(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Continuing the Ouija board format adopted in “The Book of Ephraim” in James Merrill’s Divine Comedies, Mirabell presents itself as a record of the poet (JM) and David Jackson’s (DJ) contact with W. H. Auden (WHA) and Maria Mitsotaki (MM or MAMAN)—their close friends among the dead—and with 741 (Mirabell), a nonhuman spirit who spends much of the book revealing that the “God of Biology” is moving the world toward “Paradise” through a coded reincarnation of souls in the “Research Lab” of evolution.

The significance of number is a major concern in the book. Mirabell’s number (741) itself relates to the 14 spirits of which he is one and to the 14 syllable lines he speaks in on the Ouija board. The book has 10 sections, though “10” is seldom formalized as such: they begin with 0 and end with 9, and each section has 9 subparts. The Angel Michael speaks the last line of the book in 10 syllables. The point seems to be that only the messenger of light can express a pure 1.0; everything else is always a fraction off, as in the case of Akhnaton and Nefertiti, who had built a diamond pyramid conduit to the sun’s energy, which, though it occasioned an impressive advance in human ability, had a fractional flaw which caused the first atomic explosion in human history.

The “Research Lab” itself predicates 9 ascending stages, of which a given soul may achieve one; the book itself progresses through 9 sections in its approach to the source of light. Also, not only is Mirabell one of 14 messenger spirits, but he relates that there were 14 energy zones on prehuman Earth which anchored it to the “platforms” his kind maintained above it.

Regarding souls formed between lives to “soak up densities and be reborn” (densities being various engineered combinations of the 4 elements), the maximum density in any age resides in 5 extraordinarily powerful souls. Human souls like JM and DJ’s, moreover, have identity numbers composed, in Mirabell’s idiom, of the number of their previous lives, the ratio of animal to human densities, talent rating, and finally of both the stage among the 9 at which the soul originally made contact with the spirit world and the stage at which it will ultimately arrive.

5 is a critical and often referred to number. The pentagram is mentioned as a hedge against chaos, and the 5th section of the book describes the 5 principal characters (JM the “scribe”; DJ his intimate and “the shaping hand of nature”; WHA and MM the dead; Mirabell the messenger) as a sort of atomic model which makes illumination possible. Indeed, selected souls, whose “densities” have...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

New York Review of Books. XXV, December 21, 1978, p. 34.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCXIV, October 23, 1978, p. 53.