James Ingram Merrill - Biography and Works

James Ingram Merrill was a famous poet of America, especially well known for his craftsmanship in wit, lyric, moral sensibilities, and stylish elegance. He was born in a wealthy family of the investor Charles E. Merrill as a son. His childhood was spent with all the comforts and luxuries. His interest in language was heightened by his governess Mademoiselle, who was excellent in German and French. He got his formal education from private schools and did his B.A. from Amherst College in 1947.

James Ingram Merrill (1926-1995)

He published his first collection of poetry The Black Swan in 1946. His poetry, mostly marked traditional poetic meter and form and also did not hesitate to write in free and blank verse. He used his personal relationships and issues to create an environment for his poetry, but he was not considered as a confessional poet. Though he was wealthy, he could understand the difficulties of poverty and the plights of writers, so he founded the Ingram Merrill Foundation in 1956 which supported the potential writers in their early struggling stage with awards, grants, prizes and fellowships. While graduating from Amherst College, he did a thesis on Marcel Proust, a French writer, whose influence remained on him for a long time in his themes.

His poetry was divided into two distinct groups: polished and the formalist lyric poetry of early stage and epic narrative of occult communication of his later phase of life. Occult communication is a kind of dark and mysterious communication to the supernatural power through a Ouija board. He was frequently compared to WB Yeats, especially when he wrote Divine Comedies for which he was given the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1977. Mysticism and the occult were the two main themes of Merrill for which he was compared to Yeats, as Yeats too embraced these two issues in his poetry. His writing was partially influenced by Dante, WH Auden and Marcel Proust. His some of the best works are; First Poems (1951), The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace and Other Poems (1959), A Different Person, in 1993, and  his final volume of poetry, A Scattering of Salts (1995). He wrote a trilogy starting with the Divine Comedies and that was followed by Mirabell: Books of Number (1978) and Scripts for the Pageant (1980). These three poems were reprinted in a new compiled form in The Changing Light at Sandover (1982). The Changing Light at Sandover (1982) is his masterpiece which is an unparalleled epic of Ouija sessions that Merrill and his friend David conducted with the spirits of the other world.

During his lifetime he received almost all the major awards of America; he received two National Book Awards, for Nights and Days (1966) and Mirabell: Books of Numbers (1978);  The Changing Light at Sandover (1982) gave him the National Book Critics Circle Award, Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry by the Library of Congress for his book The Inner Room (1988), the Bollingen Prize in Poetry and the Pulitzer Prize for a book of occult poetry called Divine Comedies (1976).

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