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Dedans dehors

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Karolina Katsika

Dedans dehors Mise en scène de la fenêtre

« In a glass lightly »: frames of reflection from James Merrill’s Mirror and John Hollander’s Picture Window to Philip Larkin’s High Windows

Philip H. Christensen

Texte intégral

  • 1 John Lienhard, The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture, New York, (...)
  • 2 Karolina Katsika, « The Window: Openings and Perspectives 23-24 », January 2015, Besançon, FR, CFP (...)
  • 3 Susannah B. Mintz, « Forget the Hee and Shee »: Gender and Play in John Donne, Modern Philology 98, (...)
  • 4 Noëlle Marie-Laure, « La fenêtre: quelques angles d’approche », in La Page des Lettres (Académie Ve (...)
  • 5 Charles Baudelaire, « Les Fenêtres », in Petits Poèmes en Prose: Le Spleen de Paris (Kindle Edition (...)

1John Lienhard, emeritus professor of engineering at the University of Houston, describes windows as « unobtrusive bridges to the outer world »1. As bridges, windows are « the quintessential figure of the dialectic between inside and outside… a place of fracture between the familiar and the foreign », and they « belong to the public and private spheres simultaneously »2. Susannah Mintz, in her essay on Donne’s A Valediction of my name in the window, defines: « The casement… as a barrier and a passageway between the room within and the world beyond »3, in what Noëlle Marie-Laure describes as the window’s participation in a « double jeu, entre exhibition et dissimulation, proper a server de tremplin à l’imaginaire »4. While one might be tempted to identify outside with public and inside private, Baudelaire evokes, in Les Fenêtres, a foreign that thrives within the intimacy of the interior5.

  • 6 From the Latin mirari « to wonder at ».
  • 7 John Hollander, « James Merrill’s Mirror », in Literature as Experience: An Anthology, New York, Ha (...)
  • 8 From the Latin vertere « to turn ».

2Instruments of observation and reflection, disjointedness and continuity, gazer’s eye and focal point, windows also function as mirrors, speculums of wonder,6 and « one of the most ancient symbols of art »7. Their reverse images, on the glass, provide an apt analogy to the work of verse8, which refracts verbal images within the frame of the poem in lines that advance and turn back upon themselves.

3James Merrill’s Mirror, John Hollander’s Picture Window and Philip Larkin’s High Windows reflect composition at three different moments in each poet’s life. Mirror first appeared when Merrill was 32; Picture Window when Hollander was past 70, and High Windows late in Larkin’s midlife, and a decade before his death at 63. In Mirror, the young Merrill can only project or speculate on the impact of aging. Years later, in The Book of Ephraim, he confesses to the misapprehensions of youth:

  • 9 James Merrill, « The Book of Ephraim », in The Changing Light at Sandover, ed. J. D. McClatchy and (...)

Too violent
I once thought, that foreshortening in Proust—
A world abruptly old, whitehaired, a reader
Looking up in puzzlement to fathom
Whether ten years or forty have gone by.
Young, I mistook it for an unconvincing
Trick of the teller. It was truth instead
Babbling through his own astonishment.9 

4By contrast, Hollander draws on « broad access to a past » within a frame of memory « we are ourselves from birth committed to »:

  • 10 John Hollander, Picture Window, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. All quotations are taken from this (...)

Framing and filling any presentness
Of self that we could really call our own.10

  • 11 Philip Larkin, « High Windows », in High Windows, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974, p. 17. (...)

5 For Larkin, « Paradise » can only be seen wistfully as that which « Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives »11.

  • 12 Langdon Hammer, James Merrill: Life and Art, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, p. 254.
  • 13 Paisley named for a Scottish town whose textiles reinterpreted the ancient Indian « teardrop » for (...)
  • 14 « Still Life », in the Oxford English Dictionary Online: « The Dutch expressions [may have] origina (...)
  • 15 Robert von Hallberg, James Merrill: « Revealing by Obscuring », Contemporary Literature 21, n° 4 (1 (...)

6Langdon Hammer writes that in James Merrill’s « thing-poems » objects use him to express themselves.12 Mirror, is a dramatic monologue, and its speaker is a magic glass in a « gilded frame » that both reflects everything and everyone that has passed before it and reflects on its compulsion « to set [the whole world] in order ». At present, the borders of its vision are limited to Still Life: « the table/its arrangement/Of Bible, fern and Paisley, all past change »13, even the living fern a plant that flowers only in a Finnish myth of Midsummer. Still Life may have « originally applied to representations… of living things portrayed in a state of rest »14 but, as Robert von Hallberg observes, the speaking mirror « all but iron [s] the human drama out of the narrative »15.

  • 16 James Merrill, Selected Poems, ed. J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2 (...)

7Although the speaker begins: « I grow old under an intensity/Of questioning looks », the children who had once grasped its frame « till the world sway [ed] » are long absent, and it frequently asks: « Why then is it/They more and more neglect me? »16. The speaker does have two silent listeners, a window, described only in terms of general height ( « tall ») and threshold, or « sill », that provides examples « Wide open, sunny » of everything the speaker is not, and, peripherally, « a door [that] shuts » out the larger world. These challenge the boundaries of the mirror’s « arrangement » through intrusions of life: from the vibrant « red-and-white bandannas [that] go to my heart », to « the fine young man [who]/Rides by on horseback ».

  • 17 John Hollander, Merrill’s Mirror, op. cit., p. 451.
  • 18 Five may allude to the five ages of humanity.

8The mirror « fits together » discrete images in an atemporal pattern, like snapshots in a photo album or, like « disconnected scenes in a romantic novel, which the mirror… brings together in a reflective, meditative way by putting them within a frame »17, but cannot answer larger questions of narrative and sequence, such as whether Hester’s confiding in the mirror « her first unhappiness » is motivated by the apparently hasty departure of the fine young horseman. The speaker accuses the window of opening on « a whole world without once caring to set it in order », and one enchanted « Midsummer night », it struggles to keep five tapers lit, as « breathing » from the open window threatens to extinguish them.18 (A « widowed cousin », with an echo of window, calls for giving up the struggle: « let them go out ».)

  • 19 Stephen Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill, Boston: Harvard University Press, 19 (...)

9Years later, two of the grown grandchildren (two generations removed from Hester) sit « with novels face-down on the [window] sill ». They are unmoved either by words on a page or by the landscape beyond the window: « clouds, brown fields, persimmon far and cypress near » and are « content to muse upon [the window’s] tall transparence ». One of the grandchildren complains: « How superficial Appearances are! »19

10Following this vapid remark, the speaker « has lapses », fearing that the « perfect silver of [its] reflectiveness » will continue to fragment within ever widening lacunae, and it suspects

Looks from behind, where nothing is, cool gazes
Through the blind flaws of [its] mind.

11The speaker « [does] not know whose [vision] it is », but « As days, /As decades lengthen, this vision/ Spreads and blackens », like the elder’s eye in Ecclesiastes 12.3, and the speaker believes some undefined « it » is watching

for my last silver
To blister, flake, float leaf by life, each milling-
Downward dumb conceit, to a standstill…

  • 20 Answerable, liable (legal) as well as tractable, capable of being won over.
  • 21 Stephen Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merril, op. cit., p. 64, identifies « this fa (...)
  • 22 Ibid.

12The speaker concludes that not even [window] can « strike any brilliant chord in me », and, armed with nothing more than « dumb conceit », questions the efficacy of its art. The speaker is surely « amenable »20, or resigned, to facing « a standstill », faceless to a faceless will21, but it is also amenable, in a second sense, in that it is « disposed to answer, to respond » to this « faceless will ». In other words, the speaker willfully holds onto the value of « thinking [as] a matter of representation, a matter of rhetoric »22, even if answerable to a silence that erases every trace of context, definition, or meaning.

  • 23 Robert von Hallberg, James Merrill: « Revealing by Obscuring », op. cit., p. 552.
  • 24 John Hollander, Merrill’s Mirror, op. cit., p. 452.
  • 25 Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973, (...)
  • 26 Shirley Sugerman, « A Conversation with Owen Barfield » in The Evolution of Consciousness: Studies (...)
  • 27 Langdon Hammer, « Review of James Merrill’s Apocalypse, by Timothy Materer », in Modernism/Modernit (...)

13Art-as-mirror, as Robert von Hallberg observes, has its limitations: « For the mirror arranges surfaces on a plane, as some poets constellate images in verse »23, and « Mirror’s sole purpose », Hollander writes, « has been to reflect appearances »24. For the poet, and the attentive reader, a child’s vapid remark — « How superficial Appearances are! » — resonates beyond the adolescent’s intention. Thus, Merrill may be implying that even his glistening verses, « the perfect silver of [his own] reflectiveness », must inevitably skim the surfaces of an unknowable depth. How then does poetry save the appearances? Owen Barfield’s answer is « double vision »25 through participation in a world in which sensible objects are not « detached, from thinking and feelings »26. Langdon Hammer points to Merrill’s similar « career-long preoccupation with revelation », from the early reflections of « Mirror » to those of The Changing Light at Sandover, which call for « a reconciliation of appearance and reality… the earliest form of perception now clarified and redeemed »27.

14 Mirror, the poem, is Merrill’s « gilded frame », playing with, and redeeming, the appearances. Although a careless reading might suggest free verse, the number of syllables per line varying from 5 ( « Muslin of your dream… ») to 11, the underlying meter is iambic pentameter, evident, for example, in the line « Confides in me her first unhappiness », with 11 syllables in lines that close on a falling rhythm: « Looks from behind, where nothing is, cool gazes… ». While the poem’s frequent use of enjambment undermines any suggestion of couplets, its rhyme scheme rigorously follows this pattern (aabbcc, etc.), with the curious difference that Merrill’s end line rhymes are subtle and more nuanced, an example of what Hollander playfully calls « anomalous »:

  • 28 John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason, 1981; rpt. New Haven, Yale UP, 2001. Italics added for emphasis. Ho (...)

The last stress of a so-called « feminine ending »
Is picked out by a singly rhyming friend
In the next…28

15Take, for example, the rhyme pattern of the mirror’s description of the adult grandchildren at the window, who are

Content to muse upon [the window’s] tall transparence,
Your clouds, brown fields, persimmon far
And cypress near.

16The grandchildren’s opacity of vision precludes their comprehension of « transparence », and this shortsightedness is signaled by anomalous rhyme that is also (ironically) the only instance of end line « sight rhyme » in the poem: « transparence » and far.

  • 29 Merrill, The Book of Ephraim, 3.

17Merrill identifies the theme of his late masterpiece The Book of Ephraim with Northrop Frye’s phrase « the incarnation and withdrawal of a god »29. In Mirror, decades earlier, the speaker responds to the adult grandchild’s vapid remark by conjuring up its own mythic precursor, a pool (imaginatively conceived since it has never known anything beyond its room) in whose depth fish have broken its perfect silver:

How superficial
Appearances are! Since then, as if fish
Had broken the perfect silver of my reflectiveness,
I have lapses.

  • 30 Stephen Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill, op. cit., p. 63. Italics are mine an (...)

18As Stephen Yenser wittily observes, « The fish and its depths are there in superficial »30.

19Over the final six lines, the end line rhyme is consistently « ill » (a signal of the speaker’s frame of mind?). In the penultimate couplet, Merrill reverses the pattern of anomalous rhyme with the end rhyming « standstill » preceding the feminine ending « brilliant », and the final couplet juxtaposes « will » with « aménable », the first line’ will [ill] tentatively answered in the poem’s last syllable: unaccented, unvoiced (b’l), and neither sight rhyme nor sound. For the speaker, the poem closes in a contest of « wills », with echoes of the earlier posed question: « who will teach us? ». Its final line balances « willful » defiance with acquiescence: « Echo of mine, I am amenable », but it is uncertain whether the mirror or Sandover’s Undoer will ultimately prevail. For the attentive reader, the « gilded frame » of Merrill’s « Mirror » is an answer.

  • 31 Louise Dunham Goldsberry, Ted: And Some Other Stories, Boston, The Gorham Press, 1918.
  • 32 Meaning, literally, « back figure », a term associated with German Romantic painters, like Caspar D (...)

20John Hollander’s Picture Window takes Merrill’s debate regarding life and art, within the frames of looking glass and window, and reconfigures it in multidimensional frames that enclose a window, a mirror, and even an artifact, or painted picture. The speaker recalls, in memory, a landscape from the window, whose prospect is remembered less for its beauty than for its association of the « three bright sister peaks » with « Patty, Peggy, and Polly », feisty sophomore coeds popularized as « the sweet P’s » in the once popular, and long forgotten, Ted: And Some Other Stories31. In the speaker’s memory, this prospect is inextricably linked with a moment in time, when a visitor stood between him and the picture window, creating an impromptu « back figure », or Rückfiguren,32 as the Germans call it: « the handsome fellow » as « seen from behind », « his back, backed/By the facing prospect ». For the speaker, this Rückfiguren draws the persona (and the reader) from the backside of the solitary figure to the landscape:

The ever changing end-of-the-day light
Wrought continual wonders on the hills
Shedding cloaks of shadow over part of
The valley visible from where he stood…

  • 33 John Donne, Poetical Works, ed. Herbert J. C. Grierson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, 23.

21but for « the handsome fellow », this picture window is a mirror. Only his hand touches him, « as he touche [s]/His chin briefly »; and the only prospect he comprehends is « merely his own/Image he was admiring ». Hollander may be alluding playfully to the absent lover, in John Donne’s A Valediction of my name in the window, who imagines his beloved reading his name engraved on the glass in the « through-shine of the window »33 and, simultaneously, catching her reflection superimposed upon his name:

  • 34 Donne, 24.

it shewes thee to thee
And cleare reflects thee to thine eye.34

  • 35 I Corinthians 13.12 (AV): « For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: Now I kn (...)

22With sly allusion to the words of St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians35, the speaker laments: « Too bad, that/In a glass lightly, face to mirrored face/He could only toy in the worst way with/That splendid modern instrument of truth »:

Plateglass, which superimposes mirrored
Patches of gazer’s face, and bits of the
Space out of which he looks, upon all that
He might be seeing…

23Within this glass, subject and object, gazer and observed, interior and exterior, are « patches » and « bits » pixels without foreground or background, order or narrative. In the end, all that the handsome fellow is capable of seeing, in a curious precursor of the selfie, is « something of subject/Seen as inescapable from all sight/Of the object of its regard ». As a consequence, « his Image » is all the « Handsome Fellow » can see in the window, and

not the world
As it yielded up alms in one of its
All too infrequent moments of beauty…

24The wages of solipsism are unforgiving, a world of beauty overlooked because it is « simple and noncontingent ».

25 Picture Window appears an unbroken paragraph in free verse, the conversational rhythm, and frequent enjambment, undercutting the discreteness of the line. Closer inspection reveals that the poem’s 35 decasyllabic lines frame an artifice of memory, prospects and reflection, that contrasts the cleverness of conscious artfulness—Rückfiguren—with the admonition:

Better
That we see through ourselves, through our very
Seeing itself…

26Hollander closes his Picture Window with stark honesty that challenges even the efficacy and veracity of verse. By seeing « through ourselves, /through our very seeing itself », we are equipped « Better to live with »

The indivisibility of our
Transparency of body and the mind’s
Complicating, fragile reflectiveness.

27Yet, even this admonition is a frame that sets off a parenthetical line that reaffirms the necessity of poetry: « (Save in opacities of talk of them) ». Living may best be served by « seeing through ourselves », but poetry is exempt from this admonition, since « talk of them » (i.e. ourselves and our way of seeing) inevitably involves « opacities », or seeing, in the words of St. Paul, « in a glass darkly ».

28Between the young Merrill’s Mirror and the mature Hollander’s Picture Window lies Philip Larkin’s High Windows, written by the poet now past fifty and reflecting, in its opening lines a late midlife perspective on the sexual revolution:

  • 36 Larkin, op. cit., p. 17.

When I see a couple of kids
and guess he’s fucking her and she’s
taking pills or wearing a diaphragm
I know this is paradise
Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives –36

29Larkin considered himself born too early to embrace this newfound license, but the language that follows signals his struggle with the displacement of old mores « pushed to one side/Like an outdated combine harvester », an invention of farming ingenuity reduced to rust as an irrelevant eyesore.

30« Everyone young », the « kids » of the first stanza, is engaged in childish play— « going down the long slide »—but the objective is not play itself, but « happiness » and this Sisyphean sliding goes on « endlessly », and with no ultimate fulfillment.

31 In the next two stanzas, the speaker wonders if « forty years back » his elders looked at Larkin and his generation and concluded:

That’ll be the life,
No God any more, or sweating in the dark
About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest.

32The poet then returns to the slide, but the image is now more menacing, as « everyone young going down the long slide/To happiness » gives way to the priest, « and his lot », who go (pushed?) down « the long slide/Like free bloody birds ».

33Larkin’s thought now shifts « immediately » to « high windows »:

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

34These are not the high windows of a great Gothic cathedral, whose wondrous polychromy signals the mystery of the Incarnation. In the « sun-comprehending glass » of these high windows, words, and image, give way to sheer abstraction, the particulars of this world, like Monet’s late water lilies, merged within the vastness of « the deep blue air ». Surely, there is little solace here, as the blue air’s infinity « shows/Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless ».

  • 37 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. cit., p. 17.
  • 38 Langdon Hammer, James Merrill: Life and Art, op. cit., p 232.

35Merrill, in Mirror, Hollander, in Picture Window, and Larkin, in High Windows, explore the figure of the casement, or frame, in relation to the odds of successfully locating the ineffable in « a local habitation and a name »37. Langdon Hammer, placing Mirror within the context of Merrill’s opposition to the gathering enthusiasm for the transparency of « open form » in the 1950s, writes: « The mirror stands for a poetics of subtly encoded meaning and self-conscious technique »38. The poem’s technical brilliance is persuasive, but Merrill’s speaker, and alter ego in the poem, calls into question the adequacy or sufficiency of « the perfect silver of [its] reflectiveness ».

  • 39 Ibid., p 795.

36 John Hollander long admired Mirror, and he read it at Merrill’s funeral39. In his own Picture Window, he pays homage to Merrill with a poem equally dazzling in terms of « subtly encoded meaning » and « self-conscious technique », and Hollander adds a further definition to the casement: a painted picture. As noted earlier, the poem’s apparent free verse paragraph reveals, under closer inspection, an almost sonnet-like argument, set off by playful enjambment within its 35 decasyllabic lines, but, in the end, this poem also closes with a paradox. Human beings, including poets, can only live better by « seeing through ourselves, through our very/Seeing itself », and yet, despite the repeated failure to give Pygmalion breath, the artist continues to strive, to find, « in opacities of talk of them » some tentative correspondence between the « transparency of body » and « the mind’s complicating, fragile reflectiveness », Hollander’s final word alluding to Merrill’s « perfect silver of… reflectiveness ».

  • 40 Larkin is using « comprehending » both literally: the glass « takes in, or contains » the sun, and (...)

37In Larkin’s High Windows, there is no mirror, although the poet does reflect on, and re-imagine, his own youth from the perspective of the Paradise of the 1960’s, with its « Bonds and gestures pushed to one side ». At the close of the first four stanzas, Larkin abruptly shifts to « the thought of high windows », Larkin’s phrasing here suggesting both the poet’s thought, as it shifts skyward, and the window’s thought, with its glass « sun-comprehending »40. Unlike Merrill’s mirror and Hollander’s picture window, Larkin’s high windows reflect nothing human; the expanse of blue air shows « Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless ». And the poet, who is at a loss for words, is left without moorings, the cliché of the « deep blue sea » etherized to « the deep blue air ».

38When I first read the CFP for « The Window: Openings and Perspectives », I remember thinking about these extraordinary poems as well as their influence on my own Mirror, in which the sonnet frame is broken, lacunae breaking its « perfect silver »:

39Mirror

« Imaginer
S’est déchiré dans le miroir… »
Yves Bonnefoy

40 Before this frame cracked,

with a jarring thud,
and our likeness shattered in grains of light
returning to sand,

we were I, and I
a figure in a green shade, which darkened
the year the master was thrown from his horse,
and his careless children tipped the sun-dial
on its nose.

Now, we evade the sweep of
time, reflecting merely the light’s pale fire;
and though we chafe, now and again, like shards
crushed beneath measured feet, more often, we
hold our peace, with dreams of togetherness.

41As in Merrill’s poem, the speaker is a mirror, but its glass, unlike Larkin’s « sun-comprehending », has splintered as a consequence of a fall, first as « grains of light », reflected images scattered indiscriminately as pixels of their former integrity, and then as sand. The prelapsarian « green shade » — reminiscent of what Merrill’s mirror reflects on from the frame of the window’s « tall transparence » or Hollander’s picture window is giving on (i.e. « the world/As it yielded up alms in one of its/All too infrequent moments of beauty ») — has darkened, and this shattered mirror’s monologue now is a kind of choral chafing, « like shards/crushed beneath measured feet », its voices haunted only by « dreams of togetherness ».

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Barfield Owen, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Middleton, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 1973.

Baudelaire Charles, « Les Fenêtres ». Le Spleen de Paris, XXXV. Kindle Edition.

Donne John, Poetical Works, Ed. Herbert J. C. Grierson. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1971.

Goldsberry Lousie Dunham, Ted: And Some Other Stories, Boston, The Gorham Press, 1918.

Hallberg Robert von, « James Merrill: ‘Revealing by Obscuring’ » in Contemporary Literature, 21, n° 4, 1980, p. 552.

Hammer Langdon, James Merrill: Life and Art, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

— Review of James Merrill’s Apocalypse, by Timothy Materer. Modernism/Modernity 8, n° 3, September 2001, p. 515.

Hollander John, « James Merrill’s ‘Mirror’ », in Literature as Experience: An Anthology, New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1979, p. 449.

— Picture Window, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

— Rhyme’s Reason, 1981, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2001.

— The Work of Poetry, New York, Columbia University Press, 1997.

Larkin Philip, High Windows, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974.

Lienhard John, The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture, New York, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Marie-Laure Noelle, « La fenêtre: quelques angles d’approche », in La Page des Lettres (Académie Versaille (mercredi, 5 decembre 2007) at http://www.lettres.acversailles.fr/spip.php?article831.

Mintz Susannah B., « ‘Forget the Hee and Shee’: Gender and Play in John Donne », in Modern Philology 98, n° 4, May 2001, p. 577-603.

Merrill James, « The Book of Ephraim », The Changing Light at Sandover, Ed.J.D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

— Selected Poetry, Ed. J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Sugerman Shirley, « A Conversation with Owen Barfield », in The Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in Polarity, Ed. Shirley Sugerman, 1976; San Rafael, CA, The Barfield Press, 2008.

Yenser Stephen, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill, Boston, Harvard University Press, 1987.

Notes

1 John Lienhard, The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture, New York, Oxford UP, 2000, p. 61.

2 Karolina Katsika, « The Window: Openings and Perspectives 23-24 », January 2015, Besançon, FR, CFP Website, The University of Pennsylvania, at https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/56618

3 Susannah B. Mintz, « Forget the Hee and Shee »: Gender and Play in John Donne, Modern Philology 98, n° 4, May 2001, p. 591.

4 Noëlle Marie-Laure, « La fenêtre: quelques angles d’approche », in La Page des Lettres (Académie Versaille, mercredi, 5 décembre 2007) at http://www.lettres.ac-versailles.fr/spip.php?article831.

5 Charles Baudelaire, « Les Fenêtres », in Petits Poèmes en Prose: Le Spleen de Paris (Kindle Edition), XXXV: « Ce qu’on peut voir au soleil est toujours moins intéressant que ce qui se passe derrière une vitre ».

6 From the Latin mirari « to wonder at ».

7 John Hollander, « James Merrill’s Mirror », in Literature as Experience: An Anthology, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979, p. 449.

8 From the Latin vertere « to turn ».

9 James Merrill, « The Book of Ephraim », in The Changing Light at Sandover, ed. J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006, p. 70-71.

10 John Hollander, Picture Window, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. All quotations are taken from this edition.

11 Philip Larkin, « High Windows », in High Windows, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974, p. 17. All quotations are taken from this edition.

12 Langdon Hammer, James Merrill: Life and Art, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, p. 254.

13 Paisley named for a Scottish town whose textiles reinterpreted the ancient Indian « teardrop » for a nineteenth century European market.

14 « Still Life », in the Oxford English Dictionary Online: « The Dutch expressions [may have] originally applied to representations not of inanimate objects but of living things portrayed in a state of rest ». (Italicized for emphasis).

15 Robert von Hallberg, James Merrill: « Revealing by Obscuring », Contemporary Literature 21, n° 4 (1980), p. 552.

16 James Merrill, Selected Poems, ed. J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, p. 11. All quotations are taken from this edition.

17 John Hollander, Merrill’s Mirror, op. cit., p. 451.

18 Five may allude to the five ages of humanity.

19 Stephen Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1987, p. 63, writes: « Its tautology is flagrant, its own shallowness apparent ».

20 Answerable, liable (legal) as well as tractable, capable of being won over.

21 Stephen Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merril, op. cit., p. 64, identifies « this faceless will » with the Adversary and the Undoer in The Changing Light at Sandover.

22 Ibid.

23 Robert von Hallberg, James Merrill: « Revealing by Obscuring », op. cit., p. 552.

24 John Hollander, Merrill’s Mirror, op. cit., p. 452.

25 Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973, p. 85.

26 Shirley Sugerman, « A Conversation with Owen Barfield » in The Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in Polarity, 1976, San Rafael, CA, The Barfield Press, 2008, p. xiv.

27 Langdon Hammer, « Review of James Merrill’s Apocalypse, by Timothy Materer », in Modernism/Modernity 8, n° 3, September 2001, p. 515-516.

28 John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason, 1981; rpt. New Haven, Yale UP, 2001. Italics added for emphasis. Hollander cites Merrill’s Mirror as an illustration of « anomalous rhyme ».

29 Merrill, The Book of Ephraim, 3.

30 Stephen Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill, op. cit., p. 63. Italics are mine and added for emphasis. For other examples of incarnate words, see arrangement and change; instreaming and dream; reflectiveness and suspect.

31 Louise Dunham Goldsberry, Ted: And Some Other Stories, Boston, The Gorham Press, 1918.

32 Meaning, literally, « back figure », a term associated with German Romantic painters, like Caspar David Friedrich, whose landscapes include an intermediary, a person, seen from behind, who is also taking in the view.

33 John Donne, Poetical Works, ed. Herbert J. C. Grierson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, 23.

34 Donne, 24.

35 I Corinthians 13.12 (AV): « For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known ».

36 Larkin, op. cit., p. 17.

37 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. cit., p. 17.

38 Langdon Hammer, James Merrill: Life and Art, op. cit., p 232.

39 Ibid., p 795.

40 Larkin is using « comprehending » both literally: the glass « takes in, or contains » the sun, and figuratively, in the sense that the glass somehow « grasps » what it takes in.

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