He was a beautiful man who wrote beautiful & accessible poetry. His work was autobiographical in source & theme, but not actually confessional. James Ingram Merrill was born into a life of privilege. He was the son of the founder of Merrill Lynch. His father published his son’s first book of stories & poems himself, when James was just 16 years old. He was taught German & French by his Prussian nanny. He had the money to go where he wanted, study where he wanted, & to meet the best people.
His poetry never shied away from his life as a gay man. James Merrill won every major American prize for his poetry: 2 National Book Awards, Library of Congress's Bobbitt National Prize, Yale's Bollingen Prize, & the Pulitzer Prize.
Merrill's partner of more than 4 decades was the writer David Jackson. They had a famed house in Stonington, Connecticut, & the couple spent part of each year in Athens. Greek themes, locales, & characters occupy a prominent place in Merrill's poetry. In time, Athens was later replaced by Jackson's home in Key West.
In his terrific 1993 memoir- A Different Person, Merrill gives candid portrait of gay life in the early 1950s, & his relationships with several men including writer Claude Fredericks, art dealer Robert Isaacson, & David Jackson. At one point, Jackson & Merrill lived in a relationship together with actor Peter Hooten.
For over 30 years of Merrill & Jackson used Ouija board sessions for Merrill’s writing. The sessions brought gods & ghosts into Merrill & Jackson's lives, & also into Merrill's brilliant book length poem- The Changing Light At Sandover. Later in life he discouraged other people from using or playing with the Ouija board.
James Merrill died in 1995 of a heart attack, connected with AIDS complications, while vacationing in Arizona, where he had taken up residence, just a month before his 69th birthday.
But nothing's lost. Or else: all is translation
& every bit of us is lost in it
& in that loss a self-effacing tree
Color of context, imperceptibly
Rustling with its angel, turns the waste
To shade & fiber, milk & memory.