Friday, August 3, 2007


In the mid 1950’s Merton wrote a long poem, “Elias: Variations on a Theme”. John Eudes Bamberger, in an article for the Cistercian magazine, speaks of the poem as “one of the more forceful expressions he [Merton] has given to this complex vision of monastic spirituality which combined spiritual maturity, liberty, solitude, the deepening of human experience, protest against infringement of man’s dignity”.

The poem marked something of a turning point for Merton. It came after he had made a private retreat and was central to his thoughts on solitude. He was convinced that he had a solitary vocation of some sort but realizing that solitary vocations do not fit into “neat categories” (as in “carthusian”).

Go back where everyone, in heavy hours,
Is of a different mind, and each is his own burden,
And each mind is its own division
With sickness for diversion and war for
Business reasons. Go where the divided
Cannot stand to be too well. For then they would be held
Responsible for their own misery.

I love this poem, with its evocations of nature and the world, time, despair and unimaginable hope, aloneness and mysterious silence. The entire poem is here.


  1. I've decided not to go to the rest of the poem via the link you have kindly provided..not yet. This excerpt is enough for me right now...there is so much to ponder, even in these short lines. Thanks, Beth.

  2. Went over to read the poem, beth. I found the last verse very moving. I really get the feeling that Merton has come to the realization there that he is still somewhat a prisoner of his own will.

  3. Veritas, the stanza that I quoted here was the one that most stood out for me. It's a powerful insight, for me, recognizing that I hold the keys and possibility to my own freedom. The "sickness for diversion and war for business reasons" is so true, both universally and personally.

    The last stanze is still "thick" for me, Gabrielle. I don't doubt that Merton knew that he was a prisoner of his own will. I sense in that stanza an allusion to the call of the monk, and the unique stance of the monk before/with God. The patience (of the stone), the silence and the stillness, and the absolute faithfulness to and trust in God.



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