James Merrill Materials in the Modern Literature Collection at Washington University in St. Louis

The items in this digital archive come from the James Merrill Papers in the Modern Literature Collection, part of the Manuscript Unit in the Special Collections of Washington University Libraries. When the Modern Literature Collection was founded in 1964, James Merrill was among the first poets approached for manuscript materials. Thanks to Merrill’s generous bequest and the support of his estate, the James Merrill Papers comprise one of the most extensive literary archives held by any institution.

The core of the collection, Merrill’s manuscripts, includes working drafts of more than 700 poems. Merrill’s letters consist of correspondence with more than 3,000 individuals and institutions. Over the years, the department has assiduously collected editions of Merrill’s work, including translations and publications in journals, to augment its already comprehensive collection of his manuscripts, notebooks, proofs, photographs, ephemera and other primary resources in the James Merrill Papers.

In addition, the Modern Literature Collection holds two manuscript collections related to Merrill: the David Jackson Papers and the Mary Boatwright Collection of James Merrill Papers. Together, all these materials provide an invaluable resource to scholars, students, biographers, and anyone researching the intersection of James Merrill’s life and work.

Explore the digital exhibit, James Merrill: Other Writings, drawn from materials in the James Merrill Papers at Washington University.


James Merrill Materials at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

The Beinecke Library at Yale University holds two manuscript collections related to Merrill, both part of the Yale Collection of American Literature. The James Merrill Papers comprise writings, correspondence, photographs, audiovisual and other materials relating to Merrill. This collection includes some Ouija Board transcripts, and a typescript copy of The Book of Ephraim sent to Sandy McClatchy. The Stephen Yenser Papers Relating to James Merrill consist primarily of correspondence between Merrill and Yenser from 1967 to 1995, including many letters and postcards reflecting the evolution of The Book of Ephraim, among other poems. “The Ephraim Notebook,” containing perhaps the earliest handwritten drafts of the poem, is also part of this collection.

Merrill House

The James Merrill House

Much of The Book of Ephraim was written in an apartment in Stonington, Connecticut, where Merrill spent his summers for over 40 years. The apartment, known as The James Merrill House, is now a landmark maintained by the Stonington Village Improvement Association. Merrill’s décor and furnishings remain in place for the public, as well as writers-in-residence, to see as he saw them.

James Merrill Poetry Manuscripts

Manuscripts and commentary on Merrill’s poems, “The Broken Home” and “The Black Swan,” are available at the James Merrill’s Poetry Manuscripts site hosted by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture

"The Broken Home" unit provides an introduction to James Merrill’s sonnet sequence. It includes the manuscripts of "The Broken Home," the manuscript of Merrill's childhood poem, "Looking at Mummy," and the pages of his 1963 journal that contain his earliest drafts of the poem. Background materials include photographs and notes on the poem and manuscripts.  "The Black Swan" unit provides readers and students of James Merrill with an introduction to the poem. It includes two published versions of the poem (1946 and 1983), manuscripts, and notes.