Randall Jarrell - Biography and Works

Randall Jarrell is an American poet, who was noted for his acerbic, witty, and erudite criticism. But though he was best known as a literary critic, he was also respected as a poet. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, he earned bachelors and master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. From 1937 to 1939 he taught at Kenyon College, where he met the critic John Crowe Ransom and poet Robert Lowell, and then at the University of Texas.

Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)

His first book of poems, Blood for a Stranger, was published in 1942, and the same year he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He soon left the Air Corps for the army and worked as a control tower operator, an experience which provided much material for his poetry. Jarrell’s reputation as a poet was established in 1945, while he was still serving in the army, with the publication of his second book, Little Friend, Little Friend, which bitterly and dramatically documents the intense fear and moral struggles of young soldiers. Other volumes followed, all characterized by great technical skill, empathy with the lives of others, and an almost painful sensitivity. Following the war, Jarrell accepted a teaching position at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and remained there, except for occasional absence to teach elsewhere, until his death.

Even more than for his poems, Jarrell is highly regarded as a peerless literary essayist, and was considered the most astute and most feared poetry critic of his generation. Jarrell is also noted for his several children’s books. Jarrell’s sensitive, often tragic verse is collected in Blood for a Stranger (1942), Little Friend, Little Friend (1945), and Losses (1948), all of which deal with subjects related to war and human suffering. In fact, the latter two volumes deal with his own experience of World War II. Jarrell’s poetry also often deals with loneliness and the everyday struggle of people in an indifferent universe. His criticism is best known for its appreciation and defense of American poets Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams, who he thought were being, ignored by critics of his time. His most famous collection of critical essays is Poetry and the Age that indeed is a picture of the age bespattered with blood and beset with terrible suffering in which he lives. While Jarrell himself never saw combat as a serviceman during World War II those who did have found his war poems to be very true to life. He saw the suffering caused by war, and heard and felt it all. Jarrell’s only novel, Pictures from an Institution (1954), recounts his teaching experience at a progressive women’s college. Randall Jarrell was struck by a car and killed at the age of 50 in 1965, in a death that may or may not have been a suicide.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Randall Jarrell - Biography and Works." BachelorandMaster, 16 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/biography/randall-jarrell.html.

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