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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 4 Number 4, 1975.

'Hansel and Gretel in America' - The Dynamics of Change and Loss in the Poetry of Randall Jarrell Jonathan Galassi


AMERICAN POETRY has seldom had an advocate as devoted as Randall Jarrell. Practitioner, proponent, defender, chronicler, and censor, Jarrell did more to establish the canon of modern American poetry than any writer of his era. After winning early recognition as a poet of impressive gifts, he went on to write widely admired criticism as well, much of which was instrumental in defining the characteristic vigours and virtues of the American poetic idiom. 'Eulogy was the glory of Randall's criticism', wrote Robert Lowell, in a memorial essay published after Jarrell's death in 1965. 'He left many reputations permanently altered and exalted.' Among those reputations were Whitman's, Frost's, and Marianne Moore's; Poetry and the Age, his first collection of essays, published in 1953, was in large part devoted to demonstrating the importance of these writers. 'Critics have to spend half their time reiterating whatever ridiculously obvious things their age or the critics of their age have found it necessary to forget', he said, in an essay that proved instrumental in refurbishing Whitman's standing. Other poets fared less well; Jarrell could be caustic and destructive, too. Yet the generally broadminded, down-to-earth integrity of his evaluations gives them an air of objectivity, and many of his judgements have come to be adopted as the general consensus.

The poet's championing of poetry also took the form of a despairing critique of the place of literature and of the artist in contemporary society. 'The poet writes his poem for its own sake, ...


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