Monday, August 6, 2007

solitude, thoughts in solitude

In 1958 Merton’s book, Thoughts in Solitude, was published. The material was actually written about 5 years before and was strongly influenced by Merton’s reading of Max Picard’s book, World in Silence.

Merton’s concept of solitude takes on a more universal tone as he relates it to interior freedom and the gift of oneself to society. He insists that persons in society are not mechanical units; but rather that their existence rests upon a sacred personal solitude. In the preface to Thoughts in Solitude Merton remarks that solitude is not just “a recipe for hermits. It has a bearing on the whole future of man and of his world.”

Merton related solitude to certain virtues, perhaps especially “poverty of the spirit. He composed a poem, “When in the soul of the serence disciple …”, with its first stanza:

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty has become a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone
He has not even a house.

(read the entire poem here)

“In Silence”, an especially beautiful poem, was also written during this time.

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

To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?

(read the entire poem here)

[Note: Quotes from Picard’s “World are Silence” are here.]


  1. Beth,
    Thank you for this poem, I can understand and relate to this one better than elias. I've printed both and will continue to reflect on them both. I feel like I might have gotten into something a bit over my head here!! Today I read philosophy of solitude in Disputed Questions. Phew! just when I think I might have gained a proper insight on solitude, bam! I read something that tells me I don't have a clue.
    One part that I do understand completly is where he writes, "There are crimes which no one would commit as an individual which he willingly and bravely commits when acting in the name of his society, because he has been (too easily)convinced that evil is entirely different when it is done "for the common good" "
    This I get, and am always struggling with in myself. Guilt by association.
    Time for a walk on the beach!


  2. THanks for your thoughts and the quote, Sean.

    Yep, Philosophy of Solitude is just where I'm headed. I'm going to take it slow, though, because it can get thick! :-) ...



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