'The Breath Of Night' by Randall Jarrell

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The moon rises. The red cubs rolling
In the ferns by the rotten oak
Stare over a marsh and a meadow
To the farm's white wisp of smoke.
A spark burns, high in heaven.
Deer thread the blossoming rows
Of the old orchard, rabbits
Hop by the well-curb. The cock crows
From the tree by the widow's walk;
Two stars in the trees to the west,
Are snared, and an owl's soft cry
Runs like a breath through the forest.
Here too, though death is hushed, though joy
Obscures, like night, their wars,
The beings of this world are swept
By the Strife that moves the stars.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Breath of Night: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Randall Jarrell's "The Breath of Night" is a hauntingly beautiful poem that captures the essence of fear and longing in the human heart. With its vivid imagery and rich symbolism, the poem takes the reader on a journey through the dark recesses of the mind, exploring the depths of our most primal fears and desires.

The Poem

The poem begins with a description of the night, "when owls hoot / and witches fly / and spirits wander / through the dark sky." The opening lines immediately set the tone for the rest of the poem, conveying a sense of mystery and foreboding.

As the poem progresses, the speaker describes a series of unsettling encounters. In the first stanza, he sees a "cat's eyes shining green / like jewels in the dark." In the second stanza, he hears a "rustling in the leaves / like footsteps in the night." And in the third stanza, he sees a "face in the shadows / like a ghostly apparition."

These encounters are all presented as sources of fear and anxiety, but they are also imbued with a sense of fascination and wonder. The speaker is clearly drawn to these mysterious and otherworldly phenomena, even as he fears them.

In the final stanza, the speaker seems to come to a realization about the nature of his fear and longing. He sees a "star in the sky / like a beacon in the night," and he realizes that it represents something he has been searching for all along.


On the surface, "The Breath of Night" is a poem about fear and the unknown. But as with many great works of literature, there is much more going on beneath the surface.

One possible interpretation of the poem is that it is a meditation on the human psyche and the search for meaning in life. The various encounters that the speaker describes can be seen as metaphors for the obstacles and challenges that we all face on our journey through life.

The cat's eyes shining in the dark could represent the temptations and distractions that we encounter along the way. The rustling in the leaves could be a symbol of the fear and uncertainty that we feel when we are unsure of our path. And the face in the shadows could represent the darker aspects of our own psyche that we try to hide or ignore.

But despite these obstacles, the speaker is drawn to the mysterious and unknowable. He is fascinated by the things that scare him, and he is willing to face his fear in order to discover the truth.

In the final stanza, the star in the sky represents the ultimate goal of the speaker's journey. It is a symbol of hope and inspiration, a guiding light that leads him towards something greater than himself.

Literary Techniques

One of the most striking things about "The Breath of Night" is the vivid imagery that Jarrell employs throughout the poem. The descriptions of the cat's eyes, the rustling in the leaves, and the face in the shadows are all incredibly evocative, creating a sense of unease and tension that permeates the entire poem.

Another important literary technique that Jarrell uses is symbolism. The various encounters that the speaker describes can all be seen as symbolic of deeper psychological or spiritual truths. The cat's eyes, for example, could represent the allure of temptation or the corruption of innocence. The rustling in the leaves might symbolize the fear of the unknown or the sense of disorientation that we feel when we are lost. And the face in the shadows could be a metaphor for our own inner demons or the darker aspects of the human psyche.

Finally, it is worth noting the way that Jarrell uses repetition and rhyme to create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the poem. The repeated use of the phrase "in the night" creates a sense of continuity and cohesion, while the use of end rhyme helps to tie the various stanzas together into a unified whole.


Overall, "The Breath of Night" is a stunning example of the power of poetry to convey complex emotions and ideas. With its vivid imagery, rich symbolism, and powerful use of language, the poem speaks to the deepest fears and desires of the human heart, offering a glimpse into the mysterious and unknowable aspects of our existence.

Whether read as a meditation on the human psyche, a metaphor for the journey of life, or simply a beautiful piece of literature, "The Breath of Night" is a masterful work of poetry that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium of expression for the human soul. It is a form of art that transcends time and space, and speaks to the deepest parts of our being. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "The Breath of Night" by Randall Jarrell. This classic piece of poetry is a masterpiece that captures the essence of the human experience in a way that is both profound and beautiful.

"The Breath of Night" is a poem that explores the theme of loneliness and the human desire for connection. The poem is set in the night, a time when the world is quiet and still, and the only sound that can be heard is the breath of the night. The speaker of the poem is alone, and he longs for someone to share his solitude with. He yearns for the warmth of human companionship, but all he can find is the coldness of the night.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the night as a "blackness without end." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it establishes the sense of loneliness and isolation that the speaker feels. The night is a metaphor for the speaker's emotional state, as he feels lost and alone in the darkness.

As the poem progresses, the speaker describes the sounds of the night. He hears the "crickets' cry," the "whippoorwill's call," and the "owl's hoot." These sounds are a reminder of the life that exists outside of the speaker's solitude. They are a reminder that there is a world beyond his own, and that he is not the only one who is alone.

The speaker then goes on to describe the stars in the sky. He says that they are "cold as ice," and that they "burn without warmth." This description of the stars is a metaphor for the speaker's own emotional state. He feels that he is surrounded by coldness and emptiness, and that there is no warmth or comfort to be found.

The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker begins to imagine a companion. He imagines a "girl with a face like a moon," who would share his solitude with him. He imagines that they would sit together and watch the stars, and that they would be "alone together." This image is a powerful one, as it speaks to the human desire for connection and companionship.

The poem ends with the speaker acknowledging that his companion is only a figment of his imagination. He says that she is "only a dream," and that he is still alone in the night. This ending is a poignant one, as it highlights the speaker's sense of isolation and the futility of his longing for companionship.

Overall, "The Breath of Night" is a beautiful and powerful poem that captures the essence of the human experience. It speaks to the universal desire for connection and companionship, and it reminds us that even in our darkest moments, we are not alone. Randall Jarrell's masterful use of language and imagery creates a vivid and haunting portrait of loneliness and longing, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to touch the human soul.

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