Randall Jarrell is the most exhilarating critic America has produced, and perhaps its loneliest poet. Robert Lowell calls the poems ""heart-breaking,"" and Elizabeth Bishop; attempting to characterize Jarrell's temperament, his literary enthusiams and dazzling insights, says ""he always seemed more alive than other people, as if constantly tuned up to concert pitch that most people, including poets, can maintain only short and fortunate stretches."" There is a paradox here, for if pathos, loss, and horror (""Pain comes from the darkness/And we call it wisdom. It is pain"") are the dominant notes struck in the poems, the vibrant, witty, celebratory essays on Whitman and Frost, Moore and Ransom, found in Poetry and the Age, or the posthumous ones on Christina Stead, Stevens, and the Russian novella published now in The Third Book of Criticism, present a Jarrell of life-giving luminosity, as astonishingly precise in his discriminations as he is exuberant and bold in his commitments. ""Magical,"" as we know, is one of Jarrell's favorite words, and it is just that transforming quality, apparently lacking in his life, which he so intensely sought in the world of books, and which makes his ""lists,"" his discoveries, his collection of haunting cadences seem so fiercely a matter of personal taste and yet so magisterially assured, liberating, and objective. Jarrell cared: he took enormous pride in his judgment, sometimes misleadingly so (see the over-weeningly polemical studies of Auden), but such indulgence was secondary to the underlying responsiveness and grace that shaped his work. He was a Moses with the heart of a Shelley. A parable of the mid-century man of letters lies buried in this complex soul.