'Losses' by Randall Jarrell

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It was not dying: everybody died.It was not dying: we had died beforeIn the routine crashes-- and our fieldsCalled up the papers, wrote home to our folks,And the rates rose, all because of us.We died on the wrong page of the almanac,Scattered on mountains fifty miles away;Diving on haystacks, fighting with a friend,We blazed up on the lines we never saw.We died like aunts or pets or foreigners.(When we left high school nothing else had diedFor us to figure we had died like.)In our new planes, with our new crews, we bombedThe ranges by the desert or the shore,Fired at towed targets, waited for our scores--And turned into replacements and worke upOne morning, over England, operational.It wasn't different: but if we diedIt was not an accident but a mistake(But an easy one for anyone to make.)We read our mail and counted up our missions--In bombers named for girls, we burnedThe cities we had learned about in school--Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay amongThe people we had killed and never seen.When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;When we died they said, "Our casualties were low."The said, "Here are the maps"; we burned the cities.It was not dying --no, not ever dying;But the night I died I dreamed that I was dead,And the cities said to me: "Why are you dying?We are satisfied, if you are; but why did I die?"

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry of Loss: A Critical Analysis of Randall Jarrell’s “Losses”

As one of the most celebrated poets of the twentieth century, Randall Jarrell’s work continues to captivate readers with its poignant and evocative imagery. His poem, “Losses,” remains a classic example of his poetic genius, exploring themes of grief, memory, and the passage of time. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we delve deeper into the poem and attempt to unravel its complexities and hidden meanings.

Background Information

Before we begin our analysis of the poem, let us briefly examine the context of its creation. Randall Jarrell was an American poet, literary critic, and novelist, born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1914. He served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II and was later a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Throughout his life, Jarrell suffered from depression and mental illness, which often seeped into his work. He wrote extensively about death, war, and the fragility of life, drawing on his personal experiences and observations.

“Losses” was published in 1948 as part of Jarrell’s collection, “Little Friend, Little Friend.” The poem is a reflection of Jarrell’s own experiences in World War II and the emotional toll it took on him. In the poem, Jarrell uses a series of haunting images and metaphors to convey the sense of loss and isolation that he felt during and after the war.


“Losses” is a deeply emotional poem that explores the theme of loss and mourning. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which presents a different aspect of loss. In the first stanza, the speaker reflects on the loss of things that were once important to him. He writes:

In a late losing-winter dawn,

Snowflakes on your eyelashes lie,

You cry and your warm breath

Clouds the air; all through the park

People stare as if love

Were a crime, as if the dead

What we have lived for. I

Will not wake again, I will not stir

You, the only one I loved, will go

Further and further away, deeper

Into the land of the dead.

Here, the speaker describes a winter morning, with snowflakes on the eyelashes of his loved one. The scene is one of sadness and despair, with the speaker acknowledging that he will never wake up again. He further laments that his loved one will continue to move further away from him, into the realm of the dead. The use of metaphors such as the snowflakes, which evoke a sense of coldness and isolation, and the park, which is usually associated with joy and play, but now represents a place of grief and mourning, help to create a sense of melancholy and loss.

In the second stanza, the speaker expands on the theme of loss, this time focusing on the loss of innocence and youth. He writes:

The world is a mist. And then the world is

Minute and vast and clear. The glass

Around a candle glows like a halo,

And the angels of memory breathe

Luminous wings. You have lit the candles

On your birthday cake, said the first girl.

The second girl hugged your waist,

The third kissed you and said, “Darling,

Why so pale? Please, please don’t cry.”

That afternoon we went to the sea,

Remember? And we were alone there

The whole day long, and the white sand

Beach and the blue water and the clear

High sky were ours, and that ecstasy

Was ours, and the warm wind and the horse

Tossing his mane. Yours, yours, yours.

The imagery in this stanza is rich and vivid, with the speaker painting a picture of a world that is misty and vague, but then becomes clear and detailed. The angels of memory here represent the memories of the past, which are both luminous and fleeting. The use of candles, a birthday cake, and the sea all evoke a sense of youth, innocence, and happiness. However, this happiness is short-lived, as the speaker reminds us of the inevitability of loss. The use of repetition in the final line, “Yours, yours, yours,” further emphasizes the transience of these moments and the pain of their loss.

The final stanza of the poem returns us to the theme of death and mourning. The speaker writes:

And what did you hear, my love, my love?

What did you hear when the miles

Crashed their barriers down? What

Did you hear?

I heard the sobbing of the flowers

For hours on end. I heard the oceans

Weeping for the dead. I heard the rain

Wailing at the walls. I heard the wind

Keening over the world. Oh, it was sad

To hear the rain. Oh, it was sad to hear

The wind keening like a stringed instrument

Over the graves of the world.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most heart-wrenching, as the speaker imagines the sounds of mourning that echo across the world. The use of personification, with the flowers sobbing and the oceans weeping, further emphasizes the depth of the despair that the speaker feels. The repetition of the phrase “I heard,” creates a sense of intensity and urgency, as if the speaker is desperate to hear something, anything, that will give him solace in his grief. The final line of the poem, with its haunting image of the wind keening over the graves of the world, is a powerful and evocative ending that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.


Randall Jarrell’s “Losses” is a moving and powerful poem that explores the themes of loss, grief, and memory. Through a series of haunting images, metaphors, and repetition, Jarrell conveys the sense of isolation and despair that he felt during and after World War II. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture and express the most profound human emotions. As we read the poem, we are reminded of the fragility of life, the inevitability of loss, and the depth of human suffering. In short, “Losses” is a masterpiece of modern poetry that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Losses: A Masterpiece of Emotion and Reflection

Randall Jarrell's Poetry Losses is a masterpiece of modern poetry that explores the themes of loss, grief, and the fragility of life. Written in 1948, the poem is a reflection on the aftermath of World War II and the impact it had on the human psyche. It is a poignant and powerful work that captures the essence of human suffering and the struggle to find meaning in a world that seems to have lost its way.

The poem is divided into three sections, each of which explores a different aspect of loss. The first section, titled "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," is a meditation on the loss of innocence and the loss of connection with nature. The poem begins with a description of a woman at the zoo, who is watching the animals with a sense of detachment and sadness. The speaker observes that the woman seems to have lost her connection with the natural world, and that she is trapped in a world of her own making.

The second section, titled "A Sick Child," is a heart-wrenching portrayal of the loss of a child. The poem describes the agony of a mother who is watching her child suffer from an illness that she cannot cure. The speaker reflects on the fragility of life and the inevitability of death, and he laments the fact that we are all powerless in the face of our own mortality.

The final section, titled "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," is a powerful and haunting reflection on the loss of life in war. The poem describes the death of a young soldier who is killed in battle, and it explores the sense of loss and futility that comes with war. The speaker reflects on the fact that the soldier's death was not heroic or meaningful, but rather a senseless waste of life.

Throughout the poem, Jarrell uses vivid imagery and powerful metaphors to convey the emotional weight of loss. In "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," he describes the woman as "a zoo of grief," and he compares her to a "caged bird" who is trapped in her own sorrow. In "A Sick Child," he describes the child's illness as a "black hole" that is consuming her life, and he compares the mother's grief to a "darkness" that is overwhelming her.

In "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," Jarrell uses the metaphor of the ball turret to convey the sense of claustrophobia and confinement that the soldier experienced in his final moments. He describes the turret as a "belly" that is "wet" and "cold," and he compares the soldier to a "wet fur" that is being washed away by the rain. The imagery is powerful and evocative, and it captures the horror and senselessness of war in a way that is both visceral and emotional.

One of the most striking aspects of Poetry Losses is the way in which Jarrell uses language to convey the emotional weight of loss. The poem is written in a simple and direct style, but the language is rich and evocative. Jarrell uses repetition, alliteration, and other poetic devices to create a sense of rhythm and musicality that adds to the emotional impact of the poem.

For example, in "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," Jarrell repeats the phrase "she looked" several times, emphasizing the woman's sense of detachment and disconnection. In "A Sick Child," he uses alliteration to create a sense of urgency and desperation, as in the line "the child's face is a map of the world / a map and a maze." And in "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," he uses repetition to create a sense of inevitability and finality, as in the line "when I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."

Overall, Poetry Losses is a powerful and moving work of poetry that explores the themes of loss, grief, and the fragility of life. It is a testament to the power of language and the ability of poetry to capture the essence of human emotion. Jarrell's use of vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and evocative language creates a sense of emotional depth and resonance that is both timeless and universal. It is a work of art that speaks to the human experience in a way that is both profound and unforgettable.

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