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Collected Poems Hardcover – February 27, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lauded at his death as a major American writer, a great poet of sociability and comedy, an important part of the gay literary tradition and a master of traditional forms, Merrill (1926-1995) is well-served by this monumental gathering off his shorter poems, carefully edited and likely to garner major attention and sales. McClatchy (Twenty Questions, etc.) is Merrill's literary executor, and Yenser the author of a Merrill monograph. They include Merrill's 11 trade volumes; poems from two small-press books, The Black Swan (1946) and The Yellow Pages (1974); 21 verse translations; and 45 poems retrieved from periodicals and manuscripts. Excluded are some juvenilia and light verse, as well as Merrill's book-length poem The Changing Light at Sandover, in print as a separate volume. Merrill's sonnets, sapphics, longer sequences and sinuous sentences encompass lyric pathos, ebullient comedy, rapt romance and acrid satire. Their formal sophistication can belie their depth of feeling, which is exactly what some readers love best about Merrill's work. New readers ought to skip the often-dry earliest books, begin with Merrill's 1960s works and read forward. Confirmed fans will no doubt flip to the end of the book, where they will encounter many poems for the first time--most are short and witty, many of them are fine. The poems from Merrill's last year can be arresting, including a self-elegy in which the dying poet thinks of himself as a Christmas tree. (Mar.) Forecast: Huge, career-summing reviews of this book are already in production at various typewriters and computers along the eastern seaboard. The story of Merrill's personal fortune has always made good copy, and revelations of the poet's death by AIDS in Alison Lurie's Familiar Spirits: A Memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson (Viking), also due in March, should bring less-than-regular readers of poetry to the book via respectful items in glossies. Libraries of all stripes will also certainly acquire the book, which could show up on some bestseller lists.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Merrill's readers know that he was an exceptional poet in voice, vision, range, and fluency. The winner of many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, and two National Book Awards, Merrill (1926-95) was gloriously prolific, as the editors of this bountiful collection, J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, attest. Here are all the poems, including translations, from 11 volumes (except for the epic The Changing Light at Sandover), as well as previously uncollected and unpublished works. There is much to absorb, mull over, and enjoy sensuously and intellectually. And it's profoundly moving to witness Merrill's evolution from the young author of The Black Swan (1946), drenched in yet wary of tradition, to the increasingly confident poet of the later books, who matched intensity with merriment and contrasted scenes from a life of privilege with a somber sense of history and loss. Like Stevens and Auden, Merrill was at once formal and conversational, lyric and narrative, and enlightened by the smallest of objects, a Willowware cup for instance, and the grandest: the sea, death, light. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 885 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (February 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375411399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375411397
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #575,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Merrill was the greatest American poet of his generation, and while he was alive, one of the most important poets writing in English. This collection presents just about every poem that Merrill finished, apart from the long poem, *The Changing Light at Sandover* (the "ouija board poem"). That means that there are about 44 poems in here that no one's ever seen, plus uncollected poems from Merrill's first volume and the complete text of a 1974 collection called *The Yellow Pages*, which would be REALLY hard to get elsewhere.

Merrill was a virtuoso from the start, but his early poems - mostly from the first book - are, more often than not, somewhat too too, if you know what I mean. Still, they are better made than anyone else's first poems, and some of them are fine. They are show-pieces of a big prodigious boy.

Starting with some poems in *The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace* and more in *Water Street*, Merrill started to make some of the finest lyric poems in modern English. After *Nights and Days* (1966), Merrill was unrivalled.

There is no poem in this volume that is not worth the time and the effort. All of the great poems are here, such as "The Broken Home", "Days of 1964" and "Lost in Translation" and everything in the great valedictory performance, *A Scattering of Salts* . But, sometimes Merrill is at his most sublime in miniature lyrics such as "A Downward Look," and "Little Fallacy."

Even if you already own the *Selected Poems* or *From the First Nine*, you still need this. It's expensive but it will pay you back for the rest of your life. Find the money and buy this book.
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Format: Hardcover
James Merrill stands in the poetry canon among the best of the 20th Century, and this volume reminds us why. Merrill is our poet of formal grace and biting wit, and the apparent effortlessness with which he wrote his poems (whether truly without much effort or not) is daunting, especially for those sitting in front of the paper trying to draft verse themselves. His work, like Elizabeth Bishop's, is quiet and, many times because of the silences, disturbing in the ways in which they question the sensibilities of vision and the interpretations we make of the natural and emotional worlds. One sees almost the entire range of Merrill's work in this collection, and one sees a mind of immense intelligence at play. One can teach a person to write verse, but Merrill reminds us we cannot teach someone how to see and re-write the world. This is a poetry of tremendous beauty and incredible doubt. No collection of poetry, or Literature in general, should be without it.
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Format: Hardcover
Merrill doesn't need another admirer, but my gratitude compels me to write. This volume is further proof that the gulf between great poetry and all the mediocre stuff is immense. Genius exists--and Merrill has it in abundance. Mastery of craft, breadth of vision, depth of emotion, intensity of intellect--Merrill's work reveals all the hallmarks of greatness. An extraordinary and generous accomplishment. I will read this book as long as I'm alive.
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Format: Hardcover
Weighing in at almost 900 pages, this book holds just about all the Merrill you'll ever need outside of "Sandover." Merrill wrote exactly the kind of poems I used to think of as "real" poetry--stately, measured, clever & bittersweet, with lots of exquisite images to savor along the way. So why does this writing feel so stuffy and distant to me now? Reading a Merrill poem is somewhere between doing a crossword and shopping for antiques--you exercise the brain and always find something curious to enjoy, but even the most intimate ones left me strangely unmoved. I know Merrill has a legion of fans, and I can see why--these poems are among the best of their kind. But somehow they reminded me of the good chairs in my mom's living room--you could admire them, but you couldn't sit down. Still, the editors have done an excellent job and you'll enjoy going through this handsome book to make up your own mind.
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