… ["Lost in Translation"] begins with the apparently random way things happen to us and it includes a number of episodes not explicitly related. … The poem weaves connections between the world of the child, vividly recalled in the present tense, and that of the remembering adult, who only makes his full entrance in the past tenses of the long rhapsodic coda. (Even a more recent episode – a mind-reader in London – is told as if the child were perceiving it: "This grown man reenters, wearing grey.") An odd massing of consciousness takes place. At first the poet speaks distantly of "the child," "the boy": it isn’t until midway through the poem that the child’s experience so recaptures him as to identify it in the first person, his very self: "Puzzle begun I write."
[Kalstone enumerates the various "puzzles" that make up the poem.] … All these experiences are felt, without anxiety, as analogous: Mademoiselle’s secret, the lost Rilke translation, the Valéry poem, the excitement of putting together the puzzle, the feel of the summer without parents. The sense of mysterious relations is crystallized for us when the puzzle, as if by magic (and in the only regular stanzas of the poem, the Rubaiyat stanza Merrill likes so much), gathers before our eyes: "Lo! It assembles on the shrinking Green." A fable emerges: grandly confronting one another, a Shiek and a veiled woman, who appear to be quarrelling, like Oberon and Titania, over a young boy, a page. The scene is captured in the manner fairy tales use; according to Bruno Bettelheim, the enchantment transfigures the violent and critical passages of life. Only below the surface do we feel the stronger implications of the completed puzzle, "Eternal Triangle, Great Pyramid!" and its relevance to the child’s own abandoned and perhaps disputed state.
What is interesting about this particular version of "The Broken Home" is that it is absorbed into a larger constellation of analogies whose model is "translation." The poem returns at the end to translation, to Valéry’s poem and Rilke’s version, to the sense of what is foregone and what is gained, and to the conviction that nothing is "lost" in translation, or that "All is translation / And every bit of us is lost in it." Merrill, unable to find the Rilke version, still feels he knows "How much of the sun-ripened original / Felicity Rilke made himself forego …" [Kalstone continues to quote to the passage that ends "A deep reverberation fills with stars."] In his own absorption of Rilke’s Valéry, Merrill performs the process acted out so many times in the poem. After the "warm Romance," after the enchanting childhood, he is left with the adult conviction or realization of a "ground plan left / Sublime and barren," the pattern discovered and echoed in unsuspected corners of life, "color of context," what might have seemed waste transmuted to "shade and filter, milk and memory."