Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton (1915–1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

Thomas Merton was born in Prades, France. His New Zealand-born father, Owen Merton, and his American-born mother, Ruth Jenkins, were both artists. They had met at painting school in Paris, were married at St. Anne’s Church, Soho, London and returned to the France where Thomas Merton was born on January 31st, 1915.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism whilst at Columbia University and on December 10th, 1941 he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960’s. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called “certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States.” For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk’s trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.

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Silence, Joy

Poetry by Thomas Merton

Poet, monk, mystic, and social critic, Thomas Merton is a unique—and uniquely beloved—figure of the twentieth century, and Silence, Joy brings together his best-loved poems and prose. Drawn from classics like New Seeds of Contemplation and The Way of Chuang Tzu as well as less famous books, the writings in Silence, Joy offer the reader deep, calming stillness, flights of ecstatic praise, steadying words of wisdom, and openhearted laughter. Manna for Merton lovers and a warm embrace for novices, this slim collection is a delightful gift.…
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On Christian Contemplation

Poetry by Thomas Merton

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“Every moment and every event in every man’s life on Earth plants something in his soul,” wrote Thomas Merton. A Trappist monk, Merton was both a poet and a theologian who pondered monastic life. He was praised for his meditations and conversations with God, as well as interfaith dialogue, tolerance, and non-violent activism during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War. On Christian Contemplation, edited by Merton scholar Paul Pearson, is a collection of the great monk’s work, compiled into a gift-size edition.…
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On Eastern Meditation

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The Way of Chuang Tzu

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Working from existing translations, Thomas Merton composed a series of his own versions of the classic sayings of Chuang Tzu, the most spiritual of Chinese philosophers. Chuang Tzu, who wrote in the fourth and third centuries B.C., is the chief authentic historical spokesperson for Taoism and its founder Lao Tzu (a legendary character known largely through Chuang Tzu’s writings). Indeed it was because of Chuang Tzu and the other Taoist sages that Indian Buddhism was transformed, in China, into the unique vehicle we now call by its Japanese name—Zen.…
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Gandhi on Non-Violence

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“One has to speak out and stand up for one’s convictions. Inaction at a time of conflagration is inexcusable.” — Mahatma Gandhi. The basic principles of Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) and non-violent action (satyagraha) were chosen by Thomas Merton for this compendium in 1965. In his challenging introduction, Merton emphasizes action rather than pacifism as essential to non-violence, and illustrates how the foundations of Gandhi’s universal truths are linked to traditional Hindu Dharma, the Greek philosophers, and the teachings of Jesus Christ.…
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New Seeds of Contemplation

Fiction by Thomas Merton

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New Seeds of Contemplation is one of Thomas Merton’s most widely read and best-loved books. Christians and non-Christians alike have joined in praising it as a notable successor in the meditative tradition of St. John of the Cross, The Cloud of Unknowing, and the medieval mystics, and some have compared Merton’s reflections to those of Thoreau. New Seeds of Contemplation seeks to awaken the dormant inner depths of the spirit so long neglected by Western man, to nurture a deeply contemplative and mystical dimension in our lives.…
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In The Dark Before Dawn

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Poet, Trappist monk, religious philosopher, translator, social critic — the late Thomas Merton (1914-68) was all these things. Yet until now, no single selection from his great body of poetry has afforded a comprehensive view of his varied and progressively innovative work. In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems is not only a gathering double the size of Merton’s earlier Selected Poems (1967), it also arranges his poetry both thematically and chronologically, so that readers can follow the poet’s many complex, interrelated lines of thought as well as his poetic development over the decades.…
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Eighteen Poems

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Bread In The Wilderness

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Thoughts On The East

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An ecumenical anthology, Thoughts on the East gathers Merton’s essential definitions of the religions that so much interested him—Taoism, Buddhism (in many forms, but especially Zen), Sufism, and Hinduism. Unified by Merton’s belief that East and West share “a unity of outlook and purpose, a common spiritual climate,” this eclectic selection also offers a fascinating introduction by the late George Woodcock, author of the acclaimed critical study, Thomas Merton: Monk and Poet.…
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Thomas Merton In Alaska

Nonfiction by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton spent two weeks in Alaska in 1968 just prior to his fateful trip to the East. He had no thought of publication either of his journal or his conferences—the talks he gave to religious communities there. Although it was his nature to give his attention to what was immediately before him, he was counting the days until he would step onto the plane that would take off across the Pacific.…
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Seeds Of Contemplation

Nonfiction by Thomas Merton

Ever since its first publication in 1949, Seeds of Contemplation has had a long and lively history. The original edition, of which this book is a facsimile, was replaced by Thomas Merton with the revised and enlarged New Seeds of Contemplation in 1962 and finally brought out as a New Directions Paperbook in 1972, a book that has gone through many reprints and been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Chinese and Japanese.…
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The Literary Essays Of Thomas Merton

Nonfiction by Thomas Merton

As wide a following as the late Thomas Merton had while he lived, ever since his tragic accidental death in Bangkok in 1968, there has been a steady upsurge of interest in both his life and writings. A priest and Trappist monk by vocation, his theological works have been instrumental in reforming Western monasticism and in carrying on the religious dialogue between East and West; an enormously productive poet, his poems display an astonishing technical versatility and deeply felt humanity.…
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The Collected Poems Of Thomas Merton

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In 1944, New Directions brought out Thomas Merton’s first book of verse. By the time of his tragic, untimely death in 1968, Father Louis (as he was known at the Trappist monastery where he lived for twenty-seven years) had published upwards of fifty books and pamphlets, including several more collections of poetry. All of these poems have been assembled in a single, definitive volume (first published by New Directions in 1977) which includes much additional unpublished or uncollected material drawn from the archive of the Merton Studies Center at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky, or supplied by the poet’s friends and associates.…
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My Argument With The Gestapo

Fiction by Thomas Merton

Of the full-length prose works that Thomas Merton wrote before he entered the Cistercian Order in 1941, only My Argument with the Gestapo has survived––perhaps in part because it was a book that Merton never ceased wanting to see in print. Although it first appeared after his death in 1968, he had arranged for its publication, written a foreword for it, and was delighted with the prospect of its at last becoming a part of his published works.…
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The Asian Journals of Thomas Merton

Nonfiction by Thomas Merton

“The moment of takeoff was ecstatic… joy. We left the ground — I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering…” With these words, dated October 15, 1968, the late Father Thomas Merton recorded the beginning of his fateful journey to the Orient. His Asian journal is a record of the people he encountered and his impressions of Asian cities and landscapes, and is amply illustrated with photographs he himself took along the way.…
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The Geography Of Lograire

Poetry by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton’s final testament as a poet is his most ambitious long work and a remarkable poetic achievement. It was completed in the summer of 1968, a few months before he set out from Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky on the Asian journey from which he did not return. The text is as he left it. It lacks that final editing that he would have done in proof, but it is substantially a completed, self-contained work.…
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Zen And The Birds Of Appetite

Nonfiction by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, who died in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968, was internationally recognized as having one of those rare Western minds which was entirely at home in Asian experience. In this collection of essays he wrote about complex Asian concepts with a Western directness. One reason for this skill is that he had not only studied Buddhism from the outside, but had grasped it by empathy and living participation from within––while remaining a priest and Trappist monk.…
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Raids on the Unspeakable

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This paperbook collection of his prose writings reveals the extent to which Thomas Merton moved from the other-worldly devotion of his earlier work to a direct, deeply engaged, often militant concern with the critical situation of man in the world. Here this concern finds expression in poetic irony and in meditations intentionally dour. In these brief, challenging pieces, Father Merton does not offer consolation or easy remedies. He looks candidly and without illusions at the world of the Sixties.…
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The Wisdom of the Desert

Nonfiction by Thomas Merton

The Wisdom of the Desert was one of Thomas Merton’s favorites among his own books — surely because he had hoped to spend his last years as a hermit. The personal tone of the translations, the blend of reverence and humor so characteristic of him, show how deeply Merton identified with the legendary authors of these sayings and parables, the fourth-century Christian Fathers who sought solitude and contemplation in the deserts of the Near East.…
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I think spiritually he is elder.

—His Holiness the Dalai Lama
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