James Merrill himself once called his body of work “chronicles of love and loss,” and in twenty books written over four decades he used the details of his own life—comic and haunting, exotic and domestic—to shape a portrait that in turn mirrored the image of our world and our moment. This volume rings together the best of Merrill—from the domestic rupture of “The Broken Home” to the universal connections of “Lost in Translation”; from the American storyteller of “The Summer People” to the ecologically motivated satirist of “Self-Portrait in a TyvekTM Windbreaker.” Merrill dazzles at every turn, and this balanced and compact selection will be an ideal introduction to the work for both students and general readers, and an instant favorite among his familiars.
Then when the flame forked like a sudden path I gasped and stumbled, and was less.
Density pulsing upward, gauze of ash,
Dear light along the way to nothingness,
What could be made of you but light, and this?
The poetry of James Merrill is a good deal closer to a Haydn piano trio or Boccherini quintet than it is to Walt Whitman's "barbaric yawp." Like the 18th-century Galante style in music, Merrill's work has a high, almost lacquered finish and prizes the qualities of refinement, intricacy of design and formal containment. It is music for the court, for the knowledgeable and cultivated listener. At his bestin a handful of poems where he's most restrained and the emotional core of the work, however camouflaged or subdued, is most intenseMerrill has few peers, and none among contemporary poets working in meter and rhyme.