Friday, March 25, 2011

Poems of the Day: Two More by Randall Jarrell (Accidental Poetry Month, Part 16)

Since my discovery of a great Jarrell poem earlier this month, I've been reading a lot more Jarrell -- and liking a lot of it. I'd known who he was before of course (he's pretty famous, although moreso as a literary critic than as a poet), but I hadn't ever focused on his work. But I think he's fabulous. So here's not one, but two poems of his that I recently read for the first time.

The first is one of Jarrell's war poems -- he was in the Air Corps in WW2 (what was later turned into the Air Force), and wrote a lot of poetry from his war experiences. Here's one:
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

-- Randall Jarrell

But while I like his war poetry, I think I like a lot of Jarrell's other work more. Here's another one -- picked partly because I liked it a lot upon reading it, and partly because in comments to my previous Jarrell post Holly mentioned that it was one of her favorite Jarrell poems:
90 North

At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe's impossible sides
I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.

There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,
The stiff fur knocked at my starveling throat,
And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,
Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.

—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence
Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,
The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare
At the North Pole . . .
And now what? Why, go back.

Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The world—my world spins on this final point
Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds
End in this whirlpool I at last discover.

And it is meaningless. In the child's bed
After the night's voyage, in that warm world
Where people work and suffer for the end
That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land

I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here at the actual pole of my existence,
Where all that I have done is meaningless,
Where I die or live by accident alone—

Where, living or dying, I am still alone;
Here where North, the night, the berg of death
Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,
I see at last that all the knowledge

I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.

-- Randall Jarrell

I may not be able to resist posting even more Jarrell later this week -- there are so many great ones out there. So stay tuned as Accidental Poetry Month™ continues...

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