15 January 2009

The Flight Into Egypt


Sr Macrina has written, 'I don’t really want to identify myself as a [Thomas] Merton groupie. (I appreciate his writing but am a bit uncomfortable with the cult that has arisen around him).' As an Orthodox Christian, I would certainly second that, and go even farther to say that I don't entirely appreciate all of his writing (see, for example, Hieromonk Damascene, Father Seraphim [Rose]: His Life and Works [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003], pp. 245-8, for a good articulation of some of the Orthodox misgivings about Merton).
I do, however, thoroughly appreciate many of Merton's poems. Here is one that should have gone up in honour of the Holy Innocents (from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, enlarged ed. [NY: New Directions, 1967], p. 4):

'The Flight Into Egypt'

Through every precinct of the wintry city
Squadroned iron resounds upon the streets;
Herod's police
Make shudder the dark steps of the tenements
At the business about to be done.

Neither look back upon Thy starry country,
Nor hear what rumors crowd across the dark
Where the blood runs down those holy walls,
Nor frame a childish blessing with Thy hand
Towards that fiery spiral of exulting souls!

Go, Child of God, upon the singing desert,
Where, with eyes of flame,
The roaming lion keeps Thy road from harm.

3 comments:

orrologion said...

Randomly picking up a copy of 'Seven Storey Mountain' in a Northampton, MA bookstore my sophomore year of college was a sort of intro to the possibility of a 'true' Christianity outside of confessional Lutheranism. (The beginning of the next year I randomly picked up a copy of 'Way of a Pilgrim' while roommates with the grandson of Russian nobility; the rest is history). I loved it. It's still the only book of his that I like. I tried reading all the rest, but it seemed to be so tied up with the particularities of the Roman Catholic Church of the day and the political and religious interests of the Left whose fruit is more readily seen from today. I go back to the 'Mountain' periodically, though I haven't for awhile.

Incidentally, the Catholic Worker is on the next block from my church here in NYC. A Hasidic Jewish man in MN I worked for over the summer also noted that when he was a godless youth in the 70s, carrying a copy of Merton was a sure way to get laid. That says something pertinent, I think.

aaronandbrighid said...

Yes, I certainly enjoyed 'Seven-Storey Mtn'. Merton also has a little book of essays called 'Disputed Questions' that has some interesting stuff in it. There's one on Mt Athos, one on the 'Ladder'--both interesting for the outsider's perspective, and two on sacred art that display a rather Orthodox sensibility. I also find a couple of the essays in there on Catholic figures and orders interesting and informative.

I bristle, however, every time I read J.B. Russell's assessment of the dedication of Vivian's trans. of Paphnutius in the former's foreword to that volume--'Fittingly, he dedicates his book to the truest modern son of the monastic desert, Thomas Merton.' Having met a few 'true sons of the monastic desert', this makes me want to gag!

It seems unlikely that carrying a copy of Fr Seraphim or, even more, Elder Aimilianos would get you laid!

orrologion said...

That is a weird dedication. There is really very little comparison between the tone of the desert fathers and Merton. One could possibly make other analogies, but not that.

Good, I will keep carrying such turn-off books as Fr. Seraphim, Elder Aimilianos and texts on Augustine. The wife will be happy, and just as turned off.