Next Day by Randall Jarrell

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Next Day by Randall Jarrell I think, generally, people wish they were somewhere or someone else, no matter where they are or how objectively good their situations are. They're not really complaining; consciously they know things are going relatively well for them, but there is always that nostalgia for more romantic times past, or that nagging what if in the back of the mind. These feelings, which more or less everyone has more or less all of the time, are what Randall Jarrell's poem Next Day is all about. The speaker, a woman, is lamenting the realization that she is getting old. Her major life decisions have been made, and the grocery boy is not checking her out. She thinks back, briefly, to when she was young and delectable, but is not long in remembering her family; her daughter, her sons, her husband; the people she most loves. The poem's opening images wisk you directly into a supermarket, where the speaker is shopping among other housewives "slacked or shorted." Aside from just setting the scene, each of these images has some thematic significance. Cheer, Joy, and All are not only brands of laundry detergent, but are states of mind through which she cycles. At first she is cheery: perhaps it is a beautiful day, a morning in May (line 43 says it is morning). She is also experiencing moments of joy: thinking of her children or the delicious meal ahead of her. But soon she settles on the all: wondering about the world and her place in it. The Cornish game hens are a symbol of class in the poem; Jarrell is trying to show that this woman is financially well-off. He doubles this notion in line 14 when the woman says she was poor when she was young, implying that she is not poor now, and then triples it with the mention of a maid in line 38 (It is interesting to note that the made and the dog are put together on their own line, a sign of the times, perhaps?). William James, mentioned in line six, was one of the cofounders of a school of philosophy called pragmatism, which maintains that "both the meaning and the truth of any idea is a function of its practical outcome."1 James also said that true ideas "lead through experience in ways that provide consistency, orderliness, and predictability."1 Jarrell is saying that the speaker and the the other ladies in the store have become defined by what they do: cooking and cleaning and shopping. There lives have become consistent, orderly, and predictable, and therefore true. The speaker ignores the "identical/ Food-gathering flocks" because they are precisely what she does not what to be; she chooses not to acknowledge them. Still feeling Cheer, albeit a bit forced, she tries not to lets these visions bother her. In the second stanza, though, she cannot help but buy the All, and begins to notice what she has been trying not to notice: that she is getting old, just like the other women. Even shutting her eyes doesn't help as the grocery boy, with his whole life ahead of him, loads her car. The boy triggers a rush of nostalgia in stanzas three and four, as the woman thinks back to when she was "young and miserable and pretty," when she wanted what she has now. But now her "wish/ Is womanish:" she wants what she had then. She realizes that she was miserable, yet she wants it anyway. It was exciting; she was an individual, not part of a Food-gathering flock, and people noticed her. "I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me/ And its mouth watered." Now, in line 27, the boy takes notice of the dog over her. Lines 24-25, "And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile/Imaginings within my imagining," most likely refer to sexual experiences she had in youth with which she was less than overjoyed. But it could also be said that now, looking back, part of her is sorry that that era of her life is gone, and now such "vile/ Imaginings" exist only within her imagining. At some point she gave that life up and took "the chance of life," perhaps marriage. She thinks back again, on the drive home in lines 29-34, to that last illicit sexual moment, and how glorious it seems in her memory. She recalls how it left, at its finale, "upon the palm/Some soap and water" (Joy?), and then she is snapped back into reality, perhaps by a green light, and thinks of her family. She realizes in the next few lines that it is not her life that she wishes would revert to that of her "Gay/ Twenties," but she herself, and her body. She is very happy with her life, and does not want it to change. "As I look at my life,/ I am afraid/ Only that it will change, as I am changing." She is upset about getting old, not about a stagnant life. Her "sure and unvarying days" give her life meaning, truth. In the ninth stanza the speaker talks about the funeral of a friend she attended the day before. She found that her dead friend reminded her of herself. "

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