Next Day

Randall Jarrell

‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell is a confessional poem with a conversational tone that articulates the complex emotions of aging and change.

Randall Jarrell

Nationality: America

Randall Jarrell is a poet and critic born in Nashville, Tennessee.

His collections include Blood for a Stranger and Little Friend, Little Friend.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Getting older can be frightening

Themes: Aging, Beauty, Death

Speaker: An unnamed woman

Emotions Evoked: Fear, Hopelessness, Worry

Poetic Form: Sestet

Time Period: 20th Century

'Next Day' by Randall Jarrell is a poem that hides its complexities, just as the speaker avoids her fears of death and getting older

Just as ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell suggests, aging comes with many emotions, most of which can feel impossible to quell.

This poem, while it may seem like an ordinary, unassuming, and slightly unpoetic musing of an aging woman, is a poetic masterpiece in which Jarrell uses rhyme, repetition, and confessional style to capture the emotional intensity that comes with the fear of death.


In ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell, the speaker expresses her feelings about getting older as she spends her morning shopping for groceries. 

‘Next Day’ is told from the perspective of an older woman who mourns her lost beauty and looks ahead to her eventual death. The first stanza opens as the speaker makes a selection of laundry detergent, noting the happy names of each soap brand. 

She deliberately overlooks all of the other older women in the store because she sees herself in them. However, everyone else in the store seems to overlook her, even though she remembers what it was like to be young, beautiful, and noticed, even if she was poor and wanting for a husband and family back then. 

However, she notes that, now, in her old age, she is alone again. Her daughter and sons are away at school, and her husband works all day. The only solace she has seems to be her dog, her maid, and her unspoken wealth. 

The speaker only sees her age anymore, identifying herself as “old.” Her age and the changes that have come with it frighten the speaker as she looks at herself and recalls going to a friend’s funeral. The speaker realizes that she is just like everybody else, fearing change, aging, loneliness, and death just as every human does. 

Figurative Language

Metaphor plays heavily in ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell. 

One of the most significant metaphors in this poem is that of soap. In the opening stanza of the poem, each brand of laundry detergent takes on a deeper meaning as it seems like the speaker is actually shopping for “Joy” and “Cheer.” Her interest in these emotions is clear when she selects “All,” indicating that All of the laundry detergents are the same, just as the speaker believes that she is “anybody.”

In this simple soap selection, then, the woman indicates that she has received “All” she wanted in life already. But still, having it all doesn’t seem to be enough for her as she struggles with the idea that she is getting old. 

Still, this metaphor returns later in the poem as the speaker states: 

“The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water—”

In this metaphor, the detergent symbolizes all of the things in life that the woman has achieved. However, like soap, the happiness that she has experienced has burst, disintegrating. All that remains of her life’s achievements is a transparent residue — like soap and water. 


‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell focuses on the themes of aging, loneliness, and beauty as the speaker expresses her emotions about her aged appearance and the way her life has changed over the years. 

Most notably, this poem captures the emotional atmosphere of getting older. The woman, while she has achieved everything she set out to do when she was young, is now older and laments that she is lonely and undesirable. 

While she wanted a husband and family, her children are at school, and her husband is at work. Thus, despite her success as a mother and wife, the years have removed her from her family and made her lonely again. 

The woman seems particularly unhappy with her physical appearance as she wishes strangers would still look at her with desire. 

This poem also has thematic undertones of death and the fear of dying. Looking in the mirror, she recalls glancing at the body of her friend who has died, indicating that all she sees in herself anymore are age and death. 

The speaker also stresses that “really no one is exceptional, / No one has anything,” further implying that everyone, domestic housewife or not, must eventually face their old age and hit a point where there is nothing left to look forward to other than death. 

Form and Structure

This poem is a confessional one, organized into ten sestets with an irregular meter. While the verse follows very few rules, the charm of this poem is that it captures commonplace, conversational thought with incredible accuracy. 

The irregular meter of this poem switches from iambic to anapestic, creating a rhythm that doesn’t sound too deliberately poetic or musical. However, it is very clear that Jarrell worked tirelessly to create the cadence of everyday speech with the conversational vocabulary in this poem. 

Additionally, Jarrell hides unassuming rhymes in this poem. For example, in stanza one, “All” and “identical” create a slant rhyme. “Box” and “flocks” rhyme. In fact, lines two and five of each stanza rhyme. These rhymes are tricky to notice when reading the poem, but they are there nonetheless.


Randal Jarrell’s ‘Next Day’ was one of the last poems he wrote before his death in 1969. During his later years as a poet, Jarrell often wrote from the perspective of a woman, but this poem is particularly close to the poet’s personal identity, as it reflects his own understanding of aging and death. 

Additionally, as a poem of the second-wave feminist era, it questions the role of women in society. The speaker is a domestic woman, presumably an aged housewife who has nothing left to do with herself now that her children are gone and her husband works all the time. 

Despite her sadness, lost attractiveness, and fear of death, the woman’s life was all she ever desired when she was young. She had wanted to become a wife and mother. However, now that she is old, the part of her life that she wishes to revisit is the period in which she “was young and miserable and pretty / And poor.”

In this wish, it becomes clear that she misses the years when she had something to hope for. Despite her poverty and misery, her whole life was ahead of her back then. Now, every time she looks in the mirror, she sees signs of her inevitable death. 

This confessional monologue, then, is really an investigation into the life of an older housewife. While she seems to have been a committed, beautiful, and determined girl, now that she has filled the role of wife and mother, she has absolutely nothing else left other than death.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,

Stanza one of ‘Next Day’ opens as the unnamed speaker peruses the shelves of laundry detergent at a grocery store.

The speaker is detached here as she casually makes her decision of “All” instead of choosing “Joy” and “Cheer.” These brands create a clear symbolism, with the speaker choosing to take “All” or everything she wants. However, the casual, slightly depressive tone in this stanza and the rest of the poem indicate that “All” of the things the speaker chooses will eventually wash away, just like soap.

Since these soap brands have a deeper meaning, it makes sense that every object in this poem will be a metaphor or symbol for something else.

The Cornish game hens and wild rice, then, stand in for the speaker’s need for a bit of wildness in her life. Still, since she is confined to monotonous, mundane tasks in this poem, she defaults to using food as a way to compensate for what her life lacks.

The “Food-gathering flocks” of other people in the grocery store also seem to have unfulfilled needs as the speaker asserts that all of the people around her “Are selves I overlook.” This line introduces the speaker’s perception that she is just like everyone else, an idea that remains integral to the rest of the poem.

Stanza Two

Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

Stanza two of ‘Next Day’ joins with stanza one as the poet uses enjambment to connect the quote, “Wisdom… / Is learning what to overlook.” Using these words of wisdom, the speaker implies that she is wise not to pay attention to other people. However, in doing so, it seems that the speaker believes she is wise not to pay attention to herself and how others see her.

Still, the speaker admits that she cannot hide from herself. Even when she closes her eyes, the reality of what she has become haunts her. She is “old,” and she is nothing but “old.”

Stanza Three

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I’d wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car

While the speaker has just admitted that she cannot escape from what she has become, she immediately recalls her younger years, turning a blind eye to her old age yet again. She seems avoidant, unwilling to see herself for who she is.

Instead of seeing her old age, she reimagines the time when she was “young and miserable and pretty / and poor.” This string of adjectives indicates that the speaker is no longer any of these things, displaying that she is old, happy, ugly, and rich. Or, at least, that is how the speaker sees herself.

When she was younger, she only wanted what a girl wanted, and it seems she has achieved all of it. She has “a husband, a house, and children,” as we will discover later in the poem.

However, now that she is a woman, her wishes are “womanish.” However, the speaker puts her desires on pause as she uses enjambment to switch her perspective to the past.

Stanza Four

See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Stanza four reveals the “womanish” wish of the speaker — to be seen. This stanza is an excellent example of how the poet uses enjambment in ‘Next Day’ to create deeper meaning, as the phrase “See me” stands alone here, indicating that the speaker is pleading to be looked at.

The woman is desperate to be looked at, appreciated, and attractive. She recalls her youth again, reminiscing on when she “was good enough to eat.”

This self-characterization drives a contrast between the grocery store scene and the woman. Remembering that the speaker has filled her cart with wild rice and Cornish game hens, it seems that she cannot look at food without remembering what it was like to be deliciously attractive to other people.

While she describes other peoples’ former desire for her as “vile,” she still misses it.

Stanza Five

Imaginings within my imagining,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

As she recalls her youth, the speaker recognizes that, like the people who used to desire her, she has “taken / the chance of life.” This slightly cryptic statement indicates that the speaker, by romanticizing her self-image, has taken a chance, or gambled, with her own life by getting married, having children, and allowing herself to get older.

In this chance, the woman’s youth was at stake.

Following these musings about her youth, the woman shifts her perspective to the boy helping her get her grocery store. This boy pats the speaker’s dog, which seems to have appeared out of nowhere.

This dog reveals some key information about the woman’s perception. Throughout the entire poem, we haven’t seen or heard of this dog. This stresses that the woman has turned a blind eye to the world. She is completely wrapped up in her own ego and the past.

The grocery store boy, however, does not pay attention to the woman. He is concentrating on his job and the dog. Thus, to the speaker, it seems that she is even less special or noticeable than a dog.

After she begins to drive away from the grocery store, the woman drives a connection between her and her pet, calling herself “good.”

Stanza Six

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water—
Away at school, my sons away at school,

In stanza six of ‘Next Day,’ the speaker describes the way that the happiness of her youth has burst in her hands, leaving only a transparent trace of what she once was. The “ecstatic, accidental bliss” of the last stanza binds itself to the speaker’s palm, like “soap and water.”

These transient memories of the woman’s youth seem timeless to her as she can’t even recall when they happened. It seems that this happiness has washed away.

The woman again shifts her perception away from the unpleasant feelings of losing her youth, thinking of her “lovely daughter” and “sons away at school.” Her daughter seems to have the beauty that the speaker longs for, indicating that she uses her children to remember her own past.

However, her children are gone, and the woman is a lonely, discontented, empty-nester with nothing left to do with her life.

Stanza Seven

My husband away at work—I wish for them.
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

It also seems that the woman’s husband is often “away at work,” illustrating that the family she built has left her to her own devices. All she has left are “the dog” and “the maid” to keep her company.

In her mention of the maid, it becomes apparent that the woman is likely pretty wealthy. She seems to be privileged in many ways, but that privilege also seems to have left her with no challenges left to face in life. The speaker is bored and has nothing to occupy her mind other than her fading beauty.

As she looks at her life, she notes that she is “afraid” of change and doesn’t want her life to change along with her aging body.

Stanza Eight

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
Repeats to me: “You’re old.” That’s all, I’m old.

In stanza eight of ‘Next Day,’ the speaker looks at a reflection of herself in her rear-view mirror, emphasizing the woman’s constant obsession with looking back at the past.

However, despite her nostalgia, the speaker can only see how much she has changed over the years and feels afraid of the obvious signs of age on her face. The woman, who was once so many things, is now only “old.”

She has reduced her existence to this label, as she has nothing left but herself and her “gray discovery,” or experience, to show for her life’s achievements.

Stanza Nine

And yet I’m afraid, as I was at the funeral
As I think of her and I hear her telling me

In stanza nine, the speaker reveals the cause of her nostalgia and dissociation. She is afraid, just as afraid as she was “at the funeral / yesterday.” It seems that the woman, alarmed by the fact that one of her friends passed away, is now fixated on the brevity of life and her own eventual death.

Just as the speaker described her face in the last stanza, she now outlines a sketch of her friend’s face, which was “cold,” “made-up,” and like “granite among its flowers.”

The speaker sees herself in the casket as she looks at her friend, the hard granite stone recalling her own description of the “gray discovery” in her appearance.

The speaker states that her friend’s “undressed, operated-on, dressed body” was also hers. This assimilation of the friend and the speaker illustrates that the woman already sees herself as dead or, at least, nearing death.

This fear explains why the poem’s title is ‘Next Day,’ as it reflects human reactions to death.

Stanza Ten

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I’m anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

In the final stanza, the speaker remembers how her now-deceased friend once told her that she is “young” and “exceptional,” meaning that she is healthy and looks good for her age. However, the speaker notes that “no one is exceptional,” indicating that everyone, regardless of how they look, how they see themselves, or how old they are, will die.

The woman, “confused” with her life, now recalls looking down at her friend’s grave. However, she sees this grave as her own, and she sees her life as lonely and ordinary.

The woman’s new perception of death puts a new perspective on the poem — one of nihilistic thought. She seems to reject that anything has any meaning. She denies that anyone is special because, ultimately, everyone will die. However, she is still afraid, as her anxious trailing thoughts indicate.


What does ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell imply about death?

‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell implies that death is the great equalizer of all humanity. The speaker, though she is afraid of death, eventually realizes that she is just like everyone else because, eventually, she will die. While she is consumed with regrets and nostalgia, she also recognizes that she does not matter in the big picture.

What is the tone of ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell?

The tone of ‘Next Day’ is conversational, as the poem follows the thoughts of a woman at the grocery store. However, the woman seems detached, nostalgic, and avoidant of her own thoughts as she eventually reveals that she had visited a funeral the day before the poem takes place.

What is the meaning of ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell?

The meaning of ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell is that getting older can be scary, even if you know that death is inevitable. The speaker of the poem seems to regret her choices, but only in a very empty, nihilistic, and detached way. She eventually notes that she is just like everyone else and will die.

Who is the speaker in ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell?

The speaker in ‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell is an unnamed woman. The speaker seems to be a wealthy middle-aged or elderly domestic housewife who feels the effects of empty nest syndrome. Despite her life’s achievements, this woman mourns her faded beauty, seeing traces of her eventual death on her face.

Similar Poetry

Randall Jarrell’s ‘Next Day’ is a true masterpiece as the poet steps into the shoes of an aging woman who has death on her mind. The conversational, confessional quality of this poem is what makes it stand out, though, as it captures plain speech using hidden rhyme and metrical irregularities.

Some of Jarrell’s other best-known poetry include:

  • The Woman at the Washington Zoo’ – a powerful poem about a speaker’s desire to escape from her life and claim a new one. This poem is often grouped together with ‘Next Day’, as these verses share many similarities.
  • ‘A Country Life’ – a poem that depicts the impact of life, death, and loneliness on people as old age sets in.
  • ‘In Those Days’ – a poem that explores how nostalgia and memory can make the past seem better than the present.

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Aimee LaFon Poetry Expert
Aimee LaFon has a BAS with honors in English and Classics, focusing her studies on the translation of Latin poetry, manuscript traditions, and the analysis of medieval and neoclassical poetry. She is a full-time writer and poet passionate about making knowledge accessible to everyone.
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