POETRY: Thomas Merton Sings Of Angels

thomas merton angels

Song for Our Lady of Cobre

The white girls lift their heads like trees,
The black girls go
Reflected like flamingoes in the street.

The white girls sing as shrill as water,
The black girls talk as quiet as clay.

The white girls open their arms like clouds,
The black girls close their eyes like wings:
Angels bow down like bells,
Angels look up like toys,

Because the heavenly stars
Stand in a ring:
And all the pieces of the mosaic, earth,
Get up and fly away like birds.


The Messenger

There is some sentry at the rim of winter
Fed with the speech the wind makes
In the grand belfries of the sleepless timber.

He understands the lasting strife of tears,
And the way the world is strung;
He waits to warn all life with the tongue of March’s bugle,
Of the coming of the warrior sun.

When spring has garrisoned up her army of water,
A million grasses leave their tents, and stand in rows
To see their invincible brother.
Mending the winter’s ruins with their laughter,
The flowers go out to their undestructive wars.

Walk in the woods and be witnesses,
You, the best of these poor children.

When Gabriel hit the bright shore of the world,
Yours were the eyes saw some
Star-sandalled stranger walk like lightning down the air,
The morning the Mother of God
Loved and dreaded the message of an angel.


The Winter’s Night

When, in the dark, the frost cracks on the window
The children awaken, and whisper.
One says the moonlight grated like a skate
Across the freezing river.
Another hears the starlight breaking like a knifeblade
Upon the silent, steelbright pond.
They say the trees are stiller than the frozen water
From waiting for a shouting light, a heavenly message.

Yet it is far from Christmas, when a star
Sang in the pane, as brittle as their innocence!
For now the light of early Lent
Glitters upon the icy step—
“We have wept letters to our patron saints,
(The children say) yet slept before they ended.”

Oh, is there in this night no sound of strings, of singers!
None coming from the wedding, no, nor Bridegroom’s messenger?
(The sleepy virgins stir, and trim their lamps.)

The moonlight rings upon the ice as sudden as a footstep;
Starlight clinks upon the dooryard stone, too like a latch,
And the children are again, awake,
And all call out in whispers to their guardian angels.


La Comparsa En Oriente

(A Conga)

Drums of the early evening wake
The mountain full of ore, and the canebrake.
Up at Cobre tall tambores call
One who rings gangarias with a nail,
One with feathers for sleeves,
One whose arms are birds,
One with a mouth full of great fires
And lights instead of words.

One with a tobacco leaf hat
Rings his drum like a bell,
And brings the saints of heaven, with claves,
Down from the starlit hill;
A black angel beats an ass’s jaw
And (tick tick) a white the claves
While the sodality of the blessed virgin
Follow after, carrying flowers.

Five angels beating bongos,
Seven saints ringing their bells,
Wear coats made out of paper money
And shoes made out of shells.
They clatter like a box of nickels,
Holding candle towers, on fire:
They whirl these as solemn as wise men,
Paper temples in the air.

Lights fly like birds behind the cane
And shot flies after, but in gourds,
When the comparsa goes off to the plains
With fires in her mouth, but now words:
For ten angels ring gangarias

When the comparsa goes away
With all the mountain people and pilgrims
Dancing down to Camaguey.

The pray for us, Mother of Jesus,
Caridad, Merced,
Queen of Cobre and of the three towers
That watch over Camaguey:
The ten angels are playing gangarias
And the comparsa goes away.

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