The Woman at the Washington Zoo

By Randall Jarrell 1914–1965 Randall Jarrell
The saris go by me from the embassies.

Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet.   
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.

And I....
               this print of mine, that has kept its color   
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null   
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so   
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,   
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief—
Only I complain.... this serviceable
Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses
But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns,   
Wavy beneath fountains—small, far-off, shining   
In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped   
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,   
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death—
Oh, bars of my own body, open, open!

The world goes by my cage and never sees me.   
And there come not to me, as come to these,
The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas’ grain,   
Pigeons settling on the bears’ bread, buzzards   
Tearing the meat the flies have clouded....
When you come for the white rat that the foxes left,
Take off the red helmet of your head, the black
Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man:
The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn,
To whose hand of power the great lioness
Stalks, purring....
                              You know what I was,
You see what I am: change me, change me!

Randall Jarrell, “The Woman at the Washington Zoo” from The Complete Poems. Copyright © 1969, renewed 1997 by Mary von S. Jarrell. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: The Complete Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)

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Poet Randall Jarrell 1914–1965

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern


Subjects Nature, Relationships, Pets, The Body, Animals

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Blank Verse, Persona

 Randall  Jarrell


Best known as a literary critic but also respected as a poet, Randall Jarrell was noted for his acerbic, witty, and erudite criticism. In a volume of essays about Jarrell titled Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965, nearly all of the writers praised his critical faculties. They also noted, commented Stephen Spender in the New York Review of Books, "a cruel streak in Jarrell when he attacked poets he didn't like." John Berryman wrote that . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Relationships, Pets, The Body, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern


Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Blank Verse, Persona

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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