Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Randall Jarrell completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Vanderbilt University. He taught at several universities, including the University of Texas at Austin before enlisting in the Air Force in 1942. Some of his most famous poems are based on his experiences during World War II, and he became established as a poet in 1945.
In addition to serving as Poet Laureate, Jarrell received both a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Book Award. He taught at Sarah Lawrence University and at the Woman's College at the University of North Carolina. In addition to publishing several volumes of poetry, Jarrell was also well known and feared as a critic.
Jarrell was hit by a car and killed in 1965 at the age of 51. No one is certain whether his death was an accident or suicide, but his battle with depression at the end of his life lead many of his friends to believe it was a suicide.