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Best Famous Randall Jarrell Poems

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Written by Randall Jarrell |

Next Day

 Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical Food-gathering flocks Are selves I overlook.
Wisdom, said William James, Is learning what to overlook.
And I am wise If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves And the boy takes it to my station wagon, What I've become Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty And poor, I'd wish What all girls wish: to have a husband, A house and children.
Now that I'm old, my wish Is womanish: That the boy putting groceries in my car See me.
It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me And its mouth watered.
How often they have undressed me, The eyes of strangers! And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile Imaginings within my imagining, I too have taken The chance of life.
Now the boy pats my dog And we start home.
Now I am good.
The last mistaken, Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm Some soap and water-- It was so long ago, back in some Gay Twenties, Nineties, I don't know .
Today I miss My lovely daughter Away at school, my sons away at school, My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid, And I go through the sure unvarying days At home in them.
As I look at my life, I am afraid Only that it will change, as I am changing: I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate, The smile I hate.
Its plain, lined look Of gray discovery Repeats to me: "You're old.
" That's all, I'm old.
And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers, Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me How young I seem; I am exceptional; I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional, No one has anything, I'm anybody, I stand beside my grave Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

Written 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.

Written 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.

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Written 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.

Written by Randall Jarrell |


 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!

Written by Randall Jarrell |


 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?"

Written 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.

Written 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!

Written by Randall Jarrell |

The Old And The New Masters

 About suffering, about adoration, the old masters 
When someone suffers, no one else eats Or walks or opens the window--no one breathes As the sufferers watch the sufferer.
In St.
Sebastian Mourned by St.
Irene The flame of one torch is the only light.
All the eyes except the maidservant's (she weeps And covers them with a cloth) are fixed on the shaft Set in his chest like a column; St.
Irene's Hands are spread in the gesture of the Madonna, Revealing, accepting, what she does not understand.
Her hands say: "Lo! Behold!" Beside her a monk's hooded head is bowed, his hands Are put together in the work of mourning.
It is as if they were still looking at the lance Piercing the side of Christ, nailed on his cross.
The same nails pierce all their hands and feet, the same Thin blood, mixed with water, trickles from their sides.
The taste of vinegar is on every tongue That gasps, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" They watch, they are, the one thing in the world.
So, earlier, everything is pointed In van der Goes' Nativity, toward the naked Shining baby, like the needle of a compass.
The different orders and sizes of the world: The angels like Little People, perched in the rafters Or hovering in mid-air like hummingbirds; The shepherds, so big and crude, so plainly adoring; The medium-sized donor, his little family, And their big patron saints; the Virgin who kneels Before her child in worship; the Magi out in the hills With their camels--they ask directions, and have pointed out By a man kneeling, the true way; the ox And the donkey, two heads in the manger So much greater than a human head, who also adore; Even the offerings, a sheaf of wheat, A jar and a glass of flowers, are absolutely still In natural concentration, as they take their part In the salvation of the natural world.
The time of the world concentrates On this one instant: far off in the rocks You can see Mary and Joseph and their donkey Coming to Bethlehem; on the grassy hillside Where their flocks are grazing, the shepherds gesticulate In wonder at the star; and so many hundreds Of years in the future, the donor, his wife, And their children are kneeling, looking: everything That was or will be in the world is fixed On its small, helpless, human center.
After a while the masters show the crucifixion In one corner of the canvas: the men come to see What is important, see that it is not important.
The new masters paint a subject as they please, And Veronese is prosecuted by the Inquisition For the dogs playing at the feet of Christ, The earth is a planet among galaxies.
Later Christ disappears, the dogs disappear: in abstract Understanding, without adoration, the last master puts Colors on canvas, a picture of the universe In which a bright spot somewhere in the corner Is the small radioactive planet men called Earth.

Written 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.

Written 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.
" 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!

Written 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.

Written by Randall Jarrell |


 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.

Written 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.

Written by Randall Jarrell |


 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.