Monday, June 21, 2010

Poem for Thomas Merton by Dan Berrigan, Part 1

1. 1969 Opened Like This

I wish I had some joy --
the text of eyes that pay
this year, all the last exacted; tears.
When Merton died, we met, struck dumb,
the old year's locking jaw
let blood, one last time; death, then this death

We blow up big the photo Griffin made --
Kentucky woods, hunched arms
overalls, Picasso moon face, Eyes

like a wrapt stranger among mourners
on a road, of a noon, in a landscape
stinking like graves.  Hands outstretched
     filled with this world's
          (no other's)
               flowers, wounds;
               I have some joy!


  1. you can see some similarities between the two poets in their words. both have (had) a strong sense of themselves and a belief in the inherent goodness of life. Merton kind of stuck out in that respect from most of the "City Lights" published poets who tended to be "beat" about life. there's also a similarity in the love of simplicity and the search for the contemplative in the rejection of the sensual assault

  2. Yes, I think you're right burpenstein, about the strong underlying sense (and trust) in the inherent goodness of life.

    I still am challenged by Berrigan's poetry. He seems to me to be very steeped in an ancient (Biblical?) understanding. The imagery he uses feels very "old" to me - from some deep and forgotten place. In many ways he doesn't feel near so "modern" as Merton does. Interesting, considering their lives, Berrigan would be seen as more "worldly" and Merton more "ancient" or at least "medieval".

  3. Yes, I agree - very perceptive: deep and forgotten place - that's great. Berrigan has more of the Old Testament prophet about him. Medieval - yes, very Jesuit certainly. He was challenged by one critic to write a poem without using the words "death" or "heart".

  4. Loved this, thank you.




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