Synopses & Reviews
The publication of James Merrill's Collected Poems
is a landmark in the history of modern American literature. His First Poems
—its sophistication and virtuosity were recognized at once—appeared half a century ago. Over the next five decades, Merrill's range broadened and his voice took on its characteristic richness. In book after book, his urbanity and wit, his intriguing images and paradoxes, shone with a rare brilliance. As he once told an interviewer, he "looked for English in its billiard-table sense—words that have been set spinning against their own gravity." But beneath their surface glamour, his poems were driven by an audacious imagination that continually sought to deepen and refine our perspectives on experience. Among other roles, he was one of the supreme love poets of the twentieth century. In delicate lyric or complex narrative, this book abounds with what he once called his "chronicles of love and loss." Like Wallace Stevens and W. H. Auden before him, Merrill sought to quicken the pulse of a poem in surprising and compelling ways—ways, indeed, that changed how we came to see our own lives. Years ago, the critic Helen Vendler spoke for others when she wrote of Merrill, "The time eventually comes, in a good poet's career, when readers actively wait for his books: to know that someone out there is writing down your century, your generation, your language, your life . . . He has become one of our indispensable poets."
This book brings together a remarkable body of work in an authoritative edition. From Merrill's privately printed book, The Black Swan, published in 1946, to his posthumous collection, A Scattering of Salts, which appeared in 1995, all of the poems he published are included, except for juvenalia and his epic, The Changing Light at Sandover. In addition, twenty-one of his translations (from Apollinaire, Montale, and Cavafy, among others) and forty-four of his previously uncollected poems (including those written in the last year of his life) are gathered here for the first time.
Collected Poems in the first volume in a series that will present all of James Merrill's work—his novels and plays, and his collected prose. Together, these volumes will testify to a monumental career that distinguished American literature in the late twentieth century and will continue to inspire readers and writers for years to come.
The volume that brings together, for the first time, the complete works of one of the giants of American poetry.
Merrill touched each of his subjects, whether worldly or spiritual, with silvery wit and metrical music. A bracing glass of ouzo, afternoons at the gym with a gay partner, conversations with deceased friends via the Ouija board, a midnight swim -- all were occasions for contemplation and high art.
Here are all the poems -- from his earliest published collection, The Black Swan and Other Poems (1946), to his posthumous volume, A Scattering of Salts (1995) -- together with many that have never been previously collected.
An essential addition to every shelf of 20-century poetry.
About the Author
James Merrill was born on March 3, 1926, in New York City and died on February 6, 1995. From the mid-1950's on, he lived in Stonington, Connecticut, and for extended periods he also had houses in Athens and Key West. From The Black Swan (1946) through A Scattering of Salts (1995), he wrote twelve books of poems, ten of them published in trade editions, as well as The Changing Light at Sandover (1982). He also published two plays, The Immortal Husband (1956) and The Bait (1860); two novels, The Seraglio (1957, reissued in 1987) and The (Diblos) Notebook (1965, reissued in 1994); a book of essays, interviews, and reviews, Recitative (1986); and a memoir, A Different Person (1993). Over the years, he was the winner of numerous awards for his poetry, including two National Book Awards, the Bollingen Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the first Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.