(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Broken Home” uses a unique form, a combination of seven different types of sonnet, to explore the meaning of family in the life of a child. The first sonnet is unrhymed and begins with the apparent genesis of the poem: He is going home one night and sees a family through the windows of the apartment above his. He goes to his own room and, trying to read a book of maxims, asks if his lonely life has any value.

The second sonnet, written in pentameters and rhyming abba cddc effe gg, talks about his father’s world. His father had two goals—sex and business—and a desire to “win.” “Time was money.” He married “every thirteen years,” but when he was seventy, he died: “Money was not time.”

The third sonnet is in a sort of free verse, rhymed abba cddc efg efg. It comments on what Merrill says was a popular “act” when he was a boy. A woman would accost a famous man and, after calling him names, would demand that he give women the vote; he would, in return, implicitly tell her to go back to homemaking. The last three lines of the sonnet turn it into an allegory of what Merrill feels is the eternal battle of the sexes between “Father Time and Mother Earth.” He begins to see his own parents’ divorce as part of a larger rift in the world between the male and female principles, a theme he will further develop in his famous trilogy.

The fourth sonnet is written in a sort...

(The entire section is 497 words.)