Saturday, 29 December 2012

James Merrill Sonnet. Who Says the Sonnet is Dead?

Here's one of the best poems I've read in recent years. I stumbled on it here by accident. I want to spread knowledge of it more broadly.
My father, who had flown in World War I,
Might have continued to invest his life
In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife.
But the race was run below, and the point was to win.
Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
(Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
The soul eclipsed by twin black pupils, sex
And business; time was money in those days.
Each thirteenth year he married. When he died
There were already several chilled wives
In sable orbit --- rings, cars, permanent waves.
We'd felt him warming up for a green bride.
He could afford it. He was "in his prime"
At three score ten. But money was not time.
The phrase "in sable orbit" is a wonderful pun, with the reference to a "stable orbit" adding to the meaning. "Invest his life/In cloud banks...," equally lovely. The poem as a whole is both clear-eyed and bitter. Its perfection of expression is set off by its perfection of form.

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