Monday, January 31

The Duck in a Chiken Coop

It's the birthday of Thomas Merton, born in Prades, France (1915). Merton was a Trappist monk, but he was also the author of more than 50 books, 2,000 poems and a personal diary that spanned much of his lifetime.

Merton was educated in France and the United States before beginning his university career at Cambridge University. But he left after only one year and returned to America to attend Columbia University and live with his grandparents. Merton decided to write his master's thesis on William Blake, and he found himself deeply influenced by Blake. He converted to Christianity, and in 1941 he entered a Trappist abbey in Kentucky, where he remained for most of his life. In his diary from this time, Merton wrote, "Going to the Trappists is exciting. I return to the idea again and again: 'Give up everything, give up everything!'" Merton had become well-known throughout the world, in part because of his writing, in particular his autobiography The Seven Story Mountain (1948).

He said, "An author in a Trappist monastery is like a duck in a chicken coop. And he would give anything in the world to be a chicken instead of a duck."

Merton was also known for his dialogue with other faiths, and for advocating non-violence during race riots and the Vietnam War. Merton was encouraged to write at the abbey, but he was not allowed to leave. And so a new abbot allowed Merton to leave the abbey in 1968 for a tour of Asia, where he met the Dalai Lama, and where he died accidentally, touching an electric fan as he stepped from his bath.

The Everlasting Gospel (excerpt)
by William Blake

The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Visions Greatest Enemy
Thine has a great hook nose like thine
Mine has a snub nose like to mine
Thine is the Friend of All Mankind
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind
Thine loves the same world that mine hates

Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates
Socrates taught that Melitus
Loathd as a Nations bitterest Curse
And Caiphus was in his own Mind
A benefactor of Mankind
Both read the Bible day & night
But thou readst black where I read white

1 comment:

The Bug said...

I've always loved Thomas Merton - & now I can't even remember what I read that got me hooked on him. I'm guessing a biography in college.