Jul 16 2008

Thomas Merton – In Silence

Published by at 10:03 am under Poetry

In Silence
by Thomas Merton

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.
Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”


/ Photo by icelight /

Although I’ve found this poem posted on several websites on the Internet, I haven’t been able to track down the book it was originally published in. And most of my books are neatly packed up in boxes at the moment. Does anyone happen to know which book this poem can be found in?

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.

Or should we just say it is found in silence?

I love the questions that impregnate this poem.

Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.

Does your name have any inherent meaning?
Are you your name?
When people call your name, are they calling you, or some idea of you?
If you are not your name, what is the purpose of a name?
If you are not your name, what then do you call yourself?

Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

This is more than a question, really, almost an insistent demand: Who are you? Who are you?

But the question isn’t tossed to the busy, thinking mind, which has a thousand quick answers. Merton insists on silence. Remove the background of environment, society, relationship, even thoughts about yourself. THEN ask the question, Who are you? WHO are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet).

In that open silence, the question shifts and morphs. WHAT are you?
Perhaps you are someone else’s dream…?
Or someone else’s silence…?
Are you separate from the silence?
Do you even exist in that emptiness?
Have you simply imagined yourself?
Can you re-imagine yourself?
HOW would you re-imagine yourself?

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

Who (be quiet) are you?

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

Merton suggests that there is a grand, universal dialog occurring all around us — in that overlooked silence. Everything is alive, and flowing through that life is a silence, and that silence is speaking to us.

You say you do not hear. But be silent, be quiet, be still. And you will realize that you are already part of the conversation.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:

Yes! BE your own silence!

To be filled with noise is to be distracted from you own self. To recognize your own silence, to be comfortable with it, to BE it — that requires nothing less than to be at ease with your heart and to rest like royalty there.

…and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire.

The whole world burns with this stillness. There is a light and a dancing life hidden in the silence.

How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”

And that silent fire can be overwhelming, frightening, for it consumes everything, including one’s ego and one’s name. So how can a man be still in the midst of such a conflagration?

The bold dare the flames anyway…

Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Thomas Merton is a Catholic monk and mystic who, perhaps more than anyone else in the 20th century, is associated with opening up a dialog between the spiritual traditions of East and West. He himself studied many Eastern spiritual practices deeply, particularly Zen Buddhist meditation and philosophy.

He is best known today for his essays on the spiritual life, especially his first book, The Seven Storey Mountain, but he was also a gifted poet. Many of his later poems reflect his own mystical awakening.

More poetry by Thomas Merton

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Thomas Merton – In Silence”

  1. michael firewalkeron 16 Jul 2008 at 5:51 am

    what a powerhouse poem this is!…and needful, at least for michael…your gifts to us always inspire, and more than that, they leave us feeling free to express our full and honest responses to what you have shared…however, that has gotten michael into a lot of trouble over the last couple of days…so I have really had to search my heart over it…

    in this poem, Thomas Merton says we must know ourselves in the stillness of our silence…regarding your presentation "From my youth I piled studies upon studies", michael expressed a concern which was interpreted by nari as a manifestation of michael's spiritual ego…this troubled michael some, as he would ever intend to offend either Ivan or nari with his ego in any way…

    after the heart search, in the silence of which you and Thomas Merton speak, the original concern michael had remained as just it initially was, which is that it might be a good thing to add a bit more emphasis, for the purpose of balance, on the reasons why we do study sacred scripture…and even though you had already emphasized that, michael felt to add the fact that Life itself actually lives inside the sacred words we read, and therefore we do need to study them, as you said we do, in order that we might receive that eternal Life from them…that was all michael was trying to do, which seems exactly what you are asking for when you ask us to offer a response to your inspirational thoughts…

    but, if I offended you, I am deeply sorry for that…with you, I do not feel guarded and fearful to speak my mind…you always feel free inside michael's heart, and so he responded freely…

    am going to search out some Thomas Merton books now…

    thank you for your patient listening, dear Ivan,

    michael

  2. Mary Jeanneon 16 Jul 2008 at 8:23 am

    Hope you are feeling better, Ivan. Also hope you are well enough to continue working on your book. You are working on a book, right?

  3. salamon 16 Jul 2008 at 8:05 pm

    My dear Ivan,
    Silence,has the power to move the mountains.stillness has the power to shake the universe.
    Its always the antidote,its honey.cure to poison.
    I, my name, who am i,are just lost when one stands on the other side of the, breath.
    Long back my Murshid told me.It was the silence of Shamas & RUMI which rest could not under stand and killed the SHAMS.Is SHAMS dead NO.Rest live no more,but Rumi gave breath to SHAMS.So they are alive Two candles(flames) & two(many) names with one light.
    regards.
    salam

  4. chisengaon 17 Jul 2008 at 12:44 am

    If I recall correct, the poem is from Merton's 1957 poetry book, "The strange island". Thanks for sending and sharing…

    to also say a few words, reading the poem am re-minded of what's been on my heart lately. Nothing extraordinary so to speak, just those ordinary words: 'I am,' and how so much stillness is held within them. I am. Who am I, really? Chisenga? whose beneath the me, the name? self? the personality? whats the secret behind the distinct? beyond the realm of I am this I am that? who is thinking of 'this' and the 'that', to connect the I am to, with?

    I am that I am….I am confused now ah

  5. Ivan M. Grangeron 17 Jul 2008 at 8:41 am

    Chisenga — thank you. I’ve gotten a few emails saying the same thing, that the poem appears in “The Strange Island.” It may also have been reprinted in a few later collections, but I haven’t been able to verify that yet. (The Poetry Chaikhana community is better than Google — send out a question and get knowledgeable answers from all over the globe!)

  6. Ivan M. Grangeron 17 Jul 2008 at 8:43 am

    Someone pointed out the appropriate timing of posting this poem — on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, toward whom Merton felt a great devotion.

  7. bob knabon 22 Jul 2008 at 12:50 am

    i stopped doing poetry
    alas
    this great one said this
    this one said that
    so what !
    more words
    nice words of little value
    the voice of the birds song
    just looking for
    food
    or
    sex
    now this is something of value *

    bob knab

  8. Ivan M. Grangeron 22 Jul 2008 at 3:15 pm

    bob,

    any purpose to birdsong?
    none
    but to feel the breast expand
    and fill the silence
    with melody
    Ivan

  9. Chrison 24 Jul 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Ivan,
    It seems to inspire,
    Lines of the sanctus,
    Like ageless beauty,
    Like a cadence of silence,
    As it bears upon my mind.

    My gratitude to the poems you have posted. It is beautiful.

  10. maryon 11 Mar 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Ivan, I found your blog when looking for this poem, which is possibly my favorite Merton poem. Your comments on it are lovely, as well, so I was wondering if I could post a link to this blog on mine?

  11. Ivan M. Grangeron 11 Mar 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Mary,
    Yes, please feel free to link to the Poetry Chaikhana blog any time you think it will interest visitors to your own site.
    Ivan

  12. maryon 11 Mar 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you, Ivan!

  13. Jim Atwellon 12 Mar 2009 at 6:50 am

    In silence I find myself
    In silence I existed before I could speak my name.
    In silence I was alone.
    And then I breathed the breath of silence and became.
    Now I call to myself with the language of a quiet breath.
    Love I am calling.
    You need not answer for I am the silence of your song.

    Much Love
    Jim Atwell

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