The Seven-League Crutches

Sideswiped by a car, Randall Jarrell died 34 years ago at the age of 51. That he has remained a presence as a writer and even as a man is vividly testified to by these books, which bring back a lot of memories, and different kinds of memories. Randall Jarrell was a force, even a star of the literary firmament, and when his books came out they were read and they were reacted to, though not always with precision. I remember an undergraduate poet asking me, in 1964, "Have you read The Owl by John Crowe Ransom?" I was able to return, "Are you referring to The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell?" Since then, I believe, that once-young poet, a disciple of Yvor Winters, has been a political scientist.

Randall Jarrell's death in 1965 was a great loss, a particular and even peculiar one. Because of a mental breakdown he had suffered before the disaster, there has been a widespread conviction that actually he committed suicide. Jarrell's widow, in her memoir, has argued effectively that the circumstances show his death to have been an accident, not self-destruction. Jarrell's biographer, William II. Pritchard (Randall Jarrell, A Literary Life [1990]), declared that the exact nature of his death remains unknowable. However that may be, Jarrell's death entangled him forever in the context of the 60's, confessional poetry, and the unambiguous suicides of other poets, such as Sylvia Plath, John...

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