Cover image for Randall Jarrell and his age
Randall Jarrell and his age
Burt, Stephen, 1971-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xvii, 291 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1300 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3519.A86 Z596 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) was the most influential poetry critic of his generation. He was also a lyric poet, comic novelist, translator, children's book author, and close friend of Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Hannah Arendt, and many other important writers of his time. Jarrell won the 1960 National Book Award for poetry and served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Amid the resurgence of interest in Randall Jarrell, Stephen Burt offers this brilliant analysis of the poet and essayist.

Burt's book examines all of Jarrell's work, incorporating new research based on previously undiscovered essays and poems. Other books have examined Jarrell's poetry in biographical or formal terms, but none have considered both his aesthetic choices and their social contexts. Beginning with an overview of Jarrell's life and loves, Burt argues that Jarrell's poetry responded to the political questions of the 1930s, the anxieties and social constraints of wartime America, and the apparent prosperity, domestic ideals, and professional ideology that characterized the 1950s. Jarrell's work is peopled by helpless soldiers, anxious suburban children, trapped housewives, and lonely consumers. Randall Jarrell and His Age situates the poet-critic among his peers--including Bishop, Lowell, and Arendt--in literature and cultural criticism. Burt considers the ways in which Jarrell's efforts and achievements encompassed the concerns of his time, from teen culture to World War II to the Cuban Missile Crisis; the book asks, too, how those efforts might speak to us now.

Author Notes

Stephen Burt is assistant professor of English at Macalester College. His essays on poets and poetry have appeared in the Boston Review, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Blackwell Companion to 20th Century Poetry, among other publications. His book of poems, Popular Music, won the Colorado Prize for 1999

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ordinarily, a book-length study of an American poet-critic almost 40 years dead isn't news, unless the poet-critic is T.S. Eliot. Yet this monograph from Burt is an exception. Burt (Popular Music) is one of the leading poet-critics of his own emerging generation, turning out an astonishing amount of terrific review-based criticism in places like the TLS and New York Times from his perch as an assistant professor of English at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. His project here is nothing less than the full-scale rehabilitation of Jarrell (1914-1965), who is best remembered for Poetry and the Age (1953), a series of essays that changed the way his contemporaries read Robert Frost (and told them how to read Robert Lowell, among other poets); his best-known poem is the searing "90 North," comparing self-exploration to polar exploration with magnificent results. Burt, playing off Jarrell's title, casts him as the product of an age preoccupied with Freud and Freudianism. Jarrell's particular psychological lens was developmental; he wrote numerous children's books, and his work expressed his "preoccupations with youth, age, and aging." After a preliminary biographical chapter, Burt traces Jarrell's elaboration of his major themes, tracking him through "Jarrell's Interpersonal Style," "Institutions, Professions, Criticism," "Men, Women, Children, Families" "Time and Memory" and other rubrics, bringing to bear a great deal of primary source social science that, as Burt shows, shaped Jarrell. Anyone with an interest in how the "Age of Anxiety" (an Auden poem Jarrell hated) expressed itself through one of its most sensitive souls will find this book a window into a lost intellectual world. (Jan.) Forecast: With blurbs from Louis Menand and Helen Vendler, this is not an ordinary first critical book from an assistant professor. Look for fans of Burt's poetry and review criticism to seek this one out, particularly given the steady release of new and reissued Jarrelliana.. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Burt (English, Macalester Coll.), author of an award-winning book of poetry as well as numerous essays on the subject, presents close readings of Jarrell's poetry and prose works, including his novel Pictures from an Institution and two of his children's books. After a brief biographical chapter, the critic examines the theme of self in Jarrell's poems, focusing on six approaches to this topic: the self as it depends on other selves, the self against society and institutions, psychoanalytic models of the self, the self in time, childhood and adolescence, and mothers, fathers, and families. This book began as a dissertation, and most nonscholars will find that the literary jargon can make for rough going; however, the frequent excerpts from Jarrell's poetry and prose, as well as the overviews of American culture and society during the three decades in which he flourished (from the 1940s to the mid-1960s) make this a required source for anyone doing research on the life and work of this noteworthy American poet and critic. For upper-level undergraduate and graduate collections.-Morris Hounion, New York City Coll. of Technology Lib., CUNY, Brooklyn (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

If Randall Jarrell's life is something of a puzzle, his poetry is not. Clear, intelligent, and hauntingly sad without the forced melancholy of the academic, his poetry continues to hold its place in anthologies of 20th-century poetry. However, Jarrell's work has frequently been reduced to just those anthology pieces, and consideration of his entire corpus is often pushed to one side by interest in his contemporaries, Lowell and Bishop. Burt (Macalester College) takes a comprehensive view of Jarrell's work, characterizing his style as one that "responds to the alienations it delineates by incorporating or troping speech and conversation, linking emotional events within one person's psyche to speech acts that might take place between persons." This is a useful approach, and Burt's efforts yield insight into both the social interests of the poet and his often brilliant stylistic ones. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. D. A. Barton formerly, California State University, Long Beach

Table of Contents

Antechapter: Randall Jarrell's Life
1 Jarrell's Interpersonal Style
2 Institutions, Professions, Criticism
3 Psychology and Psychoanalysis
4 Time and Memory
5 Childhood and Youth
6 Men, Women, Children, and Families
Conclusion: "What We See and Feel and Are"