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The Complete Poems Paperback – April 1, 1981

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“I believe that Randall Jarrell will have something to say to people for a very long time to come, especially as the world tries increasingly to survive by inhumanity. . . . His poems give you the feel of a time, our time, as no other poet of [the twentieth] century does.” ―James Dickey

“What Jarrell's inner life really was in all its wonder, variety, and subtlety is best told in his poetry. . . . Always behind the sharpened edge of his lines, there is the merciful vision, his vision . . . an illumination of life, too sad and radiant for us to stay with long--or forget.” ―Robert Lowell

“Jarrell is the one poet of my generation who made an art of American speech as it is, who advanced beyond Frost in using not only a contemporary idiom but the actual rhythms of our speech. No other poet of our time has embalmed the common dialogue of Americans with such mastery.” ―Karl Shapiro

About the Author

Randall Jarrell, born in 1914 in Nashville, Tennessee, was a prolific and widely respected poet, critic, translator, and fiction writer. A friend and contemporary to Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Jarrell received the National Book Award (amid other honors) for his verse. He also served as U.S. Poet Laureate. Jarrell died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1965.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (April 1, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374513058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374513054
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jesse Kornbluth on April 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Randall Jarrell was the very image of the academic poet. He wore beautiful tweeds. His beard was just-so. He drove a sports car. He was ferociously well-educated. (His wife teasingly called him "arrogant and pretentious." His response: "Wittier than anybody!") His classes were legendary. And he had a tragic death: hit by a car as he walked along a highway at dusk.

And, of course, he was accomplished. In addition to his poems, Jarrell was an acute critic --- those essays are collected in No Other Book --- who could build a case for a writer he loved or destroy an enemy with a line: Oscar Williams's poems, he said, give the impression of "having been written on a typewriter by a typewriter." He wrote a novel satirizing a college literature department. He loved fairy tales, and produced a brilliant translation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The poems? You've read him. You just forgot. Jarrell served in World War II. This is his classic poem, anthologized everywhere --- "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," in its entirety:

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 the 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.

I love Jarrell for his later work, especially the poems from the collection, "The Lost World." He has a leering sense of sex, a warmly ironic take on the dance between men and women, and although he certainly understood men, his sympathies seemed to lay with the despair and hopefulness of women. Which is all to say: Despite what he knew, he was a total romantic. "A wish, come true, is life. I have my life," he wrote.
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I had read some of Randall Jarrell's poems and loved their gritty truths. It took some time to track this volume down. I love his war poems for their eleoquence in describing the reality of war. His descriptions are terse and lyrical. The sadness resonated long after I read them. The poems drawing from his own experience describe the reality of the bombing raids from both the crews, families and victims perspectives. They stand along side the great war poets .
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A great poem ought to be huge - grand in scope, but not necessarily excessive in length. Great poetry should tell massive stories with multiple layers concisely and artfully. One doesn't need obscure references, convoluted language, nor self-congratulatory internal winkings. Poetry is supposed to be honest. A great poem should pack a serious punch of power and style and insight.

It's a complicated world and life is complex, confusing, and manifestly difficult to fathom. Poetry is at its best when it illustrates and even explains something of life and humanity in a form that is reachable and readily understood, entertaining and impressive. Overly complex poetry tends to be more a demonstration of the art and poet rather than anything that might tend to educate, enlighten, or entertain the reader.

I've heaped praise and criticism on the Nashville Fugitives. I believe the finest Civil War poem of the 20th century is by one of them - "Lee in the Mountains", by Donald Davidson. Conversely, the worst Civil War poem of the last century was perpetrated by Allen Tate another Fugitive. His poem "Ode to the Confederate Dead" is something of a crime; a criminal cruelty dumped upon an entire country by an otherwise credible poet. Tate's poem has long been considered a classic, a suitable tribute to the Confederate dead - the truth is that both assertions are false.

Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead" is a brilliant poem conceived by another writer associated with the Fugitives (Lowell studied under John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College). These three poems represent the finest and the worst 20th century poetic treatments of the Civil War.
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