Randall Jarrell’s Letters






Randall Jarrell (May 6, 1914 – October 14, 1965) was an American poet, literary critic, children’s author, essayist, novelist, and the 11th Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that now bears the title Poet Laureate.




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 furs 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, “90 North” from The Complete Poems. Copyright © 1981 by Randall Jarrell.  Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Source: The Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969)



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