Friday, December 23, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - December 23

Suspended over Nothingness and Yet in Life

A charming letter from Eleanor Shipley Duckett, who, on returning to Smith College from England (Cambridge), found some notes I had sent and is making them her "Advent reading." I am very attracted to her. She is a sweet person. She wrote part of her letter in Latin. Though I have so far not had much contact with her (it began when the University of Michigan Press sent proofs of her Carolingian Portraits), I feel we can be very good friends, that this friendship can be really precious to us both--with the autumn quality of detachment that comes from the sense that we are coming to the end of our lives (she must be quite older than I, in her sixties, I presume). This sense of being suspended over nothingness and yet in life, of being a fragile thing, a flame that may blow out and yet burns brightly, adds an inexpressible sweetness to the gift of life, for one sees it entirely and purely as a gift. A gift that one must treasure in great fidelity with a truly pure heart.

December 15, 1962, IV.275-76


  1. "In 1926, Duckett met Mary Ellen Chase, Smith professor of English and renowned author. Soon after, they moved into a home next-door to the Smith College president on Paradise Road. They traveled together frequently, to England and to "Windswept," a house on the coast of Maine whose name and location inspired Chase's best-selling novel. They shared their lives until Chase's death in 1973. Duckett died on November 23, 1976, and was laid to rest next to Chase in a cemetery in Blue Hill, not far from the Chase family homestead."

  2. The above is a quotation from the biography of Duckett found here: