.
There dogs sleep; there stones lie, Alas a sorrowful, alas any night That waits till once more it is morning.
For then beseech: the angels do not come, Never do nights grow great around them.
Who lose themselves, all things let go; They are renounced by their own fathers And shut from their own mothers' hearts.


by Randall Jarrell |

Losses

 It was not dying: everybody died.
It was not dying: we had died before In the routine crashes-- and our fields Called up the papers, wrote home to our folks, And the rates rose, all because of us.
We died on the wrong page of the almanac, Scattered on mountains fifty miles away; Diving on haystacks, fighting with a friend, We blazed up on the lines we never saw.
We died like aunts or pets or foreigners.
(When we left high school nothing else had died For us to figure we had died like.
) In our new planes, with our new crews, we bombed The ranges by the desert or the shore, Fired at towed targets, waited for our scores-- And turned into replacements and worke up One morning, over England, operational.
It wasn't different: but if we died It was not an accident but a mistake (But an easy one for anyone to make.
) We read our mail and counted up our missions-- In bombers named for girls, we burned The cities we had learned about in school-- Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among The people we had killed and never seen.
When we lasted long enough they gave us medals; When we died they said, "Our casualties were low.
" The said, "Here are the maps"; we burned the cities.
It was not dying --no, not ever dying; But the night I died I dreamed that I was dead, And the cities said to me: "Why are you dying? We are satisfied, if you are; but why did I die?"


by Randall Jarrell |

Eighth Air Force

 If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
A puppy laps the water from a can
Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving
Whistles O Paradiso!--shall I say that man
Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?

The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one
Lies counting missions, lies there sweating
Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.
O murderers! .
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.
Still, this is how it's done: This is a war .
.
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But since these play, before they die, Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man, I did as these have done, but did not die-- I will content the people as I can And give up these to them: Behold the man! I have suffered, in a dream, because of him, Many things; for this last saviour, 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.


by Randall Jarrell |

Hope

 The spirit killeth, but the letter giveth life.
The week is dealt out like a hand That children pick up card by card.
One keeps getting the same hand.
One keeps getting the same card.
But twice a day -- except on Saturday -- The wheel stops, there is a crack in Time: With a hiss of soles, a rattle of tin, My own gray Daemon pauses on the stair, My own bald Fortune lifts me by the hair.
Woe's me! woe's me! In Folly's mailbox Still laughs the postcard, Hope: Your uncle in Australia Has died and you are Pope, For many a soul has entertained A Mailman unawares -- And as you cry, Impossible, A step is on the stairs.
One keeps getting the same dream Delayed, marked "Payment Due," The bill that one has paid Delayed, marked "Payment Due" -- Twice a day, in rotting mailbox, The white grubs are new: And Faith, once more, is mine Faithfully, but Charity Writes hopefully about a new Asylum -- but Hope is as good as new.
Woe's me! woe's me! In Folly's mailbox Still laughs the postcard, Hope: Your uncle in Australia Has died and you are Pope, For many a soul has entertained A mailman unawares -- And as you cry, Impossible, A step is on the stairs.


by Randall Jarrell |

The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner

 From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.