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.
He 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.