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James Merrill: An Introduction to the Poetry



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In 1973, James Merrill's collection Braving the Elements received the Bollingen Prize for its author's "wit and delight in language, his exceptional craft, his ability to enter into personalities other than his own, and sustained vitality." The Bollingen judges could appreciate all that, but other serious and dedicated readers of poetry sometimes have found it difficult, for various reasons, to get into Merrill's work, which can itself be difficult. This book was written from a desire to help make the splendors of his moving and beautiful poetry more widely available. The book describes his major themes (memory, time, masking, passion, the family drama, and his own childhood, among others), discusses his literary influences (Proust, Byron, Mallarme, etc.), and provides a kind of Masterplot for Merrill's controversial Ouija trilogy The Changing Light at Sandover; it also talks in detail about the technical means by which his marvelously clever and emotionally powerful art has been achieved.