Sep 27 2013

Thomas Merton – In Silence

Published by at 8:01 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?”

— from The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Photo by anoxado /

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 heat…






Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Thomas Merton was 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, from Zen meditation to Hindu yogic 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.

More poetry by Thomas Merton

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Thomas Merton – In Silence”

  1. John Prettymanon 28 Sep 2013 at 5:58 am

    Hello Ivan. I have have been having a discussion on Silence with a friend in South Dakota when you Merton verse came……almost as though someone was listening in on our conversation. I very much like your commentary. Meher Baba while in the USA in 1956 asks us to invite that silence into our hearts:

    The Immortality of Universal Life

    The silence which I have been observing for
    the past thirty-one years is a call from the silence
    of unfathomable Divinity. Invite that Divinity
    into your hearts so that you may become per-
    manently established in the immortality of uni-
    versal life, which is vastly different from the
    persistence of limited individual life. The ego-
    life has a beginning and an end; the Truth
    which I bring is beginingless and endless. In
    order to inherit that Truth you need the cour-
    age to jump across the abyss of duality.

    It is not possible to receive undying life in
    the Truth unless you surrender all resistance to
    it. You cannot drag along the prejudices of the
    past and yet hope to unfold Divinity within.
    You have to cut through the deposits of evolu-
    tion and reincarnation and be completely recep-
    tive and susceptible to the lessons of life. If you
    meet life squarely, accepting its opposites with
    equanimity while carrying on your duties in a
    spirit of selfless love and service, you will not
    only come in tune with the infinite, but you
    yourself will become the Infinite which you seek.

    Learn the art of taking your stand on the
    truth within. When you live in this Truth, the
    result is the fusion of the mind and the heart
    and the end of all fears and sorrow. It is not a
    dry attainment of mere power or intellectual
    knowledge. A love which is illumed by the
    intuitive wisdom of the spirit will bless your life
    with ever-renewing fulfillment and never-end-
    ing sweetness.
    Meher Baba

  2. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 01 Oct 2013 at 5:56 am

    “Cultivating contentment.” I love that phrase you gave us, Ivan.
    And your choice of Merton’s writing speaks to me of how to cultivate contentment. Silence will do it. Blessed silence. Last night I dreamt somebody said to me: “keep a space in front of you.” The poem is helping me to connect with that dream. Keeping the space will get me to listen, remember and recognize the signs of divinity all around and be content. I’m particularly happy about connecting with my name today.(this is a special day in my tradition- the feast of St. Therese) She knew how to listen to her heart and be content. Thank you for you and Merton for this gift today.
    Therese

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