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Best Famous Randall Jarrell Poems

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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.


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 | |

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! .
.
.
Still, this is how it's done: This is a war .
.
.
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.


More great poems below...

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 | |

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 | |

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 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.
.
.
.
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.
.
.
.
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.
.
.
.
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.
.
.
.
You know what I was, You see what I am: change me, change me!


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 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 | |

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 .
.
.
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 .
.
.
"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 | |

90 North

 At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe's impossible sides
I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.
There in the childish night my companions lay frozen, The stiff fur knocked at my starveling throat, And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling, Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.
—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence Of the unbroken ice.
I stand here, The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare At the North Pole .
.
.
And now what? Why, go back.
Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The world—my world spins on this final point Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds End in this whirlpool I at last discover.
And it is meaningless.
In the child's bed After the night's voyage, in that warm world Where people work and suffer for the end That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here the actual pole of my existence, Where all that I have done is meaningless, Where I die or live by accident alone— Where, living or dying, I am still alone; Here where North, the night, the berg of death Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness, I see at last that all the knowledge I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me— Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing, The darkness from the darkness.
Pain comes from the darkness And we call it wisdom.
It is pain.


by Randall Jarrell | |

Gunner

 Did they send me away from my cat and my wife
To a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits,
The blood froze over my splints like a scab --
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret,
Till the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here, in the sand of a grave,
All my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice?
Did the medals go home to my cat?


by Randall Jarrell | |

Mail Call

 The letters always just evade the hand
One skates like a stone into a beam, falls like a bird.
Surely the past from which the letters rise Is waiting in the future, past the graves? The soldiers are all haunted by their lives.
Their claims upon their kind are paid in paper That established a presence, like a smell.
In letters and in dreams they see the world.
They are waiting: and the years contract To an empty hand, to one unuttered sound -- The soldier simply wishes for his name.


by Randall Jarrell | |

The Elementary Scene

 Looking back in my mind I can see 
The white sun like a tin plate 
Over the wooden turning of the weeds; 
The street jerking --a wet swing-- 
To end by the wall the children sang.
The thin grass by the girls' door, Trodden on, straggling, yellow and rotten, And the gaunt field with its one tied cow-- The dead land waking sadly to my life-- Stir, and curl deeper in the eyes of time.
The rotting pumpkin under the stairs Bundled with switches and the cold ashes Still holds for me, in its unwavering eyes, The stinking shapes of cranes and witches, Their path slanting down the pumpkin's sky.
Its stars beckon through the frost like cottages (Homes of the Bear, the Hunter--of that absent star, The dark where the flushed child struggles into sleep) Till, leaning a lifetime to the comforter, I float above the small limbs like their dream: I, I, the future that mends everything.


by Randall Jarrell | |

A Country Life

 A bird that I don't know,
Hunched on his light-pole like a scarecrow,
Looks sideways out into the wheat
The wind waves under the waves of heat.
The field is yellow as egg-bread dough Except where (just as though they'd let It live for looks) a locust billows In leaf-green and shade-violet, A standing mercy.
The bird calls twice, "Red clay, red clay"; Or else he's saying, "Directly, directly.
" If someone came by I could ask, Around here all of them must know -- And why they live so and die so -- Or why, for once, the lagging heron Flaps from the little creek's parched cresses Across the harsh-grassed, gullied meadow To the black, rowed evergreens below.
They know and they don't know.
To ask, a man must be a stranger -- And asking, much more answering, is dangerous; Asked about it, who would not repent Of all he ever did and never meant, And think a life and its distresses, Its random, clutched-for, homefelt blisses, The circumstances of an accident? The farthest farmer in a field, A gaunt plant grown, for seed, by farmers, Has felt a longing, lorn urbanity Jailed in his breast; and, just as I, Has grunted, in his old perplexity, A standing plea.
From the tar of the blazing square The eyes shift, in their taciturn And unavowing, unavailable sorrow.
Yet the intonation of a name confesses Some secrets that they never meant To let out to a soul; and what words would not dim The bowed and weathered heads above the denim Or the once-too-often washed wash dresses? They are subdued to their own element.
One day The red, clay face Is lowered to the naked clay; After some words, the body is forsaken The shadows lengthen, and a dreaming hope Breathes, from the vague mound, Life; From the grove under the spire Stars shine, and a wandering light Is kindled for the mourner, man.
The angel kneeling with the wreath Sees, in the moonlight, graves.


by Randall Jarrell | |

The Player Piano

 I ate pancakes one night in a Pancake House
Run by a lady my age.
She was gay.
When I told her that I came from Pasadena She laughed and said, "I lived in Pasadena When Fatty Arbuckle drove the El Molino bus.
" I felt that I had met someone from home.
No, not Pasadena, Fatty Arbuckle.
Who's that? Oh, something that we had in common Like -- like -- the false armistice.
Piano rolls.
She told me her house was the first Pancake House East of the Mississippi, and I showed her A picture of my grandson.
Going home -- Home to the hotel -- I began to hum, "Smile a while, I bid you sad adieu, When the clouds roll back I'll come to you.
" Let's brush our hair before we go to bed, I say to the old friend who lives in my mirror.
I remember how I'd brush my mother's hair Before she bobbed it.
How long has it been Since I hit my funnybone? had a scab on my knee? Here are Mother and Father in a photograph, Father's holding me.
.
.
.
They both look so young.
I'm so much older than they are.
Look at them, Two babies with their baby.
I don't blame you, You weren't old enough to know any better; If I could I'd go back, sit down by you both, And sign our true armistice: you weren't to blame.
I shut my eyes and there's our living room.
The piano's playing something by Chopin, And Mother and Father and their little girl Listen.
Look, the keys go down by themselves! I go over, hold my hands out, play I play -- If only, somehow, I had learned to live! The three of us sit watching, as my waltz Plays itself out a half-inch from my fingers.


by Randall Jarrell | |

Children Selecting Books In A Library

 With beasts and gods, above, the wall is bright.
The child's head, bent to the book-colored shelves, Is slow and sidelong and food-gathering, Moving in blind grace .
.
.
yet from the mural, Care The grey-eyed one, fishing the morning mist, Seizes the baby hero by the hair And whispers, in the tongue of gods and children, Words of a doom as ecumenical as dawn But blanched like dawn, with dew.
The children's cries Are to men the cries of crickets, dense with warmth -- But dip a finger into Fafnir, taste it, And all their words are plain as chance and pain.
Their tales are full of sorcerers and ogres Because their lives are: the capricious infinite That, like parents, no one has yet escaped Except by luck or magic; and since strength And wit are useless, be kind or stupid, wait Some power's gratitude, the tide of things.
Read meanwhile .
.
.
hunt among the shelves, as dogs do, grasses, And find one cure for Everychild's diseases Beginning: Once upon a time there was A wolf that fed, a mouse that warned, a bear that rode A boy.
Us men, alas! wolves, mice, bears bore.
And yet wolves, mice, bears, children, gods and men In slow preambulation up and down the shelves Of the universe are seeking .
.
.
who knows except themselves? What some escape to, some escape: if we find Swann's Way better than our own, an trudge on at the back Of the north wind to -- to -- somewhere east Of the sun, west of the moon, it is because we live By trading another's sorrow for our own; another's Impossibilities, still unbelieved in, for our own .
.
.
"I am myself still?" For a little while, forget: The world's selves cure that short disease, myself, And we see bending to us, dewy-eyed, the great CHANGE, dear to all things not to themselves endeared.


by Randall Jarrell | |

The Breath Of Night

 The moon rises.
The red cubs rolling In the ferns by the rotten oak Stare over a marsh and a meadow To the farm's white wisp of smoke.
A spark burns, high in heaven.
Deer thread the blossoming rows Of the old orchard, rabbits Hop by the well-curb.
The cock crows From the tree by the widow's walk; Two stars in the trees to the west, Are snared, and an owl's soft cry Runs like a breath through the forest.
Here too, though death is hushed, though joy Obscures, like night, their wars, The beings of this world are swept By the Strife that moves the stars.


by Randall Jarrell | |

Well Water

 What a girl called "the dailiness of life"
(Adding an errand to your errand.
Saying, "Since you're up .
.
.
" Making you a means to A means to a means to) is well water Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny Inexorable hours.
And yet sometimes The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands And gulp from them the dailiness of life.


by Randall Jarrell | |

The House In The Woods

 At the back of the houses there is the wood.
While there is a leaf of summer left, the wood Makes sounds I can put somewhere in my song, Has paths I can walk, when I wake, to good Or evil: to the cage, to the oven, to the House In the Wood.
It is a part of life, or of the story We make of life.
But after the last leaf, The last light--for each year is leafless, Each day lightless, at the last--the wood begins Its serious existence: it has no path, No house, no story; it resists comparison.
.
.
One clear, repeated, lapping gurgle, like a spoon Or a glass breathing, is the brook, The wood's fouled midnight water.
If I walk into the wood As far as I can walk, I come to my own door, The door of the House in the Wood.
It opens silently: On the bed is something covered, something humped Asleep there, awake there--but what? I do not know.
I look, I lie there, and yet I do not know.
How far out my great echoing clumsy limbs Stretch, surrounded only by space! For time has struck, All the clocks are stuck now, for how many lives, On the same second.
Numbed, wooden, motionless, We are far under the surface of the night.
Nothing comes down so deep but sound: a car, freight cars, A high soft droning, drawn out like a wire Forever and ever--is this the sound that Bunyan heard So that he thought his bowels would burst within him?-- Drift on, on, into nothing.
Then someone screams A scream like an old knife sharpened into nothing.
It is only a nightmare.
No one wakes up, nothing happens, Except there is gooseflesh over my whole body-- And that too, after a little while, is gone.
I lie here like a cut-off limb, the stump the limb has left.
.
.
Here at the bottom of the world, what was before the world And will be after, holds me to its back Breasts and rocks me: the oven is cold, the cage is empty, In the House in the Wood, the witch and her child sleep.


by Randall Jarrell | |

The Orient Express

 One looks from the train
Almost as one looked as a child.
In the sunlight What I see still seems to me plain, I am safe; but at evening As the lands darken, a questioning Precariousness comes over everything.
Once after a day of rain I lay longing to be cold; after a while I was cold again, and hunched shivering Under the quilt's many colors, gray With the dull ending of the winter day, Outside me there were a few shapes Of chairs and tables, things from a primer; Outside the window There were the chairs and tables of the world .
.
.
I saw that the world That had seemed to me the plain Gray mask of all that was strange Behind it -- of all that was -- was all.
But it is beyond belief.
One thinks, "Behind everything An unforced joy, an unwilling Sadness (a willing sadness, a forced joy) Moves changelessly"; one looks from the train And there is something, the same thing Behind everything: all these little villages, A passing woman, a field of grain, The man who says good-bye to his wife -- A path through a wood all full of lives, and the train Passing, after all unchangeable And not now ever to stop, like a heart -- It is like any other work of art, It is and never can be changed.
Behind everything there is always The unknown unwanted life.


by Randall Jarrell | |

Jerome

 Each day brings its toad, each night its dragon.
Der heilige Hieronymus--his lion is at the zoo-- Listens, listens.
All the long, soft, summer day Dreams affright his couch, the deep boils like a pot.
As the sun sets, the last patient rises, Says to him, Father, trembles, turns away.
Often, to the lion, the saint said, Son.
To the man the saint says--but the man is gone.
Under a plaque of Gradiva, at gloaming.
The old man boils an egg.
When he has eaten He listens a while.
The patients have not stopped.
At midnight, he lies down where his patients lay.
All night the old man whispers to the night.
It listens evenly.
The great armored paws Of its forelegs put together in reflection.
It thinks: Where Ego was, there Id shall be.
The world wrestles with it and is changed into it And after a long time changes it.
The dragon Listens as the old man says, at dawn: I see --There is an old man, naked in a desert, by a cliff.
He has set out his books, his hat, his ink, his shears Among scorpions, toads, the wild beasts of the desert.
I lie beside him--I am a lion.
He kneels listening.
He holds in his left hand The stone with which he beats his breat, and holds In his right hand, the pen with which he puts Into his book, the words of the angel: The angel up into whose face he looks.
But the angel does not speak.
He looks into the face Of the night, and the night says--but the night is gone.
He has slept.
.
.
.
At morning, when man's flesh is young And man's soul thankful for it knows not what, The air is washed, and smells of boiling coffee, And the sun lights it.
The old man walks placidly To the grocer's; walks on, under leaves, in light, To a lynx, a leopard--he has come; The man holds out a lump of liver to the lion, And the lion licks the man's hand with his tongue.


by John Berryman | |

Dream Song 121: Grief is fatiguing. He is out of it

 Grief is fatiguing.
He is out of it, the whole humiliating Human round, out of this & that.
He made a-many hearts go pit-a-pat who now need never mind his nostril-hair nor a critical error laid bare.
He endured fifty years.
He was Randall Jarrell and wrote a-many books & he wrote well.
Peace to the bearded corpse.
His last book was his best.
His wives loved him.
He saw in the forest something coming, grim, but did not change his purpose.
Honest & cruel, peace now to his soul.
He never loved his body, being full of dents.
A wrinkled peace to this good man.
Henry is half in love with one of his students and the sad process continues to the whole as it swarmed & began.