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This article is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

Speaking Shards: Randall Jarrell Nicolas Tredell

Randall Jarrell once occupied a respected place in American letters. Poet, critic, and teacher, author of a notable early contribution to the modern campus novel, Pictures from an Institution (1954), writer of successful children's books, Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress (the post now styled Poet Laureate), he enjoyed the admiration of figures as diverse as James Baldwin, who compared reading Jarrell's essays to watching Fred Astaire dance, Robert Lowell, who saw him both as a man who had preserved a certain childlike quality of vision and a kind of modern knight - 'Child(e) Randall' - and Adrienne Rich, who found in Jarrell 'an attention, ear, and spirit on which nothing was wasted, and which nothing escaped'. But by the time of his early death, in 1965 at the age of 51, he was already coming under fire; Remembering Randall (1999), the memoir by his second wife Mary von Schrader Jarrell, quotes Joseph Bennett's review in the New York Times of The Lost World (1965), in which most of the poems in that volume, including the title poem itself, which was very close to the author's heart, are dismissed as displaying 'Jarrell's familiar, clanging vulgarity, corny clich├ęs, cutenesses and the intolerable selfindulgences of his tear-jerking, bourgeois sentimentality'. Days after this, Jarrell, who had been deeply depressed even before reading the review, slashed his wrist in a suicide attempt; almost six months later; walking back one October evening along the highway to the University of North Carolina campus, he ...


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