Nothing was ever more astute than William Carlos Williams’s “A poem is a machine made of words.” (If it sounds cold or technocratic, think of the machine as a music box or a bicycle.) Schuyler’s little machine is more intricate than it looks. When the poet is Schuyler, and when we’re in “The Payne Whitney Poems,” questions like “Is this the moment?” and “Need I persist?” may be all playful footwork – or they may be The Big Question, and fraught. The comforts of the changed sheets are sadly ironic, but also real. He wins the last lines with the ones that precede. He can still make a poem – presto, just like that. In pale hues, the poem looks like a small triumph. But it’s a large one. And Schuyler gave it to us.

—Stephen Emerson

Read “Linen,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Schuyler, selected by Stephen Emerson.