Poet, critic and novelist Randall Jarrell was born on May 6, 1914 in Nashville, Tennessee. He began his career as a critic in his High School magazine before studying at Vanderbilt University where he edited the student humour magazine. He studied there under Robert Penn Warren, who first published Jarrell’s criticism, and Allen Tate, who first published his poetry. From 1937 to 1939 Jarrell taught English at Kenyon College in Ohio, where he became friends with Robert Lowell, moving on to teach at the University of Texas at Austin from 1939 to 1942.

In 1942 he published his first collection of poetry, Blood for a Stranger, and joined the US Army Air Corps; failing pilot training he became a celestial navigation tower operator ‘a job title he considered the most poetic in the air force’ (New York Times, 15 October 1965) in Tuscon, Arizona.  His second and third books, Little Friend, Little Friend (1945) and Losses (1948) drew heavily on his Army experiences. The 5-line poem The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner is his most famous war poem and is frequently found in anthologies.

I have tried to make my poems plain, and most of them are plain enough; but I wish they were more difficult because I had known more. Randall Jarrell

After the war Jarrell joined the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY for a year and also served as the book review editor for The Nation magazine then moved to the University of North Carolina.  His reputation was firmly established in 1960 when his collection The Woman at the Washington Zoo won the National Book Award. He was struck by a car and killed on October 14, 1965, a death which has been ascribed to either accident or suicide.

Randall Jarrell’s Poetry

A collection of poems printed from 1942-1954 in The New York Times Book Review