JAMES MERRILL

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The Independent Culture
b o d y

Look closely at the letters. Can you see,

entering (stage right), then floating full,

then heading off - so soon -

how like a little kohl-rimmed moon

o plots her course from b to d

- as y, unanswered, knocks at the stage door?

Looked at too long, words fail,

phase out. Ask, now that body shines

no longer, by what light you learn these lines

and what the b and d stood for.

The distinguished American poet James Merrill died while Self-Portrait in Tyvek Windbreaker (Dedalus Press pounds 4.95) was at the printers. Merrill had craft in spades and used it to keep himself honest, though his formalism sometimes became an end in itself. "The point's to live in style, / Not to drop dead in it". This characteristic pun on "style" is also from a childhood reminiscence, a city one this time ("164 East 72nd Street"), and contains the scarily prophetic lines " 'Do you ever wonder where you'll - ' Oh my dear, / Asleep somewhere, or at the wheel." "The Ring Cycle" celebrates his lifelong love of opera with operatic verve. And the very last poem, "", is a surprising little elegy on language and love, playfulness and desire, as clever as it is sombre.

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