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Literary Review on Randall Jarrell's Next Day
Randall Jarrell’s poem “Next Day” is one of the many poems he wrote from the perspective of a woman. “Next Day” is a nostalgic poem spoken by a middle-aged woman reflecting on her past life and her future as she does her groceries and goes home. The persona reflects on what has become of her life as she chooses between brands of soap (Cheer, Joy, All) (Jarrell, 1), and realizes that despite having all that she wanted as a young girl, her life now as a woman is empty.
She reflects on the changes that occurred to her and her body—how she was once young and attractive and now invisible and old. Despite having a husband, children, and wealth, she has nothing to look forward to but death. This literature review analyzes Randall Jarrell’s use of prosaic language and imagery from everyday life in the confessional poem “Next Day” to connect tribulations of daily, domestic life, often engaged by women, with intense psychological experiences that transcend gender and generations.
Randall Jarrell’s Next Day
“Next Day” is one of the poems wherein Jarrell takes on the persona of a woman, which he often did in his later career. Jarrell uses the element of poetry dramatic monologue where the persona speaks to herself about her thoughts and intentions. The persona’s monologue narrates the woman’s movement in the grocery as she chooses between brands of soap all the while intermingled with her thoughts about her situation as a middle-aged woman.
In “Next Day” Jarrell uses simple language throughout the poem, which, aside from being his signature writing style , highlights the mundaneness of the dramatic situation—of a normal woman thinking as she goes about her day. However, Jarrell’s poem is not replete with imagery and symbolism. It is possible that Jarrell wanted to illustrate how a mundane activity such as grocery shopping can be a stage for dramatic thought-provoking instances.
Use of Symbolisms in Next Day
“Next Day” features imagery and symbolism that are commonplace in the life of any American. The start of the poem features peculiar brands of detergent soaps—Cheer, Joy, and All. This is followed by the image of hens and of eating. These images, however, commonplace as they are, are used to denote universal meanings. The detergent brands also represent the woman’s options as a young girl. She could have made choices to achieve cheer or joy or all.
As the poem suggests in the second stanza, the woman chooses the detergent “All” which means that she achieve everything she wished. Despite getting everything she wanted, however, she remains part of a flock of Cornish game hens— “the slacked or shorted, basketed, identical/ food-gathering flocks. (Jarrell 4-5)” Cornish game hens are more expensive than other types of chickens, which implies that the persona refers to herself as being part of a higher economic class. This image then evokes a grocery store full of well-off and made-up women peacefully making their way through the aisles, of which the persona is unwillingly a part of.
Another imagery in the poem is that of eating and being eaten. Eating is integral in any domestic setting, but eating takes on a different meaning in the “Next Day.” After likening herself, and other women, to Cornish game hens, eating becomes representative of desire: “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! (Jarrell 20-23)”. Jarrell makes the poem’s theme of getting old apparent through the use of these literary devices.
Analysis on Randall Jarell's Next Day
Having been written in the 1960’s, Jarrell’s poem exhibits the limited choices available to women at the time. The woman clearly highly attributed her value to her appearance and desirability. Her youthful appeal used to be what was most important to her. Furthermore, as the poem progresses, it becomes apparent that “All” meant getting married, having a family, and becoming financially well-off.
So, now that she is old, she discovers that this “All” that she wished for when she was younger actually feels empty. This, thus, prompts the persona to look back to a time when she did not feel empty—when she was “young and miserable and pretty / and poor… (Jarrell 13-14)” Since growing old, she feels she has become invisible and there is nothing more for her to look forward to but death.
The superficial concerns that fill the persona’s thoughts have existential undertones. At the core of her concerns about her then youthful appearance and desirability is her fear of death. Growing old, for her, is a reminder of her impending death. Furthermore, toward the second to the last stanza, Jarrell reveals the true reason for her thoughts—she had just attended a friend’s funeral. Her friend’s death made the persona think of her own death, and her life, too. She looks back and saw how much she has changed, ““You’re old.” That’s all, I’m old. (Jarrell 48)” This realization, however, is but a continuation of her realization at the funeral where she saw her face and body in the place of her dead friend’s.
The superficial indications of aging were indicative of another struggle within the psyche of the persona, and arguably, which everyone faces—the fear that they lived a commonplace life. Jarrell’s last stanza dwells on this idea after placing it in the context of the persona’s dreams and wishes, what she has accomplished, and what else she looks forward to.
The persona concludes that although she is no longer young and has lived a life that is “commonplace and solitary” she is not entirely alone because “…really no one is exceptional, / No one has anything, I’m anybody,” (Jarrell 57-58). By concluding the poem with this thought, Jarrell moves the poem from the specific context of an unhappy, ageing housewife to a universal crisis that anyone can encounter at some point in their life.
Literary Device used in Next Day
Jarrell’s use of enjambments also helped in depicting everyday life and in establishing symbolism throughout the poem. The poem is filled with enjambments, which both mimic colloquial language (its tone and pauses) as well as suggest multiple meanings. Take, for example: “That the boy putting groceries in my car // See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me. (Jarrell 18-19) (see how to cite a poem in MLA)”
These two lines, which are cut by a stanza break, describes what is happening—that the boy does not notice her as he loads the groceries onto the persona’s car. However, the line cut also suggests that the phrase could be the persona’s pleading— “See me!” as her internal cry. The persona longs for someone to look at her again the same way she used to be desired back in her youth.
Another enjambment that mimics colloquial language is the line “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” (Jarrell 13-16). The line cuts in this set of lines mimic the way someone may pause in between their sentences, either to inhale air, to emphasize the next statement, or wistfully think about what one is about to say next. Take this line for instance “And poor, I’d wish / What all girls wish… (Jarrell 14-15)”
By using enjambment to mimic plain language or how a person in a conversation would say such things, the reader is brought into the persona’s mind. Because of that, the reader then believes that they are hearing (or reading) the person’s thoughts. This way, the reader may also relate or connect with the persona in the poem. One may almost forget that it is a poem. But, more importantly, Jarrell demonstrates how intense psychological experiences creep into daily life while doing the most mundane things.
The essay has analyzed the element Randall Jarrell used in the confessional poem “Next Day.” Most notably, Jarrell took on the persona of a woman and used prosaic language and everyday imagery throughout the poem. Using these elements, Jarrell explored a universal existential crisis in a domestic context, and in doing so made such a crisis not merely poetic and philosophical but also realistic and relatable.
“Next Day” depicts the tragedy of aging and living an everyday life knowing that a person is now far from how beautiful or great she used to be and is nearing her inevitable death. Jarrell’s poem “Next Day” goes against the common impression of poetry as the most hifalutin of the four literary genres. Jarrell’s poem successfully uses prosaic language to form a philosophical and poetic piece of literature that even readers nowadays can still understand.
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Jarrell, Randall. “Next Day” from The Complete Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, 1969, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47687/next-day.
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