Featured Title

Collected Poems
Collected Poems

 

More books by...

The Changing LIght at Sandover
The Changing Light at Sandover


Voice of the Poet
Voice of the Poet (Audio)


A Scattering of Salts
A Scattering of Salts


Selected Poems
Selected Poems



The Inner Room



A Different Person: A Memoir


Line
About the Author Poem Merrill Archive
Picture of Author Author Name

"Charles on Fire"


           

 

Charles on Fire

Another evening we sprawled about discussing
Appearances. And it was the consensus
That while uncommon physical good looks
Continued to launch one, as before, in life
(Among its vaporous eddies and false claims),
Still, as one of us said into his beard,
"Without your intellectual and spiritual
Values, man, you are sunk." No one but squared
The shoulders of their own unlovliness.
Long-suffering Charles, having cooked and served the meal,
Now brought out little tumblers finely etched
He filled with amber liquor and then passed.
"Say," said the same young man, "in Paris, France,
They do it this way"--bounding to his feet
And touching a lit match to our host's full glass.
A blue flame, gentle, beautiful, came, went
Above the surface. In a hush that fell
We heard the vessel crack. The contents drained
As who should step down from a crystal coach.
Steward of spirits, Charles's glistening hand
All at once gloved itself in eeriness.
The moment passed. He made two quick sweeps and
Was flesh again. "It couldn't matter less,"
He said, but with a shocked, unconscious glance
Into the mirror. Finding nothing changed,
He filled a fresh glass and sank down among us.

 


 

 


Excerpted from COLLECTED POEMS by James Merrill. Copyrightę 2001 by the Literary Estate of James Merrill at Washington University. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.