Collected Poems by James Merrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Always the black swan moves on the lake; always
The blond child stands to gaze
As the tall emblem pivots and rides out
To the opposite side, always. The child upon
The bank, hands full of difficult marvels, stays
Forever to cry aloud
In anguish: I love the black swan."
with Merrill, I initially preferred his early book, "the Black Swan", probably a symptom of my own less sophisticated tastes. His later work is urbane and witty, and has surprised me with each rereading. One word or one phrase suddenly reveals the underside of the thing. The series of poems entitled "Peter", for instance, are both clever and painful. The introduction to the book is good and includes some Merrill quotes such 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.'" The Collected Poems is my most thumbed through book of poetry and I'm very frustrated that I wasn't able to find it in hardcover as I've destroyed it already.
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