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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

ON BEING BRONZE James Merrill, Late Settings (Atheneum) $6.95 pb.

Certain things seem to get lost in mid-Atlantic. In the US James Merrill is regarded as a major poet. He is ranked with Lowell, Bishop and Ashbery. The blurb writer for Late Settings feels able to proclaim him 'a 20th century master', yet on this side of the pond he hardly seems to be read at all. So far as I am aware nothing of his has been published here since Divine Comedies of 1976. It was in the last section of this book that Merrill embarked on his eccentric and hugely ambitious magnum opus, The Changing Light at Sandover. This work has become legendary, or notorious, by virtue of the fact that in it Merrill communicates with the illustrious dead by means of an ouija board. This certainly raises problems, but English critics and editors have been too ready to dismiss it sight unseen. Merrill's spiritualist apparatus is no more silly and decidedly less solemnly proposed that Yeats's occultist apparatus (cheekily dismissed by Merrill's spirit-guide with the words: 'POOR OLD YEATS/STILL SIMPLIFYING'). I would not deny that The Changing Light has its longueurs - so does Paradise Lost - but it also has passages of extraordinary brilliance and skill. Merrill may not be the Milton or the Dante de nos jours but there is ample evidence that he is not the 'disgusting' and talentless megalomaniac portrayed in PNR 44. His new collection adds significantly to that evidence.

To some extent Late Settings (settings in at least ...


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