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Randall Jarrell, born in 1914 in Nashville, Tennessee, was a prominent American poet, critic, and teacher. Jarrell's influence extends beyond his poetic contributions; his literary criticism and work as a teacher left a lasting impact on American letters.

Literary Background and Early Influences:

Jarrell studied at Vanderbilt University, where he was part of a literary circle that included notable figures like John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate. Early on, his work was marked by a modernist influence, including the New Criticism, which emphasized close reading and formal analysis. The intellectual milieu of Vanderbilt greatly influenced his initial forays into poetry and criticism.

Poetic Schools and Movements:

Jarrell's work cannot easily be pigeonholed into a single poetic movement. His poetry evolved over time, from formal and modernist leanings to a more open, colloquial style. Though he was often seen as a war poet due to his early works, he defies neat categorization, showing influences ranging from modernism to confessional poetry.

Phases and Themes in Poetic Oeuvre:

-War Poetry: Serving as a flying cadet in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Jarrell's experiences found expression in his poetry. Works like "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" remain iconic anti-war poems.

-Domesticity and Ordinary Lives: Later in his career, Jarrell focused on everyday life and often wrote from the perspectives of women. Collections like "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" show his keen observational skills.

-Literary Criticism: His essays and reviews are equally significant, serving as an essential critique of mid-century American poetry and often helping to elevate the profiles of emerging poets.

-Childhood and Innocence: Jarrell had a lifelong interest in children's literature, and this infatuation extended into his own poetry, which often deals with themes of lost innocence and the tragedies and complexities of growing up.


Randall Jarrell's influence can be observed in two main areas: first, his poetry has remained an essential part of the American literary canon, particularly his war poems, which offer a searing look into the complexities and tragedies of conflict. Second, his role as a critic helped shape the reception of contemporary American poetry. His reviews could make or break careers, and his sharp observations still serve as a valuable resource for understanding the poetry of his time.


Though Jarrell never won a Pulitzer Prize, his work received significant critical acclaim. "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1961. Moreover, he served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for the term 1956–1958, a position today known as the U.S. Poet Laureate.


Randall Jarrell's contributions to American poetry are manifold. Not just a poet, but also a significant critic, his dual roles influenced the literary landscape of the mid-20th century in the United States. His thematic focus, ranging from the tragedies of war to the minutiae of domestic life, offers a compelling look into the complexities of human experience. His untimely death in 1965 left a void in American letters, but his work continues to be read and studied, affirming his lasting influence on American poetry and criticism.

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