Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Jarrell, Randall (1914–1965)
Author:
Britton, Wesley A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The distinguished career of Randall Jarrell, Tennessee-born author, educator, editor, and critic, centers on the poetry he wrote during World War II. Throughout his career Jarrell championed Whitman's use of language, form, and epic scope, finding his style "beautifully witty" (Poetry 103) while admitting Whitman had tedious passages. In letters written in late 1951, Jarrell instructed friends to put flowers at Whitman's birthplace, saying, "Whitman is a wonderful poet at his best" (Letters 288) and praising "Song of Myself" and "The Sleepers."

In "The Age of Criticism" (1952) Jarrell praises Whitman as a poet defying the analytical approach of the New Critics, quoting his favorite Whitman lines: "I am the man, I suffered, I was there" ("Song of Myself," section 33). In Poetry and the Age (1953), Jarrell evaluates Whitman's then minor reputation and finds him crude and awkward, but with "the most comprehensive soul" (Poetry 115), a poet who could not resist the truth. Whitman, Jarrell asserts, should not be dismissed or patronized by critics and should be considered alongside Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. He admired "Out of the Cradle" which was later compared to his own "The Bronze David of Donatello."

Bibliography

Jarrell, Randall. Poetry and the Age. New York: Vintage, 1953.

———. Randall Jarrel's Letters: An Autobiographical and Literary Selection. Ed. Mary Jarrell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.


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