Summer 1947 • Vol. IX No. 3 Poetry |

The Drowning Poet

The drowning poet hours before he drowned Had whirlpool eyes, salt at his wrists, and wore A watery emphasis. The sea was aware As flowers at the bedside of a wound Of an imminent responsibility And lay like a magnet beside him the blue day long Ambiguous as a lung. He watched the divers learn an element Familiar as, to the musician, scales, Where to swim is a progression of long vowels, A communication never to be sought Being itself all searching: certain as pearls, Simple as rocks in sun, a happiness Bound up with happenings. To drown was the perfection of technique, The word containing its own sense, like Time; And turning to the sea he entered it As one might speak of poems in a poem Or at the crisis in the sonata quote Five-finger exercises: a compliment To all accomplishment.

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In the Summer of 1947, James Merrill had just graduated from Amherst College, but he had already published his first book of poems, The Black Swan, which won the prestigious Glascock Prize for Poetry awarded by Mount Holyoke College. In April, he published four poems in Poetry Magazine, followed quickly by this first appearance in KR.

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Caesarion

By James Merrill

The drowning poet hours before he drowned Had whirlpool eyes, salt at his wrists, and wore A watery emphasis. The sea was aware As flowers at the bedside of a […]

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