One of Jarrell’s most famous poems is “The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner." Born in Nashville, Tennesse, Jarrell graduated from Vanderbilt University, and became associated with a group of writers that comprised the Fugitives group. He attended Kenyon College and became a roommate of Robert Lowell. Jarrell went on to teach at Kenyon, the University of Texas, University of Illinois, Sarah Lawrence, and the Universities of North Carolina at Greensboro and Chapel Hill. Blood from a Stranger, published in 1942 was his first book of poetry. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, but did not qualify to fly, instead he worked stateside as a control tower operator. Little Friend, Little Friend and Losses, published in 1945 and 1948 respectively dealt with many of his experiences in the Army. Jarrell is also known for his literary criticism. He was named U.S. poet laureate from 1956-1958. Jarrell was struck by a car and died from the accident in 1965.
Did they send me away from my cat and my wife
To a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits,
The blood froze over my splints like a scab—
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret,
Till the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here, in the sand of a grave,
All my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice?
Did the medals go home to my cat?
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
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 meout of the turret with a hose.