James Merrill Water Street Analysis

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Childhood as lost paradise is a theme which plasters James Merrill’s 1962 volume Water Street. In spite of not being generally considered a typical confessional poet, his poems are autobiographical without being dramatic. It seems that Merrill takes a long time to choose his words because he does not simply want to reveal everything at once, but gradually, through a feeling of being an incomplete, resentful man who lost something important to him, in memory-dressed images. Simple moments in his life become complex meditations. Judith Moffett articulates this kind of distance by comparing Merrill with a truly confessional poet, Robert Lowell, stating that A continuing access to childhood memories and insights nourishes Merrill’s verse; with…show more content…
Thematically it has two parts which are not toughly delimitated, transitioning from visual to dream, from history to memory, going from a narrative to an interpretation of it. In the first part, the poet and his mother are watching a thirty-year-old movie taken by the absent father. There is no temporal difference between then and now and the space is the only thing that differentiates the poet, the mother and their personas – the screen is the threshold. At one point, a shadow man, the father behind the camera, appears in the scenery, afflicting them both. The paternal figure is so strong that Our headstrong old projector/ Glares at the scene which promptly/ Catches fire and his persona is easily connected with the overheated projector. That is a crucial moment of transformation for the infant projected in the present of the adult - the moment he realizes he has to cease being a child and become a man. The mother goes to bed and leaves her son alone to gradually fade and cool. The second part begins; it seems like there is no boundary between reality and fantasy anymore, but the poet just lets himself be sucked within his own memories. Everything is possible in one’s mind; the time is compressed (A minute galaxy/ About my head will easily/ Needle me back.) and the two temporal rifts constantly intertwine having the family reunited
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