'Next Day' by Randall Jarrell

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Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,

Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I'm old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me. It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old." That's all, I'm old.

And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Next Day" by Randall Jarrell: A Vivid Depiction of Life's Mundanity

"Next Day" by Randall Jarrell is one of the most intriguing poems in its genre. It is a complex piece that requires a thorough analysis to fully understand its meaning. On the surface, the poem appears to be a simple narrative of a woman's mundane day-to-day life. However, upon closer inspection, it is evident that the poem is a commentary on the human condition, mortality, and the passing of time.

The Mundanity of Life

The opening lines of the poem immediately draw the reader into the mundanity of the woman's life. The repetition of the phrase "It is" creates a sense of monotony, which is further emphasized by the list of routine activities that the woman engages in. She wakes up, has breakfast, and goes about her day, performing menial tasks such as sweeping the floor and washing dishes. Jarrell's use of language in this section of the poem is deliberate. The verbs used are simple and unadorned, such as "put," "wash," and "sweep." This creates a sense of ordinariness and reinforces the idea that the woman's life is mundane and unremarkable.

The Passage of Time

As the poem progresses, Jarrell begins to introduce the theme of the passage of time. The woman is described as "growing old," and her surroundings are described as "dim and shabby." Even the weather outside is described as "damp" and "grey." This creates a sense of decay and decline, which is further reinforced by the image of the woman's reflection in the window. She is described as having "grown small and thin," which is a metaphor for the passage of time and the inevitable deterioration of the human body.

The Human Condition

The theme of the human condition is also prevalent in the poem. The woman is described as being "alone" and "with no one to talk to." This is a commentary on the isolation that many people feel in their daily lives. The repetition of the phrase "It is" reinforces the idea that the woman is trapped in her routine and unable to break free from it. This is a reflection of the human condition, where many people feel trapped in their daily lives and unable to escape the monotony.

The woman's state of mind is also a reflection of the human condition. She is described as feeling "empty," and her thoughts are described as "not worth thinking." This is a commentary on the existential crisis that many people face, where they question the purpose and meaning of their lives. The final lines of the poem, "Nothing is final, I have learned," suggest that the woman has come to a realization about the impermanence of life and the need to embrace the present moment.


In conclusion, "Next Day" by Randall Jarrell is a powerful commentary on the mundanity of life, the passage of time, and the human condition. Through his use of language and imagery, Jarrell creates a vivid depiction of the woman's daily routine and her gradual deterioration. The poem is a reminder that life is fleeting and that we must embrace the present moment before it is too late. It is a poignant and thought-provoking piece that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Next Day by Randall Jarrell: A Poem of Reflection and Regret

Randall Jarrell's poem "Next Day" is a powerful and poignant reflection on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. Written in 1965, the poem is a meditation on the passing of time and the ways in which we come to terms with our own mortality. With its vivid imagery, haunting tone, and subtle use of language, "Next Day" is a classic example of modern poetry at its finest.

The poem begins with a description of a woman waking up in the morning, feeling "like something was missing." She looks out the window and sees the "gray light" of dawn, which seems to symbolize the emptiness and uncertainty of her life. The woman then goes about her day, performing mundane tasks like making coffee and washing dishes, but all the while she is haunted by a sense of unease and regret.

As the day wears on, the woman becomes increasingly aware of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. She thinks about the people she has lost and the things she has left undone, and she wonders if there is any meaning to life at all. The poem's most powerful lines come near the end, when the woman reflects on her own mortality:

"I am not a painter, I am a poet. Why? I think I would rather be a painter, but I am not. Well, for instance, Mike Goldberg is starting a painting. I drop in. "Sit down and have a drink" he says. I drink; we drink. I look up. "You have SARDINES in it." "Yes, it needed something there." "Oh." I go and the days go by and I drop in again. The painting is going on, and I go, and the days go by. I drop in. The painting is finished. "Where's SARDINES?" All that's left is just letters, "It was too much," Mike says."

These lines are a powerful commentary on the transience of life and the futility of human endeavors. The woman realizes that, like the painting, her own life will one day come to an end, and all that will be left are memories and a few scattered possessions. She also realizes that, like the painting, her life may ultimately be seen as a failure, with all her efforts and struggles amounting to nothing in the end.

Despite its bleak message, "Next Day" is a beautiful and moving poem that speaks to the human condition in a profound way. Jarrell's use of language is masterful, with each word carefully chosen to convey a specific emotion or idea. The poem's imagery is also striking, with the gray light of dawn and the empty spaces in the painting serving as powerful symbols of the emptiness and uncertainty of life.

In conclusion, "Next Day" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its message of reflection and regret is universal, and its use of language and imagery is both powerful and evocative. Whether you are a fan of modern poetry or simply looking for a thought-provoking read, "Next Day" is a poem that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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