Randall Jarrell

(May 6, 1914 – October 14, 1965 / Nashville)

A Camp In The Prussian Forest Poem by Randall Jarrell


I walk beside the prisoners to the road.
Load on puffed load,
Their corpses, stacked like sodden wood,
Lie barred or galled with blood

By the charred warehouse. No one comes to-day
In the old way
To knock the fillings from their teeth;
The dark, coned, common wreath

Is plaited for their grave - a kind of grief.
The living leaf
Clings to the planted profitable
Pine if it is able;
The boughs sigh, mile on green, calm, breathing mile,
From this dead file
The planners ruled for them. . One year
They sent a million here:


Here men were drunk like water, burnt like wood.
The fat of good
and evil, the breast's star of hope
were rendered into soap.

I paint the star I sawed from yellow pine -
And plant the sign
In soil that does not yet refuse
Its usual Jews
Their first asylum. But the white, dwarfed star -
This dead white star -
Hides nothing, pays for nothing; smoke
Fouls it, a yellow joke,

The needles of the wreath are chalked with ash,
A filmy trash
Litters the black woods with the death
of men; and one last breath

Curls from the monstrous chimney . . I laugh aloud
Again and again;
The star laughs from its rotting shroud
Of flesh. O star of men!

Submitted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Edited: Monday, July 04, 2011

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Comments about this poem (A Camp In The Prussian Forest by Randall Jarrell )

  • Rookie Michael Cayley (7/2/2011 11:27:00 AM)

    It's difficult to write directly about the horrors of the concentration camps of the Nazi holocaust. The poem is powerful, but perhaps the poet is a little too close to events to create perfect poetry, and a few lines are poetically flat and too factual. (Report) Reply

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