POETRY: Gethsemani, KY (selections), by Thomas Merton

gethsemane thomas merton


Spring has come with its smell of Nicaragua:
Smell of earth recently rained on, and smell of heat,
Of flowers, of disinterred roots, wet leaves,
(And I have heard the lowing of distant cattle. . .)
Or is it the smell of love? But this love
Is not yours. Love of country, is the Dictator’s love
The fat Dictator with his sports clothes and panama hat:
He was the one who loved the country, stole it,
And possessed it. In the earth he lies embalmed:
While love has taken you away to a strange land.


Like the flights of ducks
That go over calling
That in the autumn nights go over calling
To lagoons in the south they never saw,
And do not know who takes them, nor where they go,
So we are carried to Thee not knowing where.
Just like the flights of ducks that come from the south
And pass over Kentucky calling in the night.


Every evening the L&N
Goes singing through these Kentucky fields
And I seem to hear the little train at home
In Nicaragua, when it borders the Managua Lake
Across from the volcano, just before
Mateare, going around the bend
Across the Bird Island, piping and singing
Its iron song of wheels and rails,
With the first lights of Managua there
Far off, shining in the waters. . .
The L&N goes off
Into the distance with its song.


The sound of passing cars, (if a car comes)
On the highway outside the noviciate
Is like sea surf. You hear one begin
To come far off and the sound grows
More and more, the motor roars,
Tires sing on the damp tar
And then it goes away, dies down,
Is no longer heard. Later some other engine
In the distance, begins to come again.
Like waves in the sea. And I, like waves
In the sea, once ran along tar roads that go
To no definite place. And still at times
It seems I go by the same roads
And do not stop going and arrive at no place,
That I am not the one in the noviciate
Seeing the cars pass,
But that I have seen the noviciate
Through the window of that car that just went by.


When the first signs go on
When they light up the marquees
Of the movie theaters
Here we hear nothing but swallows.
At 7 p.m. the Trappists go to bed
In broad daylight, like noon,
And with a full moon like midnight.
The horses are quiet in the stable.
The trucks sleep in the garage.
The tractors are still
Before the barn.
Above the water tank: the aluminum moon.


The long freight train
Wakes me in my cell
I hear it coming from far off
In the night. It passes and passes, whistling,
Seeming that it will never all get past:
Cars and cars and cars bumping along!
I fall asleep again, and it is still passing
Panting in the distance and still whistling,
And between dreams I ask myself
Why they still have trains
And where they take their freight, and what freight,
Where the cars come from
And where they can possibly go.


The zinc roofs in the moonlight
And the tin shop, the gas tank
And the water tank, all look like silver.
Like a star, like a cigarette,
Far out, over Nally’s hill,
A passenger plane
Passes and flashes in the night.


A dog barks far out
Behind the black wood.
Further still
Behind another wood,
Another dog answers.


Like empty beer cans, like cigarette butts;
My days have been like that.
Like figures passing on a TV screen
And disappearing, so my life has gone.
Like cars going by fast on the roads
With girls laughing and radios playing.
Beauty got obsolete as fast as car models
And forgotten radio hits.
Nothing is left of those days, nothing,
But empty beer cans, cigarette butts,
Smiles on faded photos, torn tickets
And the sawdust with which, in the mornings,
They swept out the bars.


I turned out the light to see the snow,
And I saw snow through the window and a new moon.
But I saw that both snow and moon
Were also a window pane
And that behind that pane you were watching me.


I do not know who is out in the snow
All that is seen in the snow is his white habit
And at first I saw no one at all:
Only the plain white sunlit snow.
A novice in the snow is barely visible.
And I feel that there is something more in this snow
Which is neither snow nor novice, and is not seen.


That auto horn sounds familiar.
So does this wind in the pines.
This zinc noviciate roof
Reminds me of my house at home.
They are calling me with the auto horn.
But my house, near the road
Where the cars went by all day
Was sold years ago. Strangers live there.
This was no known car. It is gone.
The wind is the same. Only the sighing
Of this rainy autumn evening is well known.

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