The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner Poem by Randall Jarrell

The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner

Rating: 4.1

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 me out of the turret with a hose.

James Dittes 12 December 2011

Does anyone else notice the references to abortion in this poem? A fetus, hunched it its mothers belly, only to be destroyed and washed out with a hose.

37 64 Reply
Dr. Antony Theodore 25 December 2020

I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. a fine poem. tony

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Nick Gurr 20 April 2020

shut the up faggots

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Joseph Cornwall 22 January 2020

**** this it's a ******* disgrace

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Joseph Cornwall 09 November 2018

**** this it’s a ******* disgrace

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Ben Dover 22 January 2020

Joseph ur a ************************* disgrace ************** kill ur self

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Joseph Cornwall 22 January 2020

ur mom gey

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Joseph Cornwall 22 January 2020

u r a ******** disgrace

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Joseph Turiano 19 October 2017

Obviously, this poem is the description of the gunner of a bomber in combat, but there are things that many people miss or don't realize about it. I believe that the State refers not to the faceless entity that send soldiers off to war, but a State of being. This poem is about the existential experience of aerial combat, as expressed in a kind of birth in reverse. The ball turret, which hung down below the body of WWII bombers, was like kind of belly. This is why the poet calls the plane his mother. The giant metal mother sleeps on the tarmac, before takeoff, and the gunner enters his mother's womb and returns to an experience something like he did when he was in his human mother's womb before birth. But unlike the warm, safe womb that a baby lives in until birth, this womb is freezing cold, nightmarish, and deadly. Interestingly, as the gunner ascends into the nightmare, he feel that he is somehow loosed from the dream, of ordinary, waking life. Soldiers in combat often talk about the experience making them feel alive in a way that nothing else can. Being so close to death makes every moment of living somehow more real. Again, a fascinating comparison to being in the womb before birth, where the infant experiences nothing but the warmth and safety of being inside his mother's body, sheltered from sensing everything harmful, dangerous, and frightening. Finally, instead of being born, he suffers a gory, violent death when he is blown apart by flak. The reason that they wash him out of the turret with a steam hose is that his body has been literally blown to bits, which freeze to the inner surface of the icy turret. Not a pleasant image, but an unflinching vision and description of a reality that is something beyond the dream of life and its ordinary, pleasant, safe thoughts and images. This is truly one of the greatest and most evocative poems of all time. To tell a story like this one in five lines is a true stroke of genius.

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Clyde King 25 December 2020

The B17 had a belly gun. The 24,25, and 26 did not but they had ball turrets on top just behind the cockpit. Jarrells poem is brilliant, concise, and imagistic.

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