Treasure Island

Randall Jarrell

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

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Losses


It was not dying: everybody died.
It was not dying: we had died before
In the routine crashes-- and our fields
Called 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 died
For us to figure we had died like.)

In our new planes, with our new crews, we bombed
The ranges by the desert or the shore,
Fired at towed targets, waited for our scores--
And turned into replacements and woke up
One morning, over England, operational.

It wasn't different: but if we died
It 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 burned
The cities we had learned about in school--
Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
The 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.'

They 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?'

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
Edited: Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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  • Susan Webster (7/25/2006 10:22:00 AM)

    One of the great poems about the alienation of war, expressing particularly well the narrator's lack of life experience. He has nothing but high school to compare to the huge, all-encompassing experiences of war. His lack of any life beyond high school before he is sacrificed in the war increases his loss - he has lost all the potential of his life - and he doesn't really understand why he is making this sacrifice. Jarrell is, to me, the great poet of WWII, and a better poet at conveying the existentialism of the warrior than any of the great English WWI poets. (Report) Reply

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