When Morrison told Merrill that Milton was his model for Need, the later JM retorted, “The poem reminds me of Hoffmann.” If U bears a textual similarity to A, in its blatant incorporation of literal reality, in the realism with which domesticity is depicted, then Need projects us into a purely fanciful realm, where human relations are defined by archetypes rather than society. Its oneiric mood returns us to the surrealism of Sleep, its nighttime ambiance to Light. Its archaic language and mythic sense, however, set it apart from MM’s other books. Gio Ferri has economically suggested various parallels, which I had summarized in the Introduction to MM:SC. The poem’s composition line by line, preceded each previous evening by the reading of a single page of the 1000-page Norton Anthology of English Poetry, must represent one of the strangest and most obsessive methods of poetic composition. Yet the resulting narrative is also strangely compelling, perhaps in part due to its strict iambic pentameter. Whereas the world of U is one that could be imagined to exist, the world of Need could only have been imagined. Insofar as Milton’s unhappy first marriage may be reflected in the strife between Adam and Eve, perhaps the source of Need’s macabre dramaturgy lies in biographical facts. We await a biographer who might cast light on the personal element in these curious poems.
The full text of Need
Gio Ferri, "The Opening Lines of Need: Traduzione e Commento"