A good edition of a writer’s work creates its own sense of necessity. If a reader, holding the book in hand, finds oneself wondering “how did I ever do without this?” an edition has done its work well. According to this measure, Stephen Yenser’s new annotated edition of James Merrill’s “The Book of Ephraim” is, by its mere existence, a success. There are so many reasons to celebrate a stand-alone edition of Merrill’s greatest poem. Chief among them, as Yenser says, or all but does, it is high time Merrill’s work be organized to acknowledge that that is what “Ephraim” is. The twenty-six-poem sequence called “The Book of Ephraim” was originally published as the final section of Merrill’s 1976 Divine Comedies. That book is out of print, its contents available now only in Merrill’s Selected Poems (1993), and Collected Poems (2001), in which “Ephraim”...

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