Books: Four Poets and Their Songs

An epic in progress and brief, memorable histories

MIRABELL: BOOKS OF NUMBER by James Merrill Atheneum; 182 pages; $10.95

The centerpiece of Divine Comedies (1976), James Merrill's last book of poetry, was a 90-page narrative that turned a parlor game into a trip through the first circles of the supernatural. The Book of Ephraim recounted how Merrill and his friend David Jackson used a Ouija board to contact Ephraim, a witty Greek Jew born in A.D. 8; it then followed the two-way conversations that ensued over the next 20 years. This device gave the added...

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