DIVINE COMEDIES by James Merrill
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James Merrill's seventh collection features a superlative long narrative poem, The Book of Ephraim, which anyone who cares about modern poetry simply must read. It is, as Merrill quips, something of a low-budget remake of the Paradise. His Virgil is Ephraim, a familiar who, operating via a teacup pointer and a ouija board, reveals to Merrill the secrets of Time and the lives beyond death. Within these heavenly circles reside the dramatis personae of Merrill's previous incarnations as well as his (current) life in Stonington, Connecticut. Along with whoever or whatever flotsam and jetsam happen to be tossed up by the poet's imagination and his Jungian unconscious. And all couched in such luxurious phrasing. Octavio Paz has suggested that in the art of poetry, it is not that words provide a means for a writer's self-expression; on the contrary, it is the poet who is the tool (or medium, if you will) for the bottomless resources of language. This is how you will feel about Divine Comedies: it seems to flow directly from the Source-uninhibited, hedonistic, like (as Merrill says apropos of Proust) the ""truth. . ./ Babbling through our own astonishment."" One should also note the play of wit in this book. Take this instance: after leading the poet on for quite some time, Ephraim finally reveals to JM: ""A SCRIBE SITS BY YOU CONSTANTLY THESE DAYS/ DOING WHAT HE MUST TO INTERWEAVE/ YOUR LINES WITH MEANINGS YOU CANNOT CONCEIVE."" JM goes on indignantly, ""Parts of this, in other words--a rotten thing to insinuate--have been ghostwritten?.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Atheneum