It was not dying: everybody died.
It was not dying: we had died before
In the routine crashes– and our fields
Called up the papers, wrote home to our folks,
And the rates rose, all because of us.
We died on the wrong page of the almanac,
Scattered on mountains fifty miles away;
Diving on haystacks, fighting with a friend,
We blazed up on the lines we never saw.
We died like aunts or pets or foreigners.
(When we left high school nothing else had died
For us to figure we had died like.)

In our new planes, with our new crews, we bombed
The ranges by the desert or the shore,
Fired at towed targets, waited for our scores–
And turned into replacements and woke up
One morning, over England, operational.

It wasn’t different: but if we died
It was not an accident but a mistake
(But an easy one for anyone to make.)
We read our mail and counted up our missions–
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school–
Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
The people we had killed and never seen.
When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
When we died they said, “Our casualties were low.”

The said, “Here are the maps”; we burned the cities.

It was not dying –no, not ever dying;
But the night I died I dreamed that I was dead,
And the cities said to me: “Why are you dying?
We are satisfied, if you are; but why did I die?”

Analysis, meaning and summary of Randall Jarrell's poem Losses


  1. Peter Koning says:

    I think, this poem can be read as a reply to John Steinbeck’s Bombs Away. Steinbeck wrote this pamflet early 1942 to promote the building of the USAF. Randall was one of many who joined the USAF in 1942. This poem is a hard contrast with the advertising language in Bombs Away.

    Peter Koning

  2. Oliver Brown says:

    On line 16 in the poem losses it says ”and worke up” while in other copies of the poem it says woke up so I think this should be addressed and changed

  3. BIll Dick says:

    THis poem is about a young man who is rejoicing at the loss of his mothers. He has just finished murdering his mother and is comparing it to the characteristics of war.

  4. Melanie, 14yrs old says:

    This poem makes me feel sad and lonely…The subject is on young men going away to fight in the war. The theme is death. I think one of the reasons which makes you feel after you’ve read the poem is the reason of the young boy’s death, and how like the many others who were killed in the war, their deaths are only viewed as statistics which we read about in books and see on tv. This particular death was just too quick, too simple…a life of hopes and dreams wasted. It questions the meaning of life and the reason of war. Some people want to die, and commit suicide; giving away their life. Whereas this poem on a deeper level is about committing suicide; knowing it but not wanting it. Like it was all a big risk and then suddenly a mistake is made….and it’s all gone; a life. Dying for a cause: but in the end what was the point in it?

  5. Richard Begin says:

    To me, this poem talks about both the inevitibility of loss and the absurdity of war. Invisible tears sprinkle the pages the poem is written on. How do we reconcile tragic and needless loss of life? We don’t. Lives sacrificed for nothing. What do you get? A ribbon? A medal? The poem leaves us, like billions before and after, to ponder folly of political power and the price for it. The irregular rhyme scheme mocks this randomness, like the unspeakably mundane and disconnected acts of killing, acts that are rehearsed on depersonified “targets” till boredom, then carried out against “targets” not people, over “cities” who ask questions, not people.It’s “war” not murder. It’s justified so that makes it all OK doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? “Acts” or war aren’t really “acts.” There is no “acting.” It’s real. Real people die and for what? Acts of war. Nothing is in our control. Let this poem sink in, let it penetrate you.
    Go ahead, I dare you.

    –Richie Begin, Santa Cruz

  6. latese says:

    i would i like act out this poem for english class because we have to do a project on this poem so i need help setting this poem up please tell me what the poem is really talken about i know like some of it but i need to know all so that i can put this all together i really need help real bad so if you can help me in any way please do so

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