James Merrill (1926–1995) was an American poet whose major work The Changing Light at Sandover describes a series of spirit communications conducted over many years. He won the National Book Award from his collections Nights and Days and Mirabell: Books of Number.

Oranges

His mother wore, as in a fairy-tale, A fragrant crown upon her snow-white veil. The photograph obsessed him. Didn’t she know What grievous crops such blossomings entail? There was that sweetness just beneath the skin A single night of frost undid: blood kin …

Domestic Architecture

Honestly now! Another White House scandal— Denied at every level. Can’t they at least Skip the sincerity? Nope (says the analyst), That fair flag of the land’ll Flap long and loud from its pole. It’s our democratic Need to Come Clean, unfurling above the …

An Upward Look

O heart green acre sown with salt by the departing occupier lay down your gallant spears of wheat Salt of the earth each stellar pinch flung in blind defiance backwards now takes its toll Up from his quieted quarry the lover …

Three Poems by James Merrill

DAYS OF 1994 These days in my friend’s house Light seeks me underground. To wake Below the level of the lawn —Half-basement cool through the worst heat— Is strange and sweet. High up, three window-slots, new slants on dawn: Through misty greens and gilts …

After Cavafy

Why is the Rising Sun aflutter from ten thousand flagpoles?    Because the Japanese are coming today. And why do our senators, those industrious termites, Gaze off into space instead of forming a new subcommittee?    Because the Japanese are coming today.    Congress will soon be an …

Snow Jobs

X had the funds, the friends, the plan. Y’s frank grin was—our common fate Or just a flash in just a pan? Z, from the tender age of eight, Had thirsted to officiate. We hardly felt them disappear, The crooked and the somewhat straight.

Home Fires

—for John Hollander I peered into the crater’s heaving red And quailed. I called upon the Muse, I said, “The day I cease to serve you, let me die!” And woke alone to birdsong, in our bed. The flame was sinewed like the …

November Ode

The blow has fallen, our dear dim local grocery    been shut down by the State—not yet for good, though    how, in whose wildest dreams, will it get    its act together? The son picked to succeed him never lived up to the    seigneurial old man.

Japan: Prose of Departure

for Donald Richie IMAGINING IT Paul phones to say goodbye. He’s back in New York two days early, but we are tied to our trip—departure this evening—and he, for his part, doesn’t ask us over. (Can a single week have changed him? Surely not.) Our dear one sounded strong, …

Two Poems

This uncollected poem appeared in 1973 in a Keepsake for the London School of Oriental and African Studies, whose librarian, B. C. Bloomfield, was Larkin’s bibliographer. CONTINUING TO LIVE Continuing to live—that is, repeat A habit formed to get necessaries— Is nearly always losing, or going without.

Popular Demand

These few deep strongholds. Each with generator, Provisions, dossiers. It would seem the worst Has happened, who knows how—essential data Lost in the bright, chromosome-garbling burst. You, Comrade, will indefinitely be resident Of this one, with your disciplined women and staff; You and …

Casual Wear

Your average tourist: Fifty. 2.3 Times married. Dressed, this year, in Ferdi Plinthbower Originals. Odds 1 to 910 Against her strolling past the Embassy Today at noon. Your average terrorist: Twenty-five. Celibate. No use for trends, At least in clothing. Mark, though, where …

The Parnassians

Theirs was a language within ours, a loge Hidden by bee-stitched hangings from the herd. The mere exchanged glance between word and word Took easily the place, the privilege, Of words themselves. Here therefore all was tact. Pairs at first blush ill-matched, like turd and …

Month

Sun-up off easterly casings prints a first Sheet of pink, soon-to-be-cancelled commemoratives: Liner with tugs, the old king’s midair medallion Balancing a new moon’s in the next frame. Or it’s an edifice of frames and valances, Noons, twilights, seven to a floor, arranging For …

If U Cn Rd Ths

u cn gt a gd jb w hi pa! So thinks a sign in the subway. Think twice when letters disappear Into Commodity’s black hole— No turning back from that career. This counterspell may save your soul.

The House Fly

Come October, if I close my eyes, A self till then subliminal takes flight Buzzing round me, settling upon the knuckle, The lip to be explored not as in June But with a sense verging on micromania Of wrong, of tiny, hazy, crying wrongs …

Valéry: Palme

Veiling, barely, his dread Beauty and its blaze, An angel sets warm bread And cool milk at my place. His eyelids make the sign Of prayer; I lower mine, Words interleaving vision: —Calm, calm, be ever calm! Feel the whole weight a …

Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979)

She disliked being photographed and usually hated the result. The whitening hair grew thick above a face each year somehow rounder and softer, like a bemused, blue-lidded planet, a touch too large, in any case, for a body that seemed never quite to have reached maturity. In early life the …

A Sample Seance: the Excursion to Ephesus

An extract from the forthcoming sequel to Mirabell. Time: summer, 1977. Place: the village of Pythagorion on the Greek island of Samos. It is Pythagoras’ birthplace. The first “voice” will be Auden’s—who calls us MY DEARS or DEAR BOYS; then comes Maria (“Maman”) who calls us ENFANTS. Michael is the …

James Merrill’s Myth: An Interview

(James Merrill recently published Mirabell: Books of Number,[^*] in which he continues his account, begun in “The Book of Ephraim” published in Divine Comedies, of conversations held, via the Ouija board, with dead friends and spirits in “another world.” Merrill and his friend David Jackson receive the messages which are …

The School Play

“Harry of Hereford, Lancaster and Derby, Stands here for God, his country, and…” And what? “Stands here for God, his Sovereign, and himself,” Growled Captain Fry who had the play by heart. I was the First Herald, “a small part”— I was small too—“but an important one.” What was …

Marvelous Poet

Mr. Liddell’s is the first life in English of the Greek poet Cavafy. A sensitive and informed chronicler, he also quotes generously from Greek sources, Cavafy’s diaries and scholia, as well as recollections of people close to him. His treatment of Cavafy’s social and sexual life is entirely plausible. Mr.

Verse for Urania

Through the dimness, curtains drawn, eyes closed, Where I am composing myself before tonight’s excitement (It’s not quite five, yet outdoors the daylight Will have begun to ripple and deepen like a pool) Comes your mother’s footstep, her voice softly, Hesitantly calling. She’ll have come …

Object Lessons

“Printanier et merveilleux,” René Char called him. Ponge himself can imagine being ranked with Chardin and Rameau. He is seventy-three. The two books under review are selections from his writings, which fill a dozen volumes. While practicing “pure and simple abstention from themes imposed by ideologies of the time,” Ponge …

18 West 11th Street

In what at least Seemed anger, the Aquarians in the basement Had been perfecting a device For making sense to us If only briefly, and on pain Of incommunication ever after. But look who’s here. Our prodigal Sunset. Just passing through from Isfahan. Filled by him, the glass Disorients. The …

After the Fire

Everything changes; nothing does. I am back, The doorbell rings, my heart leaps out of habit, But it is only Kleo—how thin, how old!— Trying to smile, lips chill as the fallen dusk. She has brought a cake “for tomorrow” As if tomorrows were …