The Grave of Randall Jarrell


Yesterday I visited the grave of Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965. Besides being a poet and professor, he was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for 1956-1958, now known as the Poet Laureate of the United States.

He’s buried in the New Garden Friends Meeting graveyard, right across the street from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, though he taught at the nearby Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina which is now just called UNC Greensboro.

While his slab was baking in the late August sun, the rest of the cemetery had plenty of shade and simple stones. I probably have a few ancestors buried there too but they died before Quakers marked graves.

Jarrell wasn’t Quaker (he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during Word War II) but his most anthologized poem, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, if not explicitly pacifist, certainly does not glorify war.

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.

I’ll commend another poem of his, The Woman at the Washington Zoo.

20200827_135346He was killed along a stretch of road that I know well, just south of Chapel Hill, though I’m sure it’s quite different now, 55 years later. He was walking near dusk and struck by a car. In the last couple of years of life he had been depressed, hospitalized and on medication. Officially it was an accident, not suicide, but we’ll never know for sure.

And it’s none of our business anyway.


About Bartholomew Barker

Bartholomew Barker is one of the organizers of Living Poetry, a collection of poets and poetry lovers in the Triangle region of North Carolina. Born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, he worked in Connecticut for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough where he makes money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.
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8 Responses to The Grave of Randall Jarrell

  1. Lisa Tomey says:

    Interesting read. I’ll have to explore his poems.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa Tomey says:

    Forgot to add that I liked your last sentence.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. JeanMarie says:

    I agree with Lisa. It is interesting and yes, a good, if rather ironic last sentence. I really like The Woman at the Washington Zoo poem.

    Does the crescent moon and two stars symbolize anything?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was wondering that too as I stood at his grave. At least the stars are outside of the moon. (Sometimes you’ll see stars within the crescent, something one wouldn’t see unless something astronomically bad were happening.) After a cursory internet search, I still don’t know. Nothing seemed I read online seemed to fit. I’m open to suggestions.


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