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As a historian of the phases of sensuality, Merrill is unequaled in our century. His best poetry (a prism of the opalescent spectrum of the sensual) describes moments so elusive to specification that his founding a music for them is a genuinely startling act. Episodes of intense sensations are extinguished as passion but sustained as art. Flashing with ironies and inventions, rapid in movement, intricate in language, these poems dazzle before they convince, and convince, subsequently, because of their dazzle (the right way for a poem to work). In "Willowware Cup," for instance, love undergone becomes a tattoo: "like ink in flesh, blue anchor // Needled upon drunkenness while its destroyer / Full steam departs, the stigma throbbing, intricate -- / Only to blend into a crazing texture."