Randall Jarrell

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

The Woman At The Washington Zoo


The saris go by me from the embassies.

Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet.
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.

And I. . . .
this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief--
Only I complain. . . . this serviceable
Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses
But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns,
Wavy beneath fountains--small, far-off, shining
In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death--
Oh, bars of my own body, open, open!

The world goes by my cage and never sees me.
And there come not to me, as come to these,
The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain,
Pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards
Tearing the meat the flies have clouded. . . .
Vulture,
When you come for the white rat that the foxes left,
Take off the red helmet of your head, the black
Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man:
The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn,
To whose hand of power the great lioness
Stalks, purring. . . .
You know what I was,
You see what I am: change me, change me!

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Read poems about / on: change, work, brother, death, power, moon, red, woman, world, animal, women

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Comments about this poem (The Woman At The Washington Zoo by Randall Jarrell )

  • Bronze Star - 2,463 Points John Richter (11/3/2014 2:44:00 PM)

    He had me right up until take the red helmet off. I thought everything up to that point superbly written and recognized. But then the last bit; No longer a sailor or worker in faded navy work clothes, he somehow morphed into some unrecognizable being shadowed by the wings of some other being we can not fathom. If modern poetry is but senseless words, then I do not care for it. I have sat in the wings too long, and have seen senselessness praised as though some great art form. Alas, I do not see the merit of Picasso either. It's all nonsense to me. The king is naked, and sometimes I fear only I can see. Perhaps I am the fool incapable of siing it. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 837 Points Lamont Palmer (11/3/2013 2:44:00 AM)

    Such a great poem by the greatest critic of the 20th century. If one wants to learn to write competent poetry, this man is the one to read and study; not just his poems but the provocative things he says about poems. -LP (Report) Reply

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