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. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Jarrell attended Hume-Fogg High School and he received his B.A. from Vanderbilt University in 1935. While at Vanderbilt, he edited the student humor magazine The Masquerader, was captain of the tennis team, made Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude. He studied there under Robert Penn Warren, who first published Jarrell's criticism; Allen Tate, who first published Jarrell's poetry; and John Crowe Ransom, who gave Jarrell his first teaching job as a Freshman Composition instructor and tennis coach at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He also completed his Master’s degree in English at Vanderbilt in 1937, beginning his thesis on A. E. Housman (which he didn't complete until 1939).
Jarrell went on to teach at the University of Texas at Austin from 1939 to 1942, where he began to publish criticism and where he met his first wife, Mackie Langham. In 1942, he left the university to join the United States Army Air Forces. His early poetry would focus on the subject of his war-time experiences in the Air Force. After being discharged from the service, Jarrell joined the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College for a year. During his time in New York, he also served as the temporary book review editor for The Nation magazine. He left New York for the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina. Jarrell divorced his first wife and married Mary von Schrader, a young woman whom he met at a summer writer's conference in Colorado, in 1952.
Jarrell's first collection of poetry, Blood for a Stranger was published in 1942. His second and third books, Little Friend, Little Friend (1945) and Losses (1948) drew heavily on his Army experiences. The short lyric "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" is Jarrell's most famous war poem and one that is frequently anthologized. However, during this part of his career, Jarrell earned a reputation primarily as a critic, rather than as a poet. His appreciations of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams helped to establish or resuscitate their reputations as significant American poets. Jarrell is also noted for his essays on Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and others, which were mostly collected in Poetry and the Age (1953). Many scholars consider him the most astute poetry critic of his generation.
His reputation as a poet was not firmly established until 1960, when his National Book Award-winning collection The Woman at the Washington Zoo was published. His final volume, The Lost World, published in 1965. In addition to poetry and criticism, Jarrell also published a satiric novel, Pictures from an Institution, drawn on his teaching experiences at Sarah Lawrence College. Plus, he also wrote several children's books, among which The Bat-Poet (1964) and The Animal Family (1965) are considered prominent (and feature illustrations by Maurice Sendak). Jarrell translated poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and others, a play by Anton Chekhov, and several Grimm fairy tales.