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
Thomas lay down to sleep
And saw a ladder
On which hoards of SS officers
Were scrambling down to grayish pits
Where riddled corpses of Jacob's sons
Were rising from the dead
Layer for layer and moving toward
That ladder to ascend.
And on waking Thomas took stones
That lay about
And set them one upon the other
Where the ladder had stood,
Held there by the Awful Presence
Hovering over its uppermost rung.
Looking up to the heavens
He heard no voice—
Only the muffled crack of rifles
Being fired on a mound
Onto which he saw them chasing