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James Merrill (James Ingram Merrill) Biography

(1926–95), (James Ingram Merrill), First Poems, The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace, Water Street

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: McTeague to Nancy [Freeman] Mitford Biography

American poet, born in New York, educated at Amherst College, Massachusetts. First Poems (1951) attracted favourable notice for its concentration and technical accomplishment. Successive volumes, among them The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace (1959), Water Street (1962), Nights and Days (1966), and The Fire Screen (1969), displayed his increasing ability to combine personal experience, vivid local description, and imaginative elements in verse of remarkable sonority and refinement. A selected edition entitled From The First Nine: Poems, 1947–1976 appeared in 1982. The Divine Comedies (1976) contained ‘The Book of Ephraim’, the first part of a trilogy completed by Mirabell: Books of Number (1978) and Scripts for the Pageant (1980), which was published in its entirety of over 500 pages as The Changing Light at Sandover (1982). The three books, which range widely through history, science, cosmology, and metaphysics, purport to owe their composition to Merrill's experiments with a ouija board; much of the material is presented as a symposium consisting of transcriptions of communications from supernatural agents. The work constitutes a remarkable achievement in terms of its intellectual audacity, overall organization, and encompassing thematic scope. Merrill's novels, The Seraglio (1957) and The (Diblos) Notebook (1965), draw on his experiences as a traveller and reflect the affluent family background to which much of his poetry also alludes. He has also written plays, which include The Immortal Husband (1956) and The Bait (1960). Late Settings (1985) and The Inner Room (1988) marked the return of his poetry to more conventional lyric modes, though numerous poems make imaginatively effective use of the interpenetration of myth and subjective experience.

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