Jan 19 2018

Thomas Merton – Stranger

Published by at 10:12 am under Poetry

Stranger
by Thomas Merton

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

One cloud upon the hillside,
Two shadows in the valley
And the light strikes home.
Now dawn commands the capture
Of the tallest fortune,
The surrender
Of no less marvelous prize!

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws become prodigals
Limits are torn down
For envy has no property
And passion is none.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!

— from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Image by trumeye /

Isn’t this a wonderful poem given to us by Merton? It’s worth going back and reading it again with a sense of inner stillness. (Go ahead, I’ll wait…)

The way this poem opens is fascinating —

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

The “no one” here is you and me, Merton himself, the speaker of the poem. We encounter the real magic and mystery of the world when we can witness it as “no one.” That’s “Where peace begins / And rages end” — when there is no idea of self to assert its right to be the central focus of everything.

That’s when things unfold and reveal themselves to be deeply and utterly themselves:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

(Love those lines. The witness is so still, almost non-existent, and we are left selfless amidst the “work of God.”)

And then we have the “Stranger” of the poem’s title–

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

When the small, noisy self steps aside, we discover the vast, silent Self within, almost unknown to us, a stranger, yet there nonetheless, seated in wordless immensity. “Seize up my silence / Hold me in Thy Hand!” That’s the way. Fierce and trembling, the mystic calls out to be grabbed whole by that unknown, oh-so-intimate one.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!


Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study


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. He was also a gifted poet.

More poetry by Thomas Merton

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Thomas Merton – Stranger”

  1. Carol Burnson 20 Jan 2018 at 5:47 am

    Thank you Ivan. I do love Merton’s writing and agree this poem is special. So glad
    your new book is out and I look forward to ordering a copy.

    I am having many computer problems – will be changing my email address

    Looking forward to 2018 and the silence I may find there.

    Peace and Love, Carol

  2. Bob Corbinon 24 Jan 2018 at 11:36 pm

    Yes, Merton’s “no one” could be the “nobody” of the Sufi or Emily Dickinson.

    But i read the poem differently.

    There is new day dawning “where rages end and peace begins, but i do not look at so i do not experience it.

    I start by not looking at trees and end not looking for the Divine.

  3. Annaon 25 Jan 2018 at 10:00 am

    The first part of poem exactly reminded me about
    the classical philosophical thought experiment,
    that raises questions regarding observation and perception.

    “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

    Probably the answer could be in the Quantum Theory,
    or in the multidimensionality…or in the Stranger…

    Who knows…free choice and free interpretation…:)

    The second part makes sense , especially in the part of the Ocean…

    Does the Dark is also part of the Ocean and it stand still too?

    Does The Stranger is separate from the Ocean?

    If we shift the whole paradigm and accept, that we are

    The Ocean,

    The Stranger,

    The light and The Dark,

    Then
    No longing,
    No seeking,
    No separation…
    Just

    Wholeness…

    Make sense?

    Thank you for your patience and waiting, Ivan…

    Today is so strange day,
    Neither good, nor bad,
    Just a sense of floating, swimming…
    to nowhere…

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