“It’s all by someone else!”
Sacred Writing and the Contemporary Poet
Keywords:Contemporary poetry, sacred writing, late twentieth-century American literature
James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover is the outstanding visionary long poem of late twentieth-century American literature. Despite its somewhat unusual mode of composition and the rather eccentric heavenly pantheon with which Merrill claims to have communicated, Sandover is presented as the transmission of an authentic prophetic message and the narrative of the manner in which that message was received. One of the more intriguing aspects of the text is its self-reflexive nature. A substantial amount of the poem’s dialogue and a number of narrative manipulations interrogate the technologies of the poem’s composition and the relation of Merrill’s medium and method to his task as the author of a sacred text in a skeptical age. These internal tests ultimately confirm his efforts by celebrating the most basic element of any author’s craft—language—as not only the medium for the message but also the mechanism of humankind’s redemption.
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