The Holy Child's Song - Written in 1944

When midnight occupied the porches of the Poet's reason
Sweeter than any bird
He heard the Holy Child.

Song
"When My kind Father, kinder than the sun,
With looks and smiles bends down
And utters My bodily life,
My flesh, obeying, praises Heaven like a smiling cloud.
Then I become the laughter of the watercourses.
I am the gay wheat fields, the serious hills:
I fill the sky with words of light, and My incarnate songs
Fly in and out the branches of My childish voice
Like thrushes in a tree.

"And when My Mother, pretty as a church,
Takes Me upon her lap, I laugh with love,
Loving to live in her flesh, which is My house and full of
light!
(Because the sky My Spirit enters in at all the windows)
O, then what songs and what incarnate joys
Dance in the brightest rays of My childish voice!

"In winter when the birds put down their flutes
And wind plays sharper than a fife upon the icy rain,
I sit in this crib,
And laugh like fire, and clap My golden hands:
To view my friends the timid beasts-
Their great brown flanks, muzzles and milky breath!

"Therefore come, shepherds, from your rocky hill,
And bend about My crib in wonder and adore My joy.
My glances are as good as wine.
The little rivers of My smile
Will wash away all ruins from your eyes,
As I lift up My hands,
As white as blackthorn blossoms,
And charm and kiss you with My seven sacraments.

"This seeming winter is your spring
When skies put off their armor:
Because My Heart already holds
The secret mortal wound,
By which I shall transform all deserts into garden-ground:
And there the peaceful trees,
All day say credos, being full of leaves -
And I will come and be your noon-day sun,
And make your shadows palaces of moving light:
And you will show Me your flowers."

When the midnight occupied the porches of the Poet's reason
Sweeter than any bird
He heard the Holy Child.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Aubade: The Annunciation - Written in 1946

When the dim light, at Lauds, comes strike her window,
Bellsong falls out of Heaven with a sound of glass.

Prayers fly in the mind like larks,
Thoughts hide in the height like hawks:
And while the country churches tell their blessings to the
distance,
Her slow words move
(Like summer winds the wheat) her innocent love:
Desires glitter in her mind
Like morning stars:

Until her name is suddenly spoken
Like a meteor falling.

She can no longer hear shrill day
Sing in the east,
Nor see the lovely woods begin to toss their manes.
The rivers have begun to sing.
The little clouds shine in the sky like girls:
She has no eyes to see their faces.

Speech of an angel shines in the waters of her thought
like diamonds,
Rides like a sunburst on the hillsides of her heart.

And is brought home like harvests,
Hid in her house, and stored
Like the sweet summer's riches in our peaceful barns.

But in the world of March outside her dwelling,
The farmers and the planters
Fear to begin their sowing, and its lengthy labor,
Where, on the brown, bare furrows,
The winter wind still croons as dumb as pain.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Advent - Written in 1946

Charm with your stainlessness these winter nights,
Skies, and be perfect! Fly, vivider in the fiery dark, you quiet meteors,
And disappear.
You moon, be slow to go down,
This is your full!

The four white roads make off in silence
Towards the four parts of the starry universe.
Time falls like manna at the corners of the wintry earth.
We have become more humble than the rocks,
More wakeful than the patient hills.

Charm with your stainlessness these nights in Advent,
holy spheres,
While minds, as meek as beasts,
Stay close at home in the sweet hay;
And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight.

Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over all our
solemn valleys,
You skies: and travel like the gentle Virgin,
Toward the planets' stately setting,

Oh white full moon as quiet as Bethlehem!

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Carol - Written in 1946

Flocks feed by darkness with a noise of whispers,
In the dry grass of pastures,
And lull the solemn night with their weak bells.

The little towns upon the rocky hills
Look down as meek as children:
Because they have seen come this holy time.

God's glory, now, is kindled gentler than low candlelight
Under the rafters of a barn:
Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,
And Wisdom's born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.

And O! Make holy music in the stars, you happy angels.
You shepherds, gather on the hill.
Look up, you timid flocks, where the three kings
Are coming through the wintry trees;

While we unnumbered children of the wicked centuries
Come after with our penances and prayers,
And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay
Beside the wise men's golden jars.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Rahab's House - Written in 1946

Now the lean children of the God of armies
(Their feet command the quaking earth.)
Rise in the desert, and divide old Jordan
To crown this city with a ring of drums.
(But see this signal, like a crimson scar
Bleeding on Rahab's window-sill,
Spelling her safety with the red of our Redemption.)

The trumpets scare the valley with their sudden anger,
And thunderheads lean down to understand the
nodding ark,
While Joshua's friend, the frowning sun,
Rises to burn the drunken houses with his look.
(But far more red upon the wall
Is Rahab's rescue than his scarlet threat.)

The clarions bind the bastions with their silver treble,
Shiver the city with their golden shout:
(Wells dry up, and stars fly back, The eyes of Jericho go out,)
The drums around the reeling ark
Shatter the ramparts with a ring of thunder.

The kings that sat
On gilded chairs,
The princes and the great
Are dead.
Only a harlot and her fearful kindred
Fly like sparrows from that sudden grin of fire.

It is the flowers that will one day rise from Rahab's earth,
That have redeemed them from the hell of Jericho.

A rod will grow
From Jesse's tree,
Among her sons, the lords of Bethlehem,
And flower into Paradise.

Look at the gentle irises admiring one another by
the water,
Under the leafy shadows of the Virgin's mercy, And all the
primroses and laughing flags
Bowing before Our Lady Mary in the Eden of her intercession,
And praising her, because they see the generations
Fly like a hundred thousand swallows into heaven,
Out of the jaws of Jerich,
Because it was the Son of God
Whose crimson signal wounded Rahab's wall,
Uttered our rescue in a figure of His Blood.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Landscape: Wheatfields - Written in 1947

Frown there like Cressy or like Agincourt,
You fierce and bearded shocks and sheaves
And shake your grain-spears,
And know no tremor in your vigilant
Your stern array, my summer chevaliers!

Although the wagons,
(Hear how the battle of those wheels,
Worrying the loose wood with their momentary thunder
Leaves us to guess some trestle, there, behind the sycamores.)
Although the empty wagons come,

Rise up, like kings out of the pages of a chronicle
And cry your courage in your golden beards;
For now the summer-time is half-way done,
Gliding to a dramatic crisis
Sure as the deep waters to the sedentary mill.

Arise like kings and prophets from the pages of an
ancient Bible,
And blind us with the burnish of your message in our June:
Then raise your hands and bless us
An depart, like old Melchisedech, and find your
proper Salem.

The slow hours crowd upon us.
Our days slide evenly toward the term of all our liturgy,
And all our weeks are after Pentecost.

Summer divides his garrisons,
Surrenders up his strongest forts,
Strikes all his russet banners one by one.
And while these ancient men of war
Casting us in the teeth with the reproof of their surrender
(By which their fruitfulness is all fulfilled,)
Throw down their arms.

Face we the day when we go up to stake our graces
Against unconquerable God:
Try, with our trivial increase, in that time of harvest
To stem the army of His attributes!

Oh pray us full of marrow, Queen of Heaven,
For those mills, His truth, our glory!
Crown us with alleluias on that day of fight!

(Light falls as fair as lyres, beamy between the branches,
Plays like an angel on the mill-dam, where the lazy stream
Suddenly turns to clouds of song and rain,)
Oh pray us, Lady, full of faith and graces,
Arm us with fruits against that contest and comparison,
Arm us with ripeness for the wagons of our Christ!

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Canticle for the Blessed Virgin - Written in 1947

Die, Boreas,
And drown your ruins in the gaudy sea,
December, clash your cymbals once again
And put them away.
The crops come thronging from the ground.
The land is green with strength.
The harvests sing like confidence
In the ascetic earth.
Let there be no more patience
With your iron music, death:
Stand, continents, and wear the spring your crown!

The ox-eyed land,
The muted lakes,
The cloudy groves that praise you,
Lady, with their blooms,
Fuse and destroy their lights
And burn them into gold for you, great Virgin,
Coining your honor in the glorious sun.

The skies speed up to meet you, and the seas
Swim you the silver of their crests.
If you delay to come, we'll see the meteors, by night,
Skimming before your way,
Lighting the time of death's dismay
In lights as lithe as animals.
And God will blaze your pathway with the incandescent stars.

But oh! Queen of all grace and counsel,
Cause of our joy, Oh Clement Virgin, come:
Show us those eyes as chaste as lightning,
Kinder than June and true as Scripture.
Heal with your looks the poisons of the universe,
And claim your Son's regenerate world!

Because your Christ disposed Orion and Andromeda
And ordered the clean spheres,
And interplayed the chiming suns to be your toy,

Charm you with antiphon and psalmody
And canticle, and countersong;

Because your Christ
Fired the fair stars with argent for your raiment,
And charged the sinner's tears
With clean repentent lights -
(As on the day you found me in the dens of libraries
And crushed the jeweled head of heresy) -
He gave you every one of the redeemed to be your dowry
And angels for your crown.

Come from the compass quarter where the thunder sleeps
And let the pity of those eyes
Rout all the armies of our million dangers
Here where we lie in siege:
For you unlock the treasures of the bleeding Wood.
You hold the Mass-keys, and the locks of Calvary,
And All-grace springs in the founts of your demand.

Lady, whose smiles are full of counsel and theology,
Never have you withheld those seas of light
Whose surf confounds the keenest eye.
Grace me to be the soldier of your Scotus,
Arming my actions with the news
Of your Immaculate command.

You, who have saved me from the ones about to break me
On the iron wheels of sin,

And brought me from the torturer
With all the florins of the Parasceve:
If Christ will burn me clean
Of my red-handed perjuries,
Win me His Blood again, and blazon me His priest.

But if my hands that one time wore the stench of death
Are too unworthy of the Liturgy
That speaks our deathless Pasch in veils of Bread,
Make me, until my death, His priest in secret
Offering Mass in all-day's sacrifice.

Teach me to take all grace
And spring it into blades of act,
Grow spears and sheaves of charity,
While each new instant (new eternity),
Flowering with clean and individual circumstance,
Speaks me the whisper of His consecrating Spirit.
Then will obedience bring forth new Incarnations
Shining to God with the features of His Christ.

Tower, stars, and oh! You sun in Aries,
Shatter a way for her through the embattled weather,
Until the hills
Tidy their fields, and fill them full of flowers
For those Annunciations:

And hell shall melt his onsets
Faster than January's brawling clouds
Doomed by the music of her chariot.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Songs of Experience; India, One - Written in 1968
A Poem and Prayer to Golden Expensive Mother Oberoi

O thou Mother Oberoi
Crosseyed goddess of death

Showing your blue tongue
Dancing upon Shiva or someone
With sharks in front gas -
Tanks empty the ambassadors
Coming tonight they
Shine you up
You Intercom
Tinental Mam
Moth Mother Kali Con
Crete Oberoi not yet
Stained with the greygreen
Aftermoss of the monsoons
And a big clean pool
(Shacks out front and kids
In the red-flowers and
Goats) a big clean pool I say
With one American
General Motors type
Doing a slow breast
Stroke in the chlorinated
Indigo water where no
Slate-blue buffalo has ever
Got wet
O thou merciful naked
Jumping millionaire
Rich in skeletons and buffets
You have taken
All our money away
Wearing a precious collar
Of men's heads
(Those blacks love you at night
In a trance of drums
Sitting with red headlights
Between their eyebrows)
With shacks out front
When kids are playing
With dusty asses
In scarlet flowers
While on your immaculate
Carpets all the am-
Bassadors from General Electric
Slowly chase their bluehaired wives
In high-heeled sneakers.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


Death - Written in 1944

Where are the merchants and the money-lenders
Whose love sang in the wires between the seaports and the
inland granaries?

Is the old trader any safer than the sailor sent to drown
Crossing the world's end in a wooden schooner?
Where are the generals who sacked the sunny cities
And burned the cattle and the grain?
Or is the politician any safer in his offices
Than a soldier shot in the eye?

Take time to tremble lest you come without reflection
To feel the furious mercies of my friendship,
(Says death) because I come as quick as intuition.

Cliffs of your hangovers were never half so dizzy as my
infinite abyss:
Flesh cannot wrestle with the waters that ire in the earth,
Nor spirit rest in icy clay!

More than the momentary night of faith, to the lost dead,
Shall be their never-ending midnight:

Yet all my power is conquered by a child's "Hail Mary"
And all my night forever lightened by one waxen candle!

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


A Christmas Card - Written in 1947

When the white stars talk together like sisters
And when the winter hills
Raise their grand semblance in the freezing night,
Somewhere one window
Bleeds like the brown eye of an open force.

Hills, stars,
White stars that stand above the eastern stable.

Look down and offer Him.
The dim adoring light of your belief.
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.

Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century?

And when His Lady Mother leans upon the crib,
Lo, with what rapiers
Those two loves fence and flame their brillancy!

Here in this straw lie planned the fires
That will melt all our sufferings:
He is our Lamb, our holocaust!

And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet,
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt,
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


The Quickening of St. John the Baptist - Written in 1949
On the Contemplative Vocation

Why do you fly from the drowned shores of Galilee,
From the sands and the lavender water?
Why do you leave the ordinary world, Virgin of Nazareth,
The yellow fishing boats, the farms,
The winesmelling yards and low cellars
Or the oilpress, and the women by the well?
Why do you fly those markets,
Those suburban gardens,
The trumpets of the jealous lilies,
Leaving them all, lovely among the lemon trees?

You have trusted no town
With the news behind your eyes.
You have drowned Gabriel's word in thoughts like seas
And turned toward the stone mountain
To the treeless places.
Virgin of God, why are your clothes like sails?

The day Our Lady, full of Christ,
Entered the dooryard of her relative
Did not her steps, light steps, lay on the paving leaves
like gold?
Did not her eyes as grey as doves
Alight like the peace of a new world upon that house, upon
miraculous Elizabeth?

Her salutation
Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother's body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery.

Sing in your cell, small anchorite!
How did you see her in the eyeless dark?
What secret syllable
Woke your young faith to the mad truth
That an unborn baby could be washed in the Spirit of God?
Oh burning joy!

What seas of life were planted by that voice!
With what new sense
Did your wise heart receive her Sacrament,
And know her cloistered Christ?

You need no eloquence, wild bairn,
Exulting in your hermitage.
Your ecstasy is your apostolate,
For whom to kick is contemplata tradere.
Your joy is the vocation of Mother Church's hidden children -
Those who by vow lie buried in the cloister or the hermitage;
The speechless Trappist, or the grey, granite Carthusian,
The quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare, Planted in the night of
contemplation, Sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.

Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry
Poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied
sermon.
Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
Seeking the world's gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world's frontier.

But in the days, rare days, when our Theotokos
Flying the prosperous world
Appears upon our mountain with her clothes like sails,
Then, like the wise, wild baby,
The unborn John who could not see a thing
We wake and know the Virgin Presence
Receive her Christ into our night
With stabs of an intelligence as white as lightning.

Cooled in the flame of God's dark fire
Washed in His gladness like a vesture of new flame
We burn like eagles in His invincible awareness
And bound and bounce with happiness,
Leap in the womb, our cloud, our faith, our element,
Our contemplation, our anticipated heaven
Till Mother Church sings like an Evangelist.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


The Annunciation - Written in 1957

Ashes of paper, ashes of a world
Wandering, when fire is done:
We argue with the drops of rain!

Until one comes Who walks unseen
Even in elements we have destroyed.
Deeper than any nerve
He enters flesh and bone.
Planting His truth, He puts our substance on.
Air, earth, and rain
Rework the frame that fire has ruined.
What was dead is waiting for His Flame.
Sparks of His Spirit spend their seeds, and hide
To grow like irises, born before summertime.
These blue thinas bud in Israel.

The girl prays by the bare wall
Between the lamp and the chair.
(Framed with an angel in our galleries
She has a richer painted room, sometimes a crown.
Yet seven pillars of obscurity
Build her to Wisdom's house, and Ark, and Tower.
She is the Secret of another Testament
She owns their manna in her jar.)

Fifteen years old -
The flowers printed on her dress
Cease moving in the middle of her prayer
When God, Who sends the messenger,
Meets His messenger in her Heart.
Her answer, between breath and breath,
Wrings from her innocence our Sacrament!
In her white body God becomes our Bread.

It is her tenderness
Heats the dead world like David on his bed.
Times that were too soon criminal
And never wanted to be normal
Evade the beast that has pursued
You, me and Adam out of Eden's wood.
Suddenly we find ourselves assembled
Cured and recollected under several green trees.

Her prudence wrestled with the Dove
To hide us in His cloud of steel and silver:
These are the mysteries of her Son.
And here my heart, a purchased outlaw,
Prays in her possession
Until her Jesus makes my heart
Smile like a flower in her blameless hand.

Return to Index of Thomas Merton's Marian Poetry


To the Immaculate Virgin, On a Winter Night - Written in 1949

Lady, the night is falling and the dark
Steals all the blood from the scarred west.
The stars come out and freeze my heart
With drops of untouchable music, frail as ice
And bitter as the new year's cross.

Where in the world has any voice
Prayed to you, Lady, for the peace that's in your power?
In a day of blood and many beatings
I see the governments rise up, behind the steel horizon,
And take their weapons and begin to kill.

Where in the world has any city trusted you?
Out where the soldiers camp the guns begin to thump
And another winter time comes down
To seal our years in ice.
The last train cries out
And runs in terror from this farmer's valley
Where all the little birds are dead.

The roads are white, the fields are mute
There are no voices in the wood
And trees make gallows up against the sharp-eyed stars.
Oh where will Christ be killed again
In the land of these dead men?

Lady, the night has got us by the heart
And the whole world is tumbling down.
Words turn to ice in my dry throat
Praying for a land without prayer,

Walking to you on water all winter
In a year that wants more war.

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