Randall Jarrell |
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
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
That the boy putting groceries in my car
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.
Randall Jarrell |
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
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.
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 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!
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?"
Randall Jarrell |
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.
Randall Jarrell |
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.
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.
Randall Jarrell |
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.
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
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.
Randall Jarrell |
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.
Sebastian Mourned by St.
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.
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.
Randall Jarrell |
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!
" 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!
Randall Jarrell |
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.