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fall 2009 shop, grandbabies 048

Always I see the land as a metaphor of love and life.  How often have I stood in a soft warm rain and heard it speak as Thomas Merton did?  How often have I walked past tree shadows when the sky was dark blue and the lawns were white with moonlight and shivered at the beauty of the night?  

Because authors have shared images with me, I can see my own world more clearly.  I see, hear, taste and touch beauty and become more alive to joy.  My mind touches the mind of poets such as Thomas Merton on the pages of books and we speak to each other.  I communicate with his vibrant mind and recognize a common bond.  I am not alone.  


A few weeks ago, dirkster42 mentioned the book At Home in the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton & Rosemary Radford Ruether and I instantly ordered the book from the used books at Barnes and Noble.   It had been too long since I had connected with Thomas Merton and this was a chance to hear his voice, again.  

I grew up in the country and his images from around his monastery in Kentucky appealed to me as did his work for peace.  I have marked many images from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton.

Thomas Merton speaks to me and for me.  He questions and he searches.  He observes and he mourns.  He drew me into conversation despite the fact that he was a Trappist monk and hermit and in the beginning I was a young person searching.  I saw in him the searcher, the honest seeker, too.  He listened to the rain as I did.  

He was a complex man, one who needed the rigors of a limited landscape, the solitude of a hermit; a man who went to live in the woods not to find God, but that God could find him, and yet a man who needed to reach out into the world of others.  There is a part of me that has always been a hermit even when I was surrounded by hundreds of people; students, teachers, friends, relatives, neighbors, and pets.  That is what I mean about mind touching mind.  To be so very different as we were and yet I could hear him through his words on paper.  

Perhaps he had such a huge effect on me because I thought he was honest in an era of time when many other adults were not.  Perhaps it was because he was willing to wrestle with problems when so many others wanted to make me sit down and just be quiet.  Perhaps that is what I saw in Rosemary’s and his letters as well.   I saw two smart human beings honestly trying to understand where each stood, where each could find to stand in a crumbling landscape that included the War in Viet Nam and the killing of Black people in the South who wanted simple equality, the right to send their children to good schools, to vote, to have protection under the law, to have good jobs.

Yes, Rosemary gets in his face in her letters, but he holds his own.   I smile in delight as I watch them converse.  They touch mind to mind and I get to be there, too.  In the introduction by Rosemary (page xix) she says:

I see Thomas Merton and myself somewhat like two ships that happened to pass each other in our respective journeys.  For a brief moment we turned our search lights on each other with blazing intensity.  Then, when we sensed that we were indeed going in different directions, we began to pass each other by.

I think that is a real shame, but at the same time, I get to share in their thoughts for that brief period and consider all they are thinking.  It is a delight.  I admit that I ended up siding with him.  To be honest, somewhere around page 47 her ship sailed past mine, too.

Wikipedia explains who Thomas was:

Fr. Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was a 20th century Anglo-American Catholic writer. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.

Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews, including his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which sent scores of disillusioned World War II veterans, students, and even teen-agers flocking to monasteries across US, and was also featured in National Review's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese writer on the Zen tradition, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Merton has also been the subject of several biographies...

During his long years at Gethsemani Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of The Seven Storey Mountain, to a more contemplative writer and poet. Merton became well known for his dialogues with other faiths and his non-violent stand during the race riots and Vietnam War of the 1960s.

By the 1960s, he had arrived at a broadly human viewpoint, one deeply concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality. He had developed a personal radicalism which had political implications but was not based on ideology, rooted above all in non-violence. He regarded his viewpoint as based on "simplicity" and expressed it as a Christian sensibility.

In a letter to a Latin-American Catholic writer, Ernesto Cardenal, Merton wrote: "The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies."

Merton finally achieved the solitude he had long desired while living in a hermitage on the monastery grounds in 1965. Over the years he had occasional battles with some of his abbots about not being allowed out of the monastery despite his international reputation and voluminous correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.

At the end of 1968, the new abbot, the Reverend Flavian Burns, allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia, during which he met the Dalai Lama in India on three occasions, and also the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen master, Chatral Rinpoche, followed by a solitary retreat near Darjeeling...

The complete copy of my favorite essay is here.  Please take a moment and read the whole thing:

Rain and the Rhinoceros by Thomas Merton

...The rain I am in is not like the rain of cities. It fills the woods with an immense and confused sound. It covers the flat roof of the cabin and porch with insistent and controlled rhythms. And I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world runs by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognize, rhythms that are not those of the engineer.

I came up here from the monastery last night, sloshing through the cornfield, said Vespers, and put some oatmeal on the Coleman stove for supper. It boiled over while I was listening to the rain and toasting a piece of bread at the log fire. The night became very dark. The rain surrounded the whole cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of silence, of rumor.

Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside! What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!

Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen...

There is no clock that can measure the speech of this rain that falls all night on the drowned and lonely forest.

The rain has stopped. The afternoon sun slants through the pine trees: and how those useless needles smell in the clean air!

A dandelion, long out of season, has pushed itself into bloom between the smashed leaves of last summer’s day lilies. The valley resounds with the totally uninformative talk of creeks and wild water.

Then the quails begin their sweet whistling in the wet bushes. Their noise is absolutely useless, and so is the delight I take in it. There is nothing I would rather hear, not because it is a better noise than other noises, but because it is the voice of the present moment, the present festival.

Thomas Merton, "Rain and the Rhinoceros," in Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966)

More rain and more images:

The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton


Page 197  

When rain, (sings light) rain has devoured my house
And wind wades through my trees,
The cedars fawn upon the storm with their huge paws.
Silence is louder than a cyclone
In the rude door, my shelter.
And there I eat my air alone
With pure and solitary songs

The Messenger

Pages 332, 333

There is some sentry at the rim of winter
Fed with the speech the wind makes
In the grand belfries of the sleepless timber.

He understands the lasting strife of tears,
And the way the world is strung;
He waits to warn all life with the tongue of March’s bugle,
Of the coming of the warrior sun...

The Regret

Page 33

...The stormy weeks have all gone home like drunken hunters,
Leaving the gates of the grey world wide open to December,
But now there is no speech of branches in these broken jails...

And though we seem as grave as jailers, yet we did not come to wonder
Who picked the locks of the past days, and stole our summer...


Pages 41, 42

...And where blue heaven’s fading fire last shines,
Reflected in the poplar’s ripple,
One little, wakeful bird
Sings like a shower.

In Memory of the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca

Pages 44, 45

Where the white bridge rears up its stamping arches
Proud as a colt across the clatter of the shallow river,
The sharp guitars
Have never forgotten your name.

Only the swordspeech of the cruel strings
Can pierce the minds of those who remain,
Sitting in the eyeless ruins of the houses,
The shelter of the broken wall...


Pages 72, 73

April, like a leopard in the windy woods,
Sports with the javelins of the weather

The Greek Women

Pages 73, 74

...All spine and sandal stand the willow women;
They shake their silver bangles
In the olive-light of clouds and windows,
Talking, among themselves, like violins

The Fall of Night

Pages 102, 103

When the eleventh hour
Unbars the burning west,
And all the clouds go home like flocks,
The pines upon our barrier,
Stand in the gates of night, like laborers
And wait their pay.

Winter Afternoon

Pages 185, 186

...We praise you, winter, from the deck
Of this our lonely Abbey like an anchored battleship:
While the Kentucky forest
Pouring upon our prows her rumorous seas
Wakes our wordless prayers with the soft din of an Atlantic...

The Sowing of Meanings

Pages 187, 188

See the high birds! Is their’s the song
That flies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?...

Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim?

The Landfall

Pages 190-192

And lo! dumb time’s grey smoky argosies
Will never anchor in this emerald harbor
Or find this world of amber,
Spoil the fair music of the silver sea
Or foul these chiming amethysts:
Nor comes there any serpent near this isle trenched in deep ocean
And walled with innocent, flowering vines.

Sometimes I hear echoes of Dylan Thomas and sometimes of Rilke or Garcia Lorca.

This poem reminds me of all three:

The Geographie of Lograire

Prologue: The Endless Inscription

Pages 459-461


   Should Wales dark Wales slow ways sea coal tar
   Green tar sea stronghold is Wales my grand
   Dark my Wales land father it was green
   With all harps played over and bells
   Should Wales slow Wales dark maps home
   Come go green slow dark maps green late home
   Should long beach death night ever come
   And welcome to dark father-mother land
   Simple white wall house square rock hill
   Green there low water hill rock square
   White home in dark bituminous con-
   Crete ways to plain fates ways
   Fathers hill and green maps memory plain
   In holy green Wales there is never staying

A list of his books and articles is here:

A partial list of social issues that he wrote about:

Seeds of Destruction. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1964. OCLC 306973.

Gandhi on Non-Violence. New Directions. 1965. OCLC 60860722.

Faith and Violence. University of Notre Dame Press. 1968. OCLC 327320.

The Non-Violent Alternative. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1980. OCLC 174711710.

The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters on Religious Experience and Social Concerns (Letters, 1). 1985.

A Vow of Conversation: Journals 1964-1965. 1988.

The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers (Letters, IV). 1993.

The Woodcarver on pages 921-923 is translated by Merton.  It is the poem that teacherken mentioned in a diary not too long ago.

A Chinese poem that may help explain teaching? by teacherken

Here are some Mind Touching Mind diaries I wrote previously:

Walt Whitman and others

Hafiz, Rilke, and Rumi

Sojourner Truth

Whose mind do you respect and enjoy visiting?

Diaries of the week:

Write On! The Monster Within
by Emmet

Hill Country Ride for AIDS - going crazy
by anotherdemocrat

Righthaven Sues Bloggers for Copyright Infringement
by FreeStateDem

Readers & Book Lovers: Words from the Barrel of a Gun
by Limelite

Daily bigjac:  Grandma's farmhouse is gone; heading home.
by bigjacbigjacbigjac

For Dr. King
by davidseth

Music from and about the Civil Rights movement

NOTE: plf515 has book talk on Wednesday mornings early.  Watch for extra editions on Sundays!

sarahnity’s list of DKos authors

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Originally posted to cfk on Wed Jan 19, 2011 at 05:10 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.


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