21 Days/21 Poems: Next Day by Randall Jarrell

The theme for today’s 21 Days/21 Poems is aging.

Next Day

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 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.

By Randall Jarrell

A dramatic monologue, this.  This woman is scared of aging.  Ultimately, this is a poem about self-acceptance.

I  came across this poem in the mid 1990s and was so taken by it that I promptly bought Randall Jarrell’s The Complete Poems, which is the source of the poem.  Jarrell (1914 -1965) was an American poet and a literary critic.



    • This poem has haunted me since the day I first read it. It’s so painfully honest and contains no illusions or self-delusions.


  1. A really beautiful poem, am loving its message, So will reply with only way I know how.
    Mirror Image

    Tonight I saw myself in the dark window as
    the image of my father, whose life
    was spent like this,
    thinking of death, to the exclusion
    of other sensual matters, so in the end that life
    was easy to give up, since
    it contained nothing, even
    my mother’s voice couldn’t make him
    change or turn back
    as he believed
    that once you can’t Love another human being
    you have no place in the world.

    Louise Gluck


    • You are something else; commenting with another poem :). Thank you. Again. Gluck will not allow us any false comfort or delusions, will she? What is our purpose if we cannot/will not love. Also, the use of the mirror to represent a wall between life and death. Beautiful poem.


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