A Scattering of Salts

James Merrill, Author Alfred A. Knopf $20 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-44158-8
In his first volume of new poetry in seven years, the recently deceased Merrill (winner of Pulitzer and Bollingen prizes as well as two National Book Awards) returned to the short lyric and dramatic narrative forms that were overshadowed by his 1982 epic trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover. This is a moving final collection, framed by the opening ``A Downward Look,'' which begins, ``Seen from above, the sky/ Is deep...'' and the last, ``An Upward Look,'' in which a ``departing occupier'' has left a ``heart green acre.'' Complicated forms and rhyme schemes hold a rein on emotion, even as the poet delights in playing with language. Merrill's ability to relate everything to the life of the Poet leads him to find--and demonstrate--significance on all fronts, whether grand, e.g., the diurnal rhythms in ``An Upward Look,'' or trivial: an insurance investigator's insistence that a chimney be fixed before a fire is lit moves Merrill to consider his need to take risks in his work, and, later, to hazard merging into ``the hearth of a lover's eyes'' (``Take Risks''). Here as everywhere, Merrill transforms the everyday into almost supernatural elegance. The poet's own words, more poignant with his death, confirm what critics have long contended: ``Eyes shut in all but visionary/ Consent, he lets the words reorganize/ Everything he lives for, until it all fits/ Or until he forgets them.'' (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/1995
Release date: 03/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 978-0-679-76590-5
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