The James Merrill Digital Archive: Materials for The Book of Ephraim


The twenty-two selections of manuscripts and typescripts to which we link here are keyed to the alphabetically organized sections of The Book of Ephraim.

Gathered in this section are several groups of manuscripts and typescripts that illustrate several stages in the development of the poem, drawn from various sections of The Book of Ephraim, with a few relevant Ouija transcript materials. There are also a few materials at the end of this section of the archive which indicate early work looking forward towards Mirabell and The Changing Light at Sandover. We have used the letters that mark each section of The Book of Ephraim, e.g. “A” begins the first section with “Admittedly I err . . .” and B with “Backdrop,” to indicate the relationship between the drafts in the archive and the finished poem, and to give shape to the portion of materials in Merrill’s process archived here. Like Merrill, we have also drawn from other characters on the Ouija board to indicate other materials (“0” “&”) where appropriate, usually reflecting either Ouija transcripts, or drafts from works that look outside The Book of Ephraim.

We have not sought to provide explanatory commentary on these manuscripts, although in a few instances we offer some orientation as to what stage in composition is witnessed by a given image.


Merrill Book of Ephraim Section A 9.9.119

This very early draft of the opening to The Book of Ephraim, which debates whether a novel or a poem is a more appropriate medium for the ensuing subject matter, is an unlineated draft of the poem. Merrill originally began to draft a novel about Ephraim, which was lost in a taxi, before writing his poem The Book of Ephraim.

Merrill Book of Ephraim Section A 9.9.126

A note on this page of the draft (see the lower left corner) indicates a concept for a Book of Ephraim with 28 sections, with a "YES" and "NO" section in between the sections beginning with "M" and "N."