James Ingram Merrill (March 3, 1926 – February 6, 1995) was an American poet whose awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1977) for Divine Comedies (1976). His poetry falls into two distinct bodies of work: the polished and formalist lyric poetry of his early career, and the epic narrative of occult communication with spirits and angels, titled The Changing Light at Sandover (published in three volumes from 1976 to 1980), which dominated his later career. Although most of his published work was poetry, he also wrote essays, fiction, and plays.
James Ingram Merrill was born in New York City to Charles E. Merrill (1885-1956), the founding partner of the Merrill Lynch investment firm, and Hellen Ingram Merrill (1898-2000), a society reporter and publisher from Jacksonville, Florida. He was born at a residence which would become the site of the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, which Merrill would lament in the poem "8 West 11th Street" (1972).
Merrill's parents married in 1925, the year before he was born; he would grow up with two older half siblings from his father's first marriage, Doris Merrill Magowan and Charles E. Merrill, Jr. As a boy, Merrill enjoyed a highly privileged upbringing in educational and economic terms. His father's 30-acre estate in Southampton, New York, for example, known as "The Orchard," had been designed by Stanford White with landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted. (The property was developed in 1980 with 29 luxury condominiums flanking the central gardens, while the home's vast ballroom and first-floor public reception areas were preserved.) Merrill's childhood governess taught him French and German, an experience Merrill wrote about in his 1974 poem "Lost in Translation." From 1936-1938, Merrill attended St. Bernard's, a prestigious New York grammar school...
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