'Gunner' by Randall Jarrell

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Did they send me away from my cat and my wife
To a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits,
The blood froze over my splints like a scab --
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret,
Till the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here, in the sand of a grave,
All my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice?
Did the medals go home to my cat?

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Gunner by Randall Jarrell

Have you ever read a poem that hits you so hard you're left breathless? That leaves you pondering the meaning of life? Poetry, Gunner by Randall Jarrell is one such poem. It's a haunting and powerful piece of literature that delves deep into the darker aspects of war and human nature. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the many themes and messages that Jarrell conveys in this classic work.


The poem itself is a fictionalized account of a bomber crew on a mission during World War II. Jarrell masterfully captures the anxiety and fear of the soldiers as they prepare for takeoff, describing the "droning roar" of the engines and the "cold, dark, slit trench" where they wait for their turn to board.

But what really sets this poem apart is its vivid imagery and metaphor. Jarrell paints a picture of the bomber as a "great black bird" soaring through the sky, while the gunner is compared to a "gargoyle" perched atop the plane, waiting to strike. The use of animalistic imagery adds to the feeling of primal violence that permeates the poem.

One of the most striking aspects of Poetry, Gunner is the way it explores the dehumanizing effects of war. The gunner is described as "a machine" who "fires and fires," detached from the carnage below. The poem also touches on the idea of mortality, with the gunner acknowledging that "everyone will die" and wondering "who cares if he dies now."

The poem also delves into the idea of heroism and sacrifice. The gunner is portrayed as a brave soldier, willing to risk his life for his country, but ultimately his actions are futile. As Jarrell writes, "the people who sent him there / would rather not have used him."

Perhaps the most powerful message of the poem, however, is its condemnation of war itself. Jarrell paints a bleak picture of a world where "they'll never see a tree again / Or smell the grass or hear the birds." The tragedy of war is that it robs us of our humanity and our ability to appreciate the beauty of life.


So what does all of this mean? What message is Jarrell trying to convey through his powerful poem?

At its core, Poetry, Gunner is a statement on the horrors of war and the toll it takes on those who fight it. The gunner is a symbol of the dehumanizing effects of war, as well as the futility of heroism in the face of senseless violence.

But the poem also has a deeper meaning. It's a commentary on the nature of humanity itself, and the way that we often overlook the beauty of life in pursuit of power and glory. The gunner's perspective is one of detachment and numbness, as he fires and fires without really thinking about the lives he's taking. This is a metaphor for the way that we can become desensitized to violence and suffering, and lose sight of what makes life worth living.

In the end, Poetry, Gunner is a call to action. It's a reminder that war is not inevitable, and that we have the power to make a difference. By acknowledging the true cost of violence and war, we can work towards a more peaceful and just world.


Randall Jarrell's Poetry, Gunner is a work of art that will stay with you long after you've finished reading it. With its vivid imagery, powerful metaphor, and haunting message, it's a poem that speaks directly to the human experience. Whether you're a fan of poetry or not, this is a piece of literature that demands to be read and appreciated.

So take a moment to read this classic work, and let its words and message seep into your soul. It may just change the way you view the world.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Randall Jarrell's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" is a haunting and powerful poem that captures the brutality and senselessness of war. Written in 1945, the poem is a reflection on the experiences of a ball turret gunner during World War II. It is a short but powerful piece of poetry that has become a classic of American literature.

The poem is only five lines long, but each line is packed with meaning and emotion. The first line sets the tone for the entire poem: "From my mother's sleep I fell into the State." This line is a reference to the fact that the ball turret gunner was drafted into the military and sent to fight in the war. He did not choose to go to war; he was forced to go.

The second line is even more powerful: "And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze." This line describes the cramped and uncomfortable conditions that the ball turret gunner had to endure. He was literally hunched up in the belly of the plane, with his fur (his clothes) wet and frozen. This line is a vivid reminder of the physical hardships that soldiers had to endure during the war.

The third line is perhaps the most famous: "Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life." This line describes the moment when the ball turret gunner's plane was hit by enemy fire and he was killed. He was "loosed from its dream of life" – in other words, he was killed so suddenly and violently that he did not even have time to realize what was happening.

The fourth line is a reflection on the senselessness of war: "I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters." The ball turret gunner was killed by his own side, by the anti-aircraft fire that was meant to protect him. The "nightmare fighters" were the enemy planes that were attacking his plane. This line is a reminder that in war, there are no winners – only losers.

The final line is a poignant reflection on the ball turret gunner's life: "When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose." This line is a reminder that the ball turret gunner was just a young man, with his whole life ahead of him. He was killed in a senseless war, and his body was washed away like so much garbage. This line is a powerful indictment of war and its effects on young people.

Overall, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" is a powerful and moving poem that captures the brutality and senselessness of war. It is a reminder that war is not just about politics and strategy – it is about real people, with real lives and real families. The ball turret gunner was just one of many young men who were killed in World War II, and his story is a reminder of the sacrifices that soldiers make in the name of their country.

The poem is also a reflection on the dehumanizing effects of war. The ball turret gunner is not even given a name in the poem – he is simply a number, a cog in the war machine. He is forced to endure terrible conditions and to kill other human beings, all in the name of his country. The poem is a reminder that war is not just about winning or losing – it is about the human cost of conflict.

In conclusion, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" is a classic of American literature that captures the horror and senselessness of war. It is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices that soldiers make in the name of their country, and of the dehumanizing effects of war. The poem is a call to action, urging us to work towards a world where war is no longer necessary. It is a poem that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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