From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Randall Jarrell's poem The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner


  1. paidgibia says:

    Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

  2. vemsstoorie says:

    But as the arms-control scholar Thomas Schelling once noted, two things are very expensive in international life: promises when they succeed and threats when they fail.

  3. Kaurav Bogati says:

    This poem is impersonal in nature and the speaker is a dramatic character,a soldier, who had been killed in the war.Yet the irony womb, and imagery recalls the earlier mother womb.The poet begins with the abstract yet unhappy assertion in the first line.Ball Turret us fighter plane and the setting of this poem is battle field inside the fighter plane.So this poem is highly symbolic and full of irony.
    From my mother’s womb, I fell into the state, where state refers for the mechanism or that stands for the condition of the speaker.Staying silently inside fighter plane and plane is is in the sky over six miles from the earth.Here we can see how poet imagine the post humors situation.
    He compare both wombs. Mother womb and womb if fighter plane.Both is full of darkness and constrained,
    This soldier is not born because he cannot experience outer life.So,i can say that the child was transplanted from one womb to another womb (inside the fighter plane)
    Last line of the poem is very ironical.Poet imagine post humors situation,He say they wash me out of the Turret with a hose.So after that nothing would remain of me.It means when the soldier died, the state tried to erase the historical trace,And the history will be written from the perspective of the state, but not in favor of dead soldier.So the poet clearly shows the instrumental use of soldier in the battle field.So the fighter plane here compared with the mother womb which has no light.Before the soldier dies he is given the hope of history but after he dies, same people turns the history into the historiography and the soldier fighting for the nation are the victim of Historiography.So when i calmly think about poet attitude i found he want universal brotherhood, And he believe in love,care and respect and loyalty.Not in war.

    Kaurav Bogati
    GPO Box: 24587, Kathmandu Nepal

  4. Nathan says:

    You are correct- Abortion was not an issue at the time.

    However, Bill, I do not agree that the description is ALL. Jarrell purposely uses the word State to show how the State, or the government, is the cause of this war. I’m not sure if he is asking for reform or simply airing complaints, but he shows how the State takes us, uses us and discards us when it is done.

  5. Matt says:

    This isn’t about abortion listen to what Jarrell himslef said. A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunne tracked whith his machine-guns a fighter attaking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside-deown in his little sphere, he looked like the foetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose.” No where in there does he mention abortion. (This is from the notes of his book The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell)

  6. Assfeltch300 says:

    Yes i agree with Darkbeat from the United States on the subject of abortion, “in that time, no such things could be done, and in that itme no such things were said…” Darkbeat, refresh my memory, what was one of Anne Sextons most famous poems again?

  7. Meg Scott says:

    Jarrell himself wrote extensively on the meaning of this poem, and nowhere does it include abortion. This was the war poem of a man who was too gentle, too tender of heart, to be a warrior. Its greatness lies in the universal “gut shot” of that final, cold line which gives an unforgettable image for the banality of war. Over-analysis is a dangerour thing.

  8. David Sullivan says:

    To characterize this poem as a metaphor for abortion is overreaching. As an aerial gunner in WW II, I was very impressed by the poem. I still take it for what I think it was intended to be – an illustration of the horror and senselessness of WAR. I will admit that it can certainly be regarded as an anti-abortion message. But, I really don’t think that was the poet’s intent.

  9. Ajaya says:

    Well first of all, abortion was an issue long before this poem was written. Laws were passed way back in the 1800’s that made abortion illegal. It must have been a big deal if they made laws to stop it. Whether or not the poet intended for the comparison to be made is not anything we can prove, but when you are a “writer” or a “poet” you don’t write things haphazardly. Every word and space is important. The punctuation, syllables, and even the spaces are a part of your masterpiece. I find it highly improbable that it was not intentional for the reader to make the comparison.

  10. Darkbeat says:

    Truly i am amazed to see these ridiculous references to abortion being pulled from sucha simple and straightforward poem. In teose times, as a previous commenter stated, Abortion was not even a practice in medicine, let alone done unprofessianally in such a way. There may be metaphorical references available now but in that time it was not possible to draw such conclsions and anyone whom did could be simply summed up as ludicrously misguided. I am not scholar btu even i am not so stupid as to make such judgements on a poem wihtout thinking of the time in which it was written… Adn in that time, no such things could be done, and in that itme no such things were said…

  11. David says:

    Jarrell’s poem is about the pointless and inhumane waste of life that is both abortion and war. He likens the belly of the plane to the womb of a mother inorder to make the gunner seem like a child, which makes his death that much more upsetting to the reader. He says “they washed me out with a hose” because that is truly what they did. The hose here though, is metaphorical and can be compared to a vaccum cleaner because back in 1945 when he wrote the poem, it wasn’t uncommon for a young girl to perform her own abortion with a wire coat hanger and a vaccum cleaner.

  12. Joshua says:

    Actually this poem being about abortion is abosolutely butkiss- this poem focuses on one thing and that is that in war some people are more expendable than others. Case in point, only the most inexperienced and youthful troopers were given the job of being a ball turret gunner. Due to the fact that they were smaller and easily replaced. This is what the poet refers to when he speaks of “falling from the womb into the care of the state.” Not only was the poem written in a time when modern abortion was not even in existence but a time of war- more importantly a time in which the draft had been established. So look elsewhere for ridiculous ways to tie abortion and the abhorance there of, because frankly trying to tie it to this poem is just plain ridiculous.

  13. Bojo says:

    I went through that phase, it got me an A in college. In fact the ‘serious’ reading of personal meanings into poetry seems only a display of uncuriosity. It gives endless opportunities for writing ‘criticism’ without actually understanding things. Also it shields poets against having to do good work, and lets them write nonsense verse without being honest about it. (Nonsense verse as such is something I like.)

    Any association of the death of the ball turret gunner with abortion politics is a closure of the ‘mind’ to the actual subject. Ball turret gunners were _real_ people who _really did_ get killed and _really did_ have to be cleaned out with an air hose, because they _really were_ turned into goo. So what if there is some superficial resemblance in someone’s ‘mind’ to abortion? I mean that: So what? This is a poem about a ball turret gunner, written as if from the point of view of that gunner, in other words the writer imagines it his himself.

  14. Bill says:

    THANK YOU! abortion only became an issue when everything had to be “politically correct”. Jarrell is just simply describing what could go through a ball turret gunner’s mind when he gets into the heat of battle. that is ALL!

  15. Kenneth says:

    This poem is not about reproductive rights. It rings true but remember that this poem was written in 1945, decades before abortion became an issue.

  16. Todd says:

    The beauty of poetry is that it can be both, Julia, or neither. There is both the intent of the author, reflecting something that is moving he/she to write those words at that time but also the something moving in the reader/hearer as their interpretation completes the creative circle.

    In this seemingly simple poem there are complex elements of metaphor relating to the temporary security of the womb and the chaos of war/life. To lock it into a simple descriptive narrative is to do to the poem what the flak and fighters did to the gunner.

    On the other hand, it is unlikely that the author INTENDED the comparison made in the first comment by TEH – it might have been better if TEH had added the phrase “I see this as…” before the word “metaphor” to clarify that this is his or her interpretation of the ideas in the poem as related to a more contemporary debate – which is in fact entirely appropriate for this forum. By this I mean not the debate itself, for which there are other and more appropriate forums, but the discussion of how an individual reader is moved by or reacts to the images presented by the author. This engagement of the past with the present is a vital part of living poetry.

  17. Julia says:

    This is not a forum to air your reproductive right beliefs. The poem is a metaphor for the precariousness of the position of the ball turrent gunner, as it was considered to be the most vunerable position on the B-17. That’s ALL.

  18. T E H says:

    This poem expresses Jarrell’s experiences from being in the army in WWII. The Ball Turret Gunner is a metaphor for a baby in its mother’s womb. He is saying that the death of men in the war brutal and insensitive, just as it would be to abort a baby.

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