If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
A puppy laps the water from a can
Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving
Whistles O Paradiso!–shall I say that man
Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?

The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one
Lies counting missions, lies there sweating
Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.
O murderers! . . . Still, this is how it’s done:

This is a war . . . But since these play, before they die,
Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man,
I did as these have done, but did not die–
I will content the people as I can
And give up these to them: Behold the man!

I have suffered, in a dream, because of him,
Many things; for this last saviour, man,
I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying?
Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can:
I find no fault in this just man.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Randall Jarrell's poem Eighth Air Force


  1. Sarah M. Blasius says:

    Addendum to first comment: I find that Jarrell’s imagery interacts consistently from one poem to the other. After reading my comments on “Eighth Air Force,” I realized that I had cited lines from “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” – I can’t separate the two – they deliver the impact of being in a position of vulnerability.

  2. Sarah M. Blasius says:

    I am “brainstorming” a feature article that I am (imminently) going to write for the local newspaper – it is part of a series on W.W.II veterans. Paradoxically, the series is entitled “Unsung Heroes” – each of the 23 persons I have interviewed thus far deny the title of “hero.” They tell me, “I’m not a hero – just an ordinary man doing what I had to do.” Perhaps some justification for their denial comes from an innate apprehension of the dilemna posed in Jarrell’s poem, the “had to do” being imposed by Jarrell’ image of the State. The possible imminence of death, as experienced by the ball turret gunner I have just interviewed is an essential part of his story – the suspension from the belly of a bomber, ostensibly with no connection with tangible reality (except as Jarrell described, “…black flak and the nightmare fighters…,” the gunner is validating Jarrell’s image of the terrifying exit from the womb to the unknown existence awaiting him – possible death. The imagery reflects the impact of my subject’s recall of his near-death experience, his response to his fear as he bailed out of the doomed aircraft.

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