POETRY: A Whitsun Canticle, by Thomas Merton

A Whitsun Canticle, by Thomas Merton

Olivet, Olivet!  Where heaven robbed us
And stole our Christ, and sailed Him to the sky!
Oh, on that day His garments fluttered like a thousand flags
To see His feet command the sunny air.
You did not weep, Jerusalem: your towers and domes
Surprised the firmament with smiles of bronze.

Oh, could you not console us, you applauding acres
Better than the angels and their white command
Who packed and shuttered us, in utter beggary,
Behind the thin doors of the Cenacle?

But blindness falls more lightly than a shell
And look, our newborn eyes, as keen as children,
Knowing no splash or smear of too much light,
Laugh in the sharpest wonder of their vision
And drink the oceanic pressure of their sudden glory.

Father, Father, Whom we thought so hidden
Somewhere behind the jealous walls of Mars,
Oh how You visit us, at the deep roots of life,
With glad reprisals.
Oh drown us in the compound fortunes of these ten days’ usury,
Reproach our lamentation with these fiery tongues:
Pay all our ransoms with a flock of notes
New-minted in Your golden furnaces.
Astound our nature with the wealth of Your revenge
For all our fear, and our concern.
Then pour us from the Cenacle into the sunny streets
And we will go evangelize the continents.

Minds, minds, sing like spring
To see the hills that fling their hands into the air:
To see the trees all yield their gladness to the tender winds
And open wide their treasuries:
Behold the birds, released like angels, from those leafy palaces,
With fire and blue and red-gold splashing in their painted wings,
Each one proclaiming part of the Apocalypse.
They aim their flights at all the four horizons
And fire their arrows of tremendous news.

World, world, sing like spring
To hear the harvests praising Heaven with a thousand voices:
Behold the fertile clouds, in golden fleets,
Like flying frigates, full of gifts.
Behold the clouds, with loads of Gospel,
Splendid and simple as Apostles, in their outward flight!
The waters of the sea all flash with laughter,
Leaping as if to kiss those high, high galleons,
That ride the heavens, full of freight.

But who shall tell the blazes and exchanges
The hidden lightning and the smiles of blinding night,
The kiss and vanish of the sudden invitation,
The game and promise of espousal?

O Holy Spirit, hear, we call Your Name aloud,
We speak You plain and humble in the terms of prayer,
Whatever talk You grant us:
One day we run among the rocks as lithe as lions,
But it is better that, the next, You tame our jubilee,
And prune our praises lean as supplication:
Make us believe You better in the crazy desert,
And seek You better in the skipping heat,
Follow Your messages until we beat our heads
Against the jazz of the horizon.
We’ll find You there as much as in the caves of shade,
The grass and springs of the oasis:
But only wring us always, at the center of our inward earth,
Artesian secrets for the roots of love.

But if we walk up to the waist
In the green exultation of the growing harvest,
And if, in the ripe days, the sheaves and increase,
Springing to life on the off-beat of the tractor’s congas
Bound from the bouncing binder light as lambs:
Or if we fly, like doves, to the blue woods and consolations
Of the peaceful August,
And in high hiding ring our muffled bells:
Forgive us, always, if our clumsy wills,
Reeling with the possession of so pure a pleasure,
Stumble and break the bottles of our Pentecost.

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