Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - May 31


Yesterday, Third Sunday after Easter (already!) is my favorite, or one of them. The Introit and the Alleluias especially. The afternoon was warm and glorious with the new summer, the brand new summer, the wheat already tall and waving in the wind, the great cumulous clouds. And all the things one cannot begin to say about it—the new awareness that I am not the “object” that “they” think I am or even that I think, and that the I which is not-I is All and in everyone, and that the outer I must not assert itself anymore but must be glad to vanish, and yet there is no division between them, as there is no division between the surface of the pond and the rest of it. It is the reflection on the surface that seems to give it another being—and no flatness, etc.

I sit in the cool back room, where words cease to resound, where all meanings are absorbed in the consonantia of heat, fragrant of pine, quiet wind, birdsong, and one central tonic note to which every other sound ascends or descends, to which every other meaning aspires, in order to find its true fulfillment. To ask when the note will sound is to lose the afternoon: it has sounded, and all things now hum with the resonance of its sounding.

May 1965, V.242, 247

The country that is nowhere is the real home.

May 30, 1968, VII.110

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - May 30 (P. S. - "Poets can do anything.")

As Night Descends

I sweep. I spread a blanket in the sun. I cut grass behind the cabin. Soon I will bring the blanket in again and make the bed. The sun is overclouded. Perhaps there will be rain. A bell rings in the monastery. A tractor growls in the valley. Soon I will cut bread, eat supper, say psalms, sit in the back room as the sun sets, as the birds sing outside the window, as silence descends on the valley, as night descends. As night descends on a nation intent upon ruin, upon destruction, blind, deaf to protest, crafty, powerful, unintelligent. It is necessary to be alone, to be not part of this, to be in the exile of silence, to be, in a manner of speaking, a political prisoner. No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Along, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what is own past work has led others to expect him to say.

The poet has to be free from everyone else, and first of all from himself, because is through this “self” that he is captured by others. Freedom is found under the dark tree that springs up in the center of the night and of silence, the paradise tree, the axis mundi, which is also the Cross.

May 1965, V.241-42

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - May 29

United with History’s Sacred Currents

Tomorrow Sts. Nereus and Achilleus: I said their office in anticipation of the fresh green woods after work clearing brush, where the fire still smoked. I will always remember their little empty church in Rome, half in the country, on a spring afternoon in 1933.

“The Lord has plucked up proud men by their roots, and planted the lowly peoples.” “He hath put down the mighty.”

If I were more fully attentive to the word of God I would be much less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I would be indifferent or passive, but I could gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time!

“Do not quarrel about a matter that does not concern you; and when sinners judge, do not sit in council with them” (Ecclesiasticus).

This especially strikes me: “Be wary, take very great care, because you are walking with your own downfall; when you hear such things, wake up and be vigilant.” It seems to me that at the moment I very much need this kind of “attention” and “listening,” for I have come to the most serious moments of my life.

May 11, 1965, V.247-48

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - May 28 <**warning - adult content**>

On America in the Sixties

Yesterday I dipped into the manuscript that Julian Miller at Harcourt, Brace & World wanted me to comment on—nuns used as whores by Viet Cong, etc. The correct mythology, which assumes a compound of oversexuality, crude violence, honest bourgeois privatism, native American honesty, a bit of lesbianism for kicks. In other words, a pile of stupid shit. What revolted me was not so much the sex as the attitude—the mixture of superficial objectivity and Time-Life self-righteousness—and the suburb sophistication. America as she sees herself. The kind of America that makes Norman Mailer vomit—and me too.

It always gets back to the same thing. I have dutifully done my bit. I have been “open to the world.” That is to say, I have undergone my dose of exposure to American society in the ‘60s—particularly in these last weeks. I love the people I run into, but I pity them for having to live as they do, and I think the world of U.S.A. in 1967 is a world of crass, blind, overstimulated, phony, lying stupidity. The war in Asia slowly gets worse—and almost more inane. The temper of the country is one of blindness, fat self-satisfied, ruthless, mindless corruption. A lot of people are uneasy about it but helpless to do anything against it. The rest are perfectly content with the rat race as it is, and with its competitive, acquisitive, hurtling, souped-up drive into nowhere. A massively aimless, baseless, shrewd cockiness that simply exalts itself without purpose. The mindless orgasm, in which there is no satisfaction, only spasm.

May 27, 1967, VI.239

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - May 27

Visiting the Brothers

The long yellow side of the monastery faces the sun on a sharp rise with fruit trees and beehives. I climb sweating into the novitiate, put down the water bottle on the cement floor. The bell is ringing. I have some duties in the monastery. When I have accomplished these, I return to the woods. In the choir are the young monks, patient, serene, with very clear eyes, thin, reflective, gentle. For fifteen years I have given them classes, these young ones who come, and grow thin, become more reflective, more silent. But many of them are concerned with questions. Questions of liturgy, questions of psychology, questions of history. Are they the right questions? In the woods there are other questions and other answers, for in the woods the whole world is naked and directly present, with no monastery to veil it.

Chanting the Alleluia in the second mode; strength and solidity of the Latin, seriousness of the second mode, built on the Re as to an inevitable center. Sol-Re, Fa-Re, Sol-Re, Do-Re. Many other notes in between, but suddenly one hears only the one note. Consonantia: all notes, in their perfect distinctness, are yet blended in one.

In the heat of noon I return through the cornfield, past the barn under the oaks, up the hill, under the pines, to the hot cabin. Larks rise out of the long grass singing. A bumblebee hums under the wide shady eaves.

May 1965, V.241-42