Analysis of Randall Jarrell's The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
Many of the great poems we read today were written in times of great distress. One of these writers was Randall Jarrell. After being born on May 6, 1914, in Nashville Tennessee, Jarrell and his parents moved to Los Angeles where his dad worked as a photographer. When Mr. and Mrs. Jarrell divorced, Randall and his younger brother returned to Nashville to live with their mother. While in Nashville, Randall attended Hume-Frogg high school. Randall showed his love for the arts while in high school by participating in dramatics and journalism. Jarrell continued his career in the arts when he wrote and edited for Vanderbilt’s humor magazine, The Vanderbilt Masquerader. After earning his graduate degree at Vanderbilt, Jarrell accepted a teaching job at the University of Texas. While teaching at Texas, Jarrell met his future wife, Mackie Langham, a fellow English teacher. In 1942, Jarrell left home to join the Army Air Corps as a flying cadet. At about this same time, Randall’s first book of poetry was being published. When Jarrell wrote home, his family often said his letters were, “confined and dreary.” When Jarrell could not quite cut it as a cadet, he switched to being a navigation control tower operator. As a control tower operator, Randall began to write about the pilots, navigators and gunners of the war. This is probably when Jarrell wrote one of his most famous poems, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.” After being discharged from the army, Randall went back to teaching. Randall’s love for teaching showed by his famous quote, “if I were a rich man, I would pay money to teach.” Randall did have some psychiatric problems though. Many people thought Jarrell committed suicide when he was hit by a car on a dark road in 1965. People assumed suicide because at the time of his death Randall was in treatment for slitting his wrists in an attempt to kill himself. Most of Randall’s poetry reflects what he saw and experienced during the war.
The structure that Jarrell uses in his poem, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” is quite unique. This poem consists of five uneven verses. All of these verses are combined into one stanza. The metric pattern in this poem is very hard to detect. All of the lines begin with at least two anapestic feet followed by at least one iambic foot. This poem is not long enough to have a rhyme scheme even though the second and the fifth line have end rhyme. It is absolutely amazing how Jarrell gives us so many images in only a few short verses.
Jarrell uses a great deal of imagery in this poem to help the reader get a better picture of what is going on. In the first line of the poem Jarrell uses visual, auditory and tactile imagery. When he uses the words, “mother’s sleep,” the reader can see the mother laying in her bed sound asleep. Also the reader can hear the deep breaths that the mother is taking while she slumbers. The reader gets the...