Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Divina Commedia

To Thomas Merton

I read your Seven Storey Mountain, noting your allusion to Dante.
You told us the story of your very gradual epiphany and conversion.
Your journey, as you describe it, began at Prades, France, born

To a sober American mother and an ebullient New Zealand father.
Painfully, you remembered your early years of spiritual alienation,
Punctuated by a delicate sorrow at your parents’ passing away.

Deceived by the false freedom of young adulthood, you lived
For a time as a wastrel, harrowing the hell of profligacy and desolation.
Yet all was not lost, drawn as you were to spiritual messages

Hidden in monastery ruins, timely theology, and sundry grace.
Of all things, a biography of Hopkins the poet played the tipping point.
Baptized to your joy, you matured in your desire to become a priest.

The Franciscans rejected you—no doubt, a good dose of humility
Softening you to discern the “True North” of your Trappist vocation.
Purified, you finally arrived, stumbling, atop Mount Purgatory.

Having washed in the waters of Lethe and drunk your fill of Eunoe,
You tarried, a new creature singing psalms, waxing ecstatic.
Then off you went again, ascending fitfully past the spheres.

The wisdom of the sun in the fourth sphere drew you constantly,
Tugging as low tide at the denizens beached in your intellect.
Habitually, you retreated to the seventh sphere of Saturn,

Peering in contemplation at your soul reflected in a glass, darkly.
Dropping by Mars to take up the pen for justice, you instigated
The question of whether contemplation is in deep truth action.

Delirious, you even dallied for a space on the inconstant moon.
This favor I now ask is within your power as Beatrice to grant:
Accompany me as a guide to the Empyrean vision of Paradiso.

Originally published in Cutbank Online (October 9, 2014) under the title, “Long Way From, Long Time Since: To Thomas Merton from Gonzalinho da Costa” 

Thomas Merton by John Howard Griffin. Used with permission
of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.


  1. December 10, 2014 is the death anniversary of Thomas Merton (1915-1968).


  2. “Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”—Papa Francesco, September 24, 2015