Randall Jarrell

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Photograph of Jarrell in 1956
Photograph of Jarrell in 1956

Randall Jarrell (May 6, 1914 – October 15, 1965), was a United States author, writer and poet.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Bibliography
  • 4 External links


Jarrell was a native of Nashville, Tennessee and graduated from Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, he was acquainted with poets of the Fugitives group. Jarrell followed critic John Crowe Ransom from Vanderbilt to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where Jarrell wrote a masters thesis on the poetry of Alfred Edward Housman, and roomed with poet Robert Lowell. He taught at Kenyon College, the University of Texas, the University of Illinois, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On October 14, 1965, while walking along a road in Chapel Hill near dusk, Jarrell was struck by a car and killed. The coroner ruled the death accidental, but Jarrell had recently been treated for mental illness and a previous suicide attempt. In 2004, the Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission approved placement of a historical marker in his honor, to be placed at Hume-Fogg High School, which he attended.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has an extensive Randall Jarrell Collection which "includes over two thousand manuscript items and books relating to one of the mid-20th century's most important American poets and critics."[1]

Recently, community activists proposed to name a new elementary school in Greensboro in honor of Jarrell, but some parents protested due to his sordid past. The name change was defeated 7-2 by the school board, and the schools was named Northern Elementary instead.


His first collection of poetry, Blood from a Stranger, was published in 1942 — the same year he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He failed to qualify to fly, however, and instead worked for the Army stateside as a control tower operator. His second and third books, Little Friend, Little Friend (1945) and Losses (1948), drew heavily on his Army experiences, dealing with the fears and moral struggles of soldiers. The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner is a particularly famous Jarrell poem in this vein. During this period, however, he earned a reputation primarily as a critic, rather than as a poet. Encouraged by Edmund Wilson, who published Jarrell's criticism in The New Republic, Jarrell quickly became a fiercely humorous critic of fellow poets. In the post-war period, his criticism began to change, showing a more positive emphasis. His appreciations of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams helped to establish their reputations as significant American poets. He is also noted for his essays on Robert Frost — whose poetry was a large influence on Jarrell's own — Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and others, which were mostly collected in Poetry and the Age (1953). Many scholars consider him the most astute poetry critic of his generation.

His reputation as a poet was not established until 1960, when his National Book Award-winning collection The Woman at the Washington Zoo was published. His final volume, The Lost World, published in 1966, cemented that reputation; many critics consider it his best work. Jarrell also published a satiric novel, Pictures from an Institution, in 1954 (nominated for 1955 National Book Award) — drawing upon his teaching experiences at Sarah Lawrence College, which served as the model for the fictional Benton College — and several children's stories, among which The Bat-Poet (1964) and The Animal Family (1965) are considered prominent. He translated poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and others, a play by Anton Chekhov, and several Grimm fairy tales. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress — a position today known as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry — from 1956-1958.


  • Poetry and the Age. NY: Knopf, 1953.
  • A Sad Heart at the Supermarket; essays & fables. NY: Atheneum, 1962.
  • The Bat-Poet. Pictures by Maurice Sendak. NY: Macmillan, 1964.
  • The Lost World. NY: Macmillan, 1965.
  • The animal family. Decorations by Maurice Sendak. NY: Pantheon Books, 1965. Juv / Fiction J37 a
  • The third book of criticism. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969.
  • The complete poems. NY: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1969.
  • Kipling, Auden & Co.: essays and reviews, 1935-1964. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.
  • Randall Jarrell's letters: an autobiographical and literary selection. edited by Mary Jarrell ; assisted by Stuart Wright. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
  • Jarrell page at Modern American Poetry site
  • The Randall Jarrell collection at the University of North Carolina (UNCG)
  • Jarrell on the New York Times Featured Authors site
  • Essay on Jarrell's criticism
  • News of historical marker
  • Randall Jarrell on Find-A-Grave
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