A Man Meets a Woman in the Street

By Randall Jarrell 1914–1965 Randall Jarrell
Under the separated leaves of shade
Of the gingko, that old tree
That has existed essentially unchanged
Longer than any other living tree,
I walk behind a woman. Her hair's coarse gold
Is spun from the sunlight that it rides upon.
Women were paid to knit from sweet champagne
Her second skin: it winds and unwinds, winds
Up her long legs, delectable haunches,
As she sways, in sunlight, up the gazing aisle.
The shade of the tree that is called maidenhair,
That is not positively known
To exist in a wild state, spots her fair or almost fair
Hair twisted in a French twist; tall or almost tall,
She walks through the air the rain has washed, a clear thing
Moving easily on its high heels, seeming to men
Miraculous . . . Since I can call her, as Swann couldn't
A woman who is my type, I follow with the warmth
Of familiarity, of novelty, this new
Example of the type,
Reminded of how Lorenz's just-hatched goslings
Shook off the last remnants of the egg
And, looking at Lorenz, realized that Lorenz
Was their mother. Quaking, his little family
Followed him everywhere; and when they met a goose,
Their mother, they ran to him afraid.

Imprinted upon me
Is the shape I run to, the sweet strange
Breath-taking contours that breathe to me: "I am yours,   
Be mine!"
             Following this new
Body, somehow familiar, this young shape, somehow old,
For a moment I'm younger, the century is younger.
The living Strauss, his moustache just getting gray,
Is shouting to the players: "Louder!
Louder! I can still hear Madame Schumann-Heink-"
Or else, white, bald, the old man's joyfully
Telling conductors they must play Elektra
Like A Midsummer Night's Dream -like a fairy music;
Proust, dying, is swallowing his iced beer
And changing in proof the death of Bergotte
According to his own experience; Garbo,
A commissar in Paris, is listening attentively
To the voice telling how McGillicuddy me McGillivray,
And McGillivray said to McGillicuddy-no, McGillicuddy
Said to McGillivray-that is, McGillivray...Garbo
Says seriously: "I vish dey'd never met."

As I walk behind this woman I remember
That before I flew here-waked in the forest
At dawn, by the piece called Birds Beginning Day
That, each day, birds play to begin the day-
I wished as men wish: "May this day be different!"
The birds were wishing, as birds wish-over and over,
With a last firmness, intensity, reality-
"May this day be the same!"
                                        Ah, turn to me
And look into my eyes, say: "I am yours,
Be mine!"
             My wish will have come true. And yet
When your eyes meet my eyes, they'll bring into
The weightlessness of my pure wish the weight
Of a human being: someone to help or hurt,
Someone to be good to me, to be good to,
Someone to cry when I am angry
that she doesn't like Elektra, someone to start on Proust with.
A wish, come true, is life. I have my life.
When you turn just slide your eyes across my eyes
And show in a look flickering across your face
As lightly as a leaf's shade, a bird's wing,
That there is no one in the world quite like me,
That if only...If only...
                                    That will be enough.

But I've pretended long enough: I walk faster
And come close, touch with the tip of my finger
The nape of her neck, just where the gold
Hair stops, and the champagne-colored dress begins.
My finger touches her as the gingko's shadow
Touches her.   
                Because, after all, it is my wife
In a new dress from Bergdorf's, walking toward the park.
She cries out, we kiss each other, and walk arm in arm
Through the sunlight that's much too good for New York,
The sunlight of our own house in the forest.
Still, though, the poor things need it...We've no need
To start out on Proust, to ask each other about Strauss.
We first helped each other, hurt each other, years ago.
After so many changes made and joys repeated,
Our first bewildered, transcending recognition
Is pure acceptance.   We can't tell our life
From our wish. Really I began the day
Not with a man's wish: "May this day be different,"
But with the birds' wish: "May this day
Be the same day, the day of my life."

“A Man Meets a Woman in the Street” from The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell. Copyright 1969, renewed 1997 by Mary von S. Jarrell. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: The Complete Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1969)

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Poet Randall Jarrell 1914–1965

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Fugitive

Subjects Relationships, Men & Women, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Music, Theater & Dance, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Randall  Jarrell

Biography

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 Relationships, Men & Women, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Music, Theater & Dance, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Fugitive

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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