Thomas Merton

POETRY: For M. On A Cold Grey Morning by Thomas Merton

November 18, 2017

A grey good morning and rain And melting snow Far from any help Or love, I am warmer At least wanting you. Sorry in the grey Weather without lights Far from any other center I nurse one inner lamp Our common need Which is our common presence It burns alone And still In the wet dark and for us, Lighting a dry place in me I do not know Because it is myself Love’s inner cell Where I am glad to be a prisoner Since I am prisoner with you. While you come back to life in distant rain Looking perhaps at the dark river With blurred eyes Still full of dreams And think of me in my hills, You wake in me, darling. We are nearer than we know Love has another Place of its own Nearer to you than hill or city; Nearer than your own mirror You wake in [...]

POETRY: Proverbs by Thomas Merton

November 10, 2017

For Robert Lax 1. I will tell you what you can do ask me if you do not understand what I just said 2. One thing you can do be a manufacturer make appliances 3. Be a Man-u-fac-tu-rer 4. Make appliances sell them for a high price 5. I will tell you about industry make appliances 6. Make appliances that move 7. Ask me if you do not understand what is move 8. First get the facts 9. Where to apply? Ask industry 10. Do not expect to get by without Mr. and Mrs. Consumer 11. Man-u-fic-tion 12. I am wondering if you got the idea be a manu 13. MAKE FALSE GODS 14. Apply mind energy they will move 15. Mention one of the others see what happens 16. Now apply that to our problem 17. Try not to understand 18. Be a mounte-fictioner 19. Surpass all others [...]

POETRY: Love Winter When The Plant Says Nothing by Thomas Merton

October 27, 2017

O little forests, meekly Touch the snow with low branches! O covered stones Hide the house of growth! Secret Vegetal words, Unlettered water, Daily zero. Pray undistracted Curled tree Carved in steel— Buried zenith! Fire, turn inward To your weak fort, To a burly infant spot, A house of nothing. O peace, bless this mad place: Silence, love this growth. O silence, golden zero Unsetting sun Love winter when the plant says [...]

POETRY: The Night Train by Thomas Merton

October 20, 2017

In the unreason of a rainy midnight France blooms along the windows Of my sleepy bathysphere, And runs to seek in a luxuriance of curious lights. Escape is drawn straight through my dream And shines to Paris, clean as violin string, While spring tides of commotion, (The third-class pianos of the Orient Express) Fill up the hollow barrels of my ears. Cities that stood, by day, as gay as lancers Are lost, in the night, like old men dying. At a point where polished rails branch off forever The steels lament, like crazy ladies. We wake, and weep the deaths of the cathedrals That we have never seen, Because we hear the jugulars of the country Fly in the wind, and vanish with a cry. At once the diplomats start up, as white as bread, Buckle the [...]

POETRY: For M. In October by Thomas Merton

October 13, 2017

If you and I could meet up there In that cool cloud Like two sun Beams or birds Going straight to South America Or distracted spirits Flying together innocent In midair Or if we could be Together like two barges in a string Or tight wandering rafts Heading downriver to St Louis or New Orleans If we could come together like two parts Of one love song Two chords going hand in hand A perfect arrangement And be two parts of the same secret (Oh if we could recover And tell again Our midsummer secret!) If you and I could even start again as strangers Here in this forsaken field Where crickets rise up Around my feet like spray Out of a green ocean… But I am alone, Alone walking up and down Leaning on the silly wind And talking out loud like a [...]

POETRY: Whether There Is Enjoyment In Bitterness by Thomas Merton

October 6, 2017

This afternoon, let me Be a sad person. Am I not Permitted (like other men) To be sick of myself? Am I not allowed to be hollow, Or fall in the hole Or break my bones (within me) In the trap set by my own Lie to myself? O my friend, I too must sin and sin. I too must hurt other people and (Since I am no exception) I must be hated by them. Do not forbid me, therefore, To taste the same bitter poison, And drink the gall that love (Love most of all) so easily becomes. Do not forbid me (once again) to be Angry, bitter, disillusioned, Wishing I could die. While life and death Are killing one another in my flesh, Leave me in peace. I can enjoy, Even as other men, this agony. Only (whoever you may be) Pray for my soul. Speak my name To Him, for [...]

POETRY: The Night Of Destiny by Thomas Merton

September 29, 2017

In my ending is my meaning Says the season. No clock: Only the heart’s blood Only the word. O lamp Weak friend In the knowing night! O tongue of flame Under the heart Speak softly: For love is black Says the season. The red and sable letters On a solemn page Fill the small circle of seeing. Long dark— And the weak life Of oil. Who holds the homeless light secure In the deep heart’s room? Midnight! Kissed with flame! See! See! My love is darkness! Only in the Void Are all ways one: Only in the night Are all the lost Found. In my ending is my [...]

POETRY: Litany by Thomas Merton

September 22, 2017

All holy souls pray for us fellows, all Carmelites pray all Third Orders, all sodalities, all altar societies, all action groups, all inaction groups, all beat up shut in groups, all without money groups, pray for the rich Trappists cheese groups vice versa mutual help, amen, [...]

POETRY: Sacred Heart 2 (A Fragment—) by Thomas Merton

September 15, 2017

Geography comes to an end, Compass has lost all earthly north, Horizons have no meaning Nor roads an explanation: I cannot even hope for any special borealis To rouse my darkness with a brief “Hurray”! O flaming Heart, Unseen and unimagined in this wilderness, You, You alone are real, and here I’ve found You. Here will I love and praise You in a tongueless death, Until my white devoted bones, Long bleached and polished by the winds of this Sahara, Relive at Your command, Rise and unfold the flowers of their everlasting [...]

POETRY: Cancer Blues by Thomas Merton

September 8, 2017

It’s a long hot night for cancer blues I sing I listen to the tree frogs and rain while someplace Else my Baby grows to be a magic Indian healer My sweet Babe with special ways to fight a fever and cure The biting black root-idea With levelheaded advice and love for the hopeless hunted SOUL. It is a long night of rain to pass my time with cancer of the heart But my Baby glows like medicine out there in the dark Growing to be a living healer and radium I grub these roots alone in the mud I thrash around In my solitary swamp amid the hot frog blues. But all the time She grows a little wiser and draws near With that sweet healing temperament and compassion Busy knocking out the Cannibal TRIBES. All alone out here in a mess of wild Animals I [...]

POETRY: There Has To Be A Jail For Ladies by Thomas Merton

September 1, 2017

There has to be a jail where ladies go When they are poor, without nice things, and with their hair down. When their beauty is taken from them, when their hearts are broken There is a jail where they must go. There has to be a jail for ladies, says the Government, When they are ugly because they are wrong. It is good for them to stay there a long time Until the wrong is forgotten. When no one wants to kiss them any more, Or only wants to kiss them for money And take their beauty away It is right for the wrong to be unheard of for a long time Until the ladies are not remembered. But I remember one favorite song, And you ladies may not have forgotten: “Poor broken blossom, poor faded flower,” says my song. Poor ladies, you are [...]

POETRY: The Transformation—For The Sacred Heart by Thomas Merton

August 25, 2017

Heart, in the ardor of Whose holy day The June is blazing on our world of fruit and wheat, Smile on our lives, and sanctify them with a new love’s vintage And with Your fires vivify our veins. Lo, the whole humble earth Bows and is broken with Your loads of bounty, and the trees Fail and give way as we besiege them with a score of ladders. We have no time to turn and hear the tiger-lilies all along the field, Whose outcry warns the world of Love’s immense invasion Coming to crowd our continent with full-armed shocks. And look! Those regiments are all around us! How shall we flee you? You will ‘siege us in our bursting barns And force us to a parley in our vines and garden. Lord, in this splendid season When all the things [...]

POETRY: On A Day In August by Thomas Merton

August 18, 2017

These woods are too impersonal. The deaf-and-dumb fields, waiting to be shaved of hay Suffer the hours like an unexpected sea While locusts fry their music in the sycamores. But from the curdled places of the sky (Where a brown wing hovers for carrion) We have not seen the heaven-people come. The clean, white saints, have they forgotten us? Here we lie upon the earth In the air of our dead grove Dreaming some wind may come and kiss ourselves in the red eyes With a pennyworth of mercy for our pepper shoulders. And so we take into our hands the ruins Of the words our minds have rent. It is enough. Our souls are trying to crawl out of our pores. Our lives are seeping through each part of us like vinegar. A sad sour death is eating the roots [...]

POETRY: From The Legend Of St. Clement by Thomas Merton

August 11, 2017

I have seen the sun Spilling its copper petals on the Black Sea By the base of the prisoners’ cliff Where, from the acts of martyrs, Tall poems grow up like buildings. Deep in the wall of the wounded mountain (Where seas no longer frown) The songs of the martyrs come up like cities or buildings. Their chains shine with hymns And their hands cut down the giant blocks of stone. Poetry, psalms Flower with a huge architecture Raising their grandeur on the gashed cape. Words of God blaze like a disaster In the windows of their prophetic cathedral. But the sighs of the deep multitude Grow out of the mountain’s heart as clean as vines. O martyrs! O tremendous prisoners! Burying your murder in this marble hill! The Lamb shall soon [...]

POETRY: Wisdom by Thomas Merton

August 4, 2017

I studied it and it taught me nothing. I learned it and soon forgot everything else: Having forgotten, I was burdened with knowledge— The insupportable knowledge of nothing. How sweet my life would be, if I were wise! Wisdom is well known When it is no longer seen or thought of. Only then is understanding [...]

POETRY: Wind And A Bobwhite by Thomas Merton

July 28, 2017

Wind and a bobwhite And the afternoon sun. By ceasing to question the sun I have become light, Bird and wind. My leaves sing. I am earth, earth All these lighted things Grow from my heart. A tall, spare pine Stands like the initial of my first Name when I had one. When I had a spirit, When I was on fire When this valley was Made out of fresh air You spoke my name In naming Your silence: O sweet, irrational worship! I am earth, earth My heart’s love Bursts with hay and flowers. I am a lake of blue air In which my own appointed place Field and valley Stand reflected. I am earth, earth Out of my grass heart Rises the bobwhite. Out of my nameless weeds His foolish [...]

POETRY: Birdcage Walk by Thomas Merton

July 21, 2017

1 One royal afternoon When I was young and easily surprised By uncles coming from the park At the command of nurses and of guards, I wondered, over trees and ponds, At the sorry, rude walls And the white windows of the apartments. “These,” said my uncle, “are the tallest houses.” 2 Yes, in the spring of my joy When I was visibly affected by a gaitered bishop, Large and unsteady in the flagged yard, Guards, dogs and blackbirds fled on every hand. “He is an old one,” said uncle, “The gaiters are real.” 3 Rippled, fistfed windows of your Dun high houses! Then Come cages made of pretty willows Where they put the palace girls! Green ducks wade slowly from the marble water. One swan reproves a saucy daughter. I consider my own [...]

POETRY: After The Night Office—Gethsemani Abbey by Thomas Merton

July 14, 2017

It is not yet the grey and frosty time When barns ride out of the night like ships: We do not see the Brothers, bearing lanterns, Sink in the quiet mist, As various as the spirits who, with lamps, are sent To search our souls’ Jerusalems Until our houses are at rest And minds enfold the Word, our Guest. Praises and canticles anticipate Each day the singing bells that wake the sun, But now our psalmody is done. Our hasting souls outstrip the day: Now, before dawn, they have their noon. The Truth that transsubstantiates the body’s night Has made our minds His temple-tent: Open the secret eye of faith And drink these deeps of invisible light. The weak walls Of the world fall And heaven, in floods, comes pouring in: Sink from your [...]

POETRY: Aubade—Lake Erie by Thomas Merton

July 7, 2017

When sun, light handed, sows this Indian water With a crop of cockles, The vines arrange their tender shadows In the sweet leafage of an artificial France. Awake, in the frames of windows, innocent children, Loving the blue, sprayed leaves of childish life, Applaud the bearded corn, the bleeding grape, And cry: “Here is the hay-colored sun, our marvelous cousin, Walking in the barley, Turning the harrowed earth to growing bread, And splicing the sweet, wounded vine. Lift up your hitch-hiking heads And no more fear the fever, You fugitives, and sleepers in the fields, Here is the hay-colored sun!” And when their shining voices, clean as summer, Play, like churchbells over the field, A hundred dusty Luthers rise from the dead, unheeding, [...]

POETRY: Elegy For The Monastery Barn by Thomas Merton

June 30, 2017

As though an aged person were to wear Too gay a dress And walk about the neighborhood Announcing the hour of her death, So now, one summer day’s end, At suppertime, when wheels are still, The long barn suddenly puts on the traitor, beauty, And hails us with a dangerous cry, For: “Look!” she calls to the country, “Look how fast I dress myself in fire!” Had we half guessed how long her spacious shadows Harbored a woman’s vanity We would be less surprised to see her now So loved, and so attended, and so feared. She, in whose airless heart We burst our veins to fill her full of hay, Now stands apart. She will not have us near her. Terribly, Sweet Christ, how terribly her beauty burns us now! And yet she has [...]

POETRY: The Quickening Of St. John The Baptist by Thomas Merton

June 16, 2017

On the Contemplative Vocation Why do you fly from the drowned shores of Galilee, From the sands and the lavender water? Why do you leave the ordinary world, Virgin of Nazareth, The yellow fishing boats, the farms, The winesmelling yards and low cellars Or the oilpress, and the women by the well? Why do you fly those markets, Those suburban gardens, The trumpets of the jealous lilies, Leaving them all, lovely among the lemon trees? You have trusted no town With the news behind your eyes. You have drowned Gabriel’s word in thoughts like seas And turned toward the stone mountain To the treeless places. Virgin of God, why are your clothes like sails? The day Our Lady, full of Christ, Entered the dooryard of her relative Did not her steps, [...]

POETRY: Hagia Sophia, by Thomas Merton

October 28, 2016

I. Dawn. The Hour of Lauds There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.  This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans.  There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy.  It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility.  This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom. I am awakened, I am born again at the voice of this my Sister, sent to me from the [...]

POETRY: Cana, by Thomas Merton

September 7, 2016

Once when our eyes were clean as noon, our rooms Filled with the joys of Cana’s feast; For Jesus came, and His disciples, and His Mother, And after them the singers And some men with violins. Once when our minds were Galilees, And clean as skies our faces, Our simple rooms were charmed with sun. Our thoughts went in and out in whiter coats than God’s disciples’, In Cana’s crowded rooms, at Cana’s tables. Nor did we seem to fear the wine would fail: For ready, in a row, to fill with water and a miracle, We saw our earthen vessels, waiting empty. What wine those humble waterjars foretell! Wine for the ones who, bended to the dirty earth, Have feared, since lovely Eden, the sun’s fire, Yet hardly mumble, in [...]

POETRY: Grace’s House, by Thomas Merton

October 28, 2015

On the summit: it stands on a fair summit Prepared by winds: and solid smoke Rolls from the chimney like a snow cloud. Grace’s house is secure. No blade of grass is not counted, No blade of grass forgotten on this hill. Twelve flowers make a token garden. There is no path to the summit— No path drawn To Grace’s house. All the curtains are arranged Not for hiding but for seeing out. In one window someone looks out and winks. Two gnarled short Fortified trees have knotholes From which animals look out. From behind a corner of Grace’s house Another creature peeks out. Important: hidden in the foreground Most carefully drawn The dog smiles, his foreleg curled, his eye like an aster. Nose and collar are made with great [...]

POETRY: Earthquake (Isaiah 52), by Thomas Merton

September 9, 2015

Go tell the earth to shake And tell the thunder To wake the sky And tear the clouds apart Tell my people to come out And wonder Where the old world is gone For a new world is born And all my people Shall be one So tell the earth to shake With marching feet Of messengers of peace Proclaim my law of love To every nation Every race. For the old wrongs are over The old days are gone A new world is rising where my people shall be one. So tell the earth to shake With marching feet Of messengers of peace Proclaim my law of love To every nation Every race. And say The old wrongs are over The old ways are done There shall be no more hate And no more war My people shall be one. So tell the earth to shake With marching feet Of messengers of peace [...]

POETRY: Original Sin (A Memorial Anthem For Father’s Day), by Thomas Merton

June 21, 2015

Weep, weep, little day For the Father of the lame Experts are looking For his name Weep, weep little day For your Father’s bone All the expeditions Dig him one. He went on one leg Or maybe four Science (cautious) Says “Two or more.” Weep, weep little day For his walking and talking He walked on two syllables Or maybe none Weep little history For the words he offended One by one Beating them grievously With a shin bone.   [...]

POETRY: Song—If You Seek. . ., by Thomas Merton

February 28, 2015

If you seek a heavenly light I, Solitude, am your professor! I go before you into emptiness, Raise strange suns for your new mornings, Opening the windows Of your innermost apartment. When I, loneliness, give my special signal Follow my silence, follow where I beckon! Fear not, little beast, little spirit (Thou word and animal) I, Solitude, am angel And have prayed in your name. Look at the empty, wealthy night The pilgrim moon! I am the appointed hour, The “now” that cuts Time like a blade. I am the unexpected flash Beyond “yes,” beyond “no,” The forerunner of the Word of God. Follow my ways and I will lead you To golden-haired suns, Logos and music, blameless joys, Innocent of questions And beyond [...]

POETRY: Evening, by Thomas Merton

February 11, 2015

Now, in the middle of the limpid evening, The moon speaks clearly to the hill. The wheatfields make their simple music, Praise the quiet sky. And down the road, the way the stars come home, The cries of children Play on the empty air, a mile or more, And fall on our deserted hearing, Clear as water. They say the sky is made of glass, They say the smiling moon’s a bride. They say they love the orchards and apple trees, The trees, their innocent sisters, dresses in blossoms, Still wearing, in the blurring dusk, White dresses from that morning’s first communion. And, where blue heaven’s fading fire last shines They name the new come planets With words that flower On little voices, light as stems of lilies. And where blue [...]

POETRY: The Reader, by Thomas Merton

November 19, 2014

Lord, when the clock strikes Telling the time with cold tin And I sit hooded in this lectern Waiting for the monks to come I see the red cheeses, and bowls All smile with milk in ranks upon their tables. Light fills my proper globe (I have won light to read by With a little, tinkling chain) And the monks come down the cloister With robes as voluble as water. I do not see them but I hear their waves. It is winter, and my hands prepare To turn the pages of the saints: And to the trees thy moon has frozen on the windows My tongue shall sing thy Scripture. Then the monks pause upon the step (With me here in this lectern And thee there on thy crucifix) And gather little pearls of water on their fingers’ ends. Smaller than this my psalm. [...]

POETRY: North, by Thomas Merton

August 29, 2014

(Based on Dr. James Laws’s Journal of the Kane Relief Expedition – 1855 – in Stefansson Collection at Dartmouth) 1 Morning came at last The storm over we sighted Quiet mountains green and Silver Edens Walls of an Empty country—Near? (We were deceived—30 miles at least) You can tell when Sunday comes Everything on ship-board Quieter icebergs like Churches Slow sailing gifts visions A sailor intoned An Anglican hymn “One iceberg on our port bow Resembled a lady dressed in white Before her shrine” (Dazzling whiteness gemm’d with blue-green) “In the attitude of prayer” “As if some magician etc. . . .” “Gifts—visions” A huge berg between us And the green shore. “As we were gazing it grounded and the shock caused [...]