- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
To honor James Merrill, who died in 1995, Knopf has brought together nearly all of his published work, as well as translations and ephemera, in this handsome volume edited by J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser. The book's very first poem, which dates from Merrill's youth, describes "the child upon the bank" watching a swan cross a pond. It's a telling image, for that child grew to be a poet particularly attuned to the quiet art of observation. Over five decades, Merrill produced a body of work that is both formally stunning and keenly, tenderly drawn.
Merrill's poetry is often described as Apollonian: elegant and aesthetically precise. A poem is a "neat pseudonym / For thoughts in disarray," he says in "Morning Exercise," revealing the key to much of his own work: the ordering of disorder, a transmuting of existence, however perplexing, into the classic forms, from sestina to terza rima. This meant careful depiction of things (furniture, a mirror, a tree) and places. Merrill traveled frequently, dividing much of his time between Greece, the Connecticut shore, and Key West, where the gradations of light and water reflected a rich interior life, mirroring "the sea change…within us."
A lifelong opera aficionado, Merrill shares something with Mozart; a wistful sadness increasingly tinges the playful beauty of his work. Poems like "Farewell Performance" mourn dead friends, and the late work from A Scattering of Salts grapples with memory and mortality. But this foreknowledge is never far from a graceful, gentle humor that takes great delight in words, and in the life that they describe. (Jonathan Cook)
Editor's note: Merrill's celebrated epic, The Changing Light at Sandover, has not been included in this volume. Readers interested in learning more about Merrill might also want to read Familiar Spirits: A Memoir of David Jackson and James Merrill, written by the famous couple's friend, novelist Alison Lurie.