Poesie: Merton’s Epitaph for John Paul

This is possibly the saddest poem I have ever read.

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveler

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrow lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed –
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring;
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
and buy your back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: They call you home.

~ Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968)

Thomas Merton wrote the above poem after learning of the death of his brother John Paul, who had been in the American Air force in WWII, and stationed in Oxfordshire at the time:

Reverend Father (…) read me the telegram that Sergeant J. P. Merton, my brother, had been reported missing in action on April 17th [1943].

I have never understood why it took them so long to get the telegram through.  April 17th was already ten days ago – the End of Passion Week.

Some more days went by, letters of confirmation came, and finally, after a few weeks, I learned that John Paul was definitely dead.

The story was simply this.  On the night of Friday the sixteenth, which had been the Feast if Our Lady of Sorrows, he and his crew had taken off their bomber with Mannheim as their objective.  I never discovered whether they crashed on the way out or on the way home, but the plane came down in the North Sea.  John Paul was severely injured in the crash, but he managed to keep himself afloat, and even tried to support the pilot, who was already dead.  His companions managed to float their rubber dinghy and pulled him in.

He was very badly hurt: maybe his neck was broken,  He lay in the bottom of the dinghy in a delirium.

He was terribly thirsty.  He kept asking for water.  But they didn’t have any.  The water tank had broken in the crash, and the water was all gone.

It did not last too long.  He had three hours of it, and then he died.  Something of the three ours of the thirst of Christ Who loved him, and died for him many centuries ago, and had been offered again that very day, too, on many altars.

His companions had more of it to suffer, but they were finally picked up and brought to safety.  But that was some five days later.

On the fourth day they had buried John Paul in the sea.

~ Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain

QUOTE: “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.”

“Man, living under certain economic conditions, is no longer in possession of the fruits of his life. His life is not his. His life is lived according to conditions determined by somebody else.”

From Thomas Merton’s final lecture, a few hours before his death.

“…we can no longer rely on being supported by structures that may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. You cannot rely on structures. They are good and they should help us, and we should do the best we can with them. But they may be taken away, and if everything is taken away, what do you do next?”

For they sow the wind…

… and they shall reap the whirlwind.

Here’s something to ponder.  I have heard this principle laid out by more than one author, Carl G. Jung and Thomas Merton among them.

Everything that takes place in subjective intimacy will one day become objective reality.  It is the magical law of history that the subjective at some time becomes objective, that the aspirations, thoughts and feelings of today become the events of history tomorrow. “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. ” (Hosea 8:7)

~ Valentin Tomberg

Notes: 1-1-2018

“It is morning, afternoon, or evening. Begin.” ~Thomas Merton

“It is morning, afternoon, or evening. Begin.” ~Thomas Merton

Supermoon tonight, 2nd in a series of three:

Source: Excitement grows for supermoon trilogy | WKBN.com

Orangeville, Ohio, along the PA border. Sometime prior to 1874.
Orangeville, Ohio, along the PA border. Sometime prior to 1874.

I admire these paracord rosaries!

Hand made, military tough, paracord rosaries for the man who prays. Rugged Rosaries are spiritually strong and they look it!

Source: Unbreakable Catholic Rosaries | Your Trusted Source | Rugged Rosaries

This is the amazing story of a young man scandalized by the moral decay of the world, who sought to live as a hermit in cave. Yet, God called him not to run away from the world, but to convert it through a renewal of faith, holiness, learning, and liturgy. Join the ICC and Fr. Andrew Fisher to learn timeless wisdom from one of the greatest saints of the Church.

“Transcending oneself: this is the great imperative of the human condition; and there is another that anticipates it and at the same time prolongs it: dominating oneself. The noble man is the one who dominates himself; the holy man is the one who transcends himself.” ~ Frithjof Schuon

Quote: Talk about Tradition…

“That which is oldest is most young and most new.”
~ Thomas Merton

That which is oldest is most young and most new.  There is nothing so ancient and so dead as human novelty.  The “latest” is always stillborn.  It never even manages to arrive.  What is really NEW is what was there all the time.  I say, not what has REPEATED ITSELF all the time; the really “new” is that which, at every moment, springs freshly into new existence.  This newness never repeats itself.  Yet it is so old it goes back to the earliest beginning.  It is the very beginning itself, which speaks to us.

~ Thomas Merton

Quote: Thomas Merton “Speaking Out for the Inside”

Possibly our society will be wrecked because it is completely taken up with externals and has no grasp on this inner dimension of life.

Thomas Merton to John Hunt, Senior Editor of the Saturday Evening Post.  He “invited Merton to write a piece about monasticism for the “Speaking Out”  column.  As the following letter indicates, Merton had other ideas.  The article was never written.”  

[Big surprise there.]  

December 18th, 1966

“Thanks for your letter of the 13th.  All right, I am still open to all kinds of suggestions and even have one of my own…  Let’s see how I can put it in a few words:

Say an article “Speaking Out for the Inside”.  An attempt to make people realize that life can have an interior dimension of depth and awareness which is systematically blocked by our habitual way of life, all concentrated on externals.  The poverty of a life fragmented and dispersed in “things” and built on a superficial idea of the self and its relation to what is outside and around it.  Importance of freedom from the routines and illusions which keep us subject to things, dependent on what is outside us.  The need to open up an inner freedom and vision, which is found in relatedness to something in us which we don’t really know.  This is not just the psychological unconscious.  It is much more than that.  Tillich called it the ground of our being.  Traditionally it is called “God,” but images and ideas of the deity do not comprehend it.  What is it?

The real inner life and freedom of man begin when this inner dimension opens up and man lives in communion with the unknown within him.  On the basis of this he can also be in communion with the same unknown in others.  How to describe it?  Impossible to describe it.  Is it real?  People like William James “scientifically” verified its reality at least as a fact of experience in many lives.  The appetite for Zen etc., reflects a need for this.  What is Zen?  What about LSD?  What can one do?  And with some observations on the tragic effect of neglect on this: possibly our society will be wrecked because it is completely taken up with externals and has no grasp on this inner dimension of life.

That is rather tough, and will demand a lot of your readers.  My suggestion is: frankly admit the toughness and unpalatableness of the subject and treat it as it is.  Some may be hit, most will remain indifferent.”


From: Thomas Merton:  A Life in Letters: The Essential Collection.  Edited by William H.  Shannon and Christine M. Bochen.  New York, 2008., p. 189f.


Quote: Thomas Merton on Perspectives

If we had to rely on our love, where would we be?

“You say you do not think you love God, and that is probably perfectly true.  But what matters is that God loves you, isn’t it?  If we had to rely on our love, where would we be?”

~ Thomas Merton to Etta Gullick, March 8th, 1966

%d bloggers like this: