Wrestling with the Canon

Authority in The Changing Light at Sandover
  • Piotr K. Gwiazda
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)


The poems Merrill wrote before The Changing Light at Sandover combine cultivated aestheticism and discreet autobiography, a discernible sense of craft and a tacit confessional impulse that make the intricacies of personal life their primary subject matter. This is certainly the thematic scope of “The Book of Ephraim,” the trilogy’s first installment, based on Ouija board séances conducted between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s with a “GREEK JEW / BORN AD 8 at XANTHOS” (CLS, 8).1 In the course of the ninety-two-page poem, Ephraim instructs Merrill and Jackson about the reincarnation cycle, the afterlife’s nine stages, and its elaborate system of “patrons” and “representatives.” The two mediums also communicate with their dead friends and family members like Dutch poet Hans Lodeizen, experimental film director Maya Deren, and the poet’s father, financial tycoon Charles E. Merrill. Much of “The Book of Ephraim” concerns the ups and downs of Merrill’s relationship with Jackson, his companion also acting as his artistic collaborator.2 Following an alphabetical arrangement into twenty-six sections, the first volume conveys Merrill’s mixed reactions about his occult enterprise, features the characters of the novel in which he originally intended to describe his experiences at the board, and chronicles some of his travels over the two-decade period.


Homosexual Identity Utopian Vision Liberal Imagination Fall Angel Ouija Board 
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© Piotr K. Gwiazda 2007

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