Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a contemplative monk who spent 27 years inside the walls of a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. Only in his last year was he permitted to travel at any length. Even though he was never at Auschwitz this poetry places him there so as to let a generous sensitivity and tenacious faith like his respond to this horrendous calamity. Merton stands for all those who, in the light of Auschwitz, ask the question: where was God, and in so asking expose their belief to severe trial. Merton's struggle with this question was lived out elsewhere. Only the location has been shifted in the poetry that follows.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
In a dream Thomas saw a green landscape
On which four plain white houses stood,
Each of them empty, but with open doors.
On entering one he saw everything
Just as it had been
Before they had stormed in
Ordering the six of them out
With whips to waiting trucks.
Thomas ran his finger slowly
Along the rim of a cup, half filled,
Then moved over to a row of books
And felt their leather bindings.
Was this the family he saw
At the Auschwitz entrance ramp
Standing there clinging together,
Defying the whip Hoess was signaling
'To right, to left' with?
He ran them off for that offence,
As Thomas watched,
To the very next gassing
Where they clung together tighter yet,
Gasping twisted words like prayers
Until they themselves had passed over.
They pried them apart with rods
And broke those arms still clasping
To fit them through the furnace door
To be slid into fire—
Two nights later the dream returned.
The landscape still green
The four white houses
With open doors and Thomas,
Whose faith had crumbled,
Entered the one he knew
And was blinded by light.
Then he glimpsed the High Priest
At table with the six of them—
And Thomas, the broken monk, woke,
And on seeing Him for one blurred instant
And needed faith no longer.