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The seventh and final volume of Thomas Merton's journals finds him exploring new territory, both spiritual and geographic, in the last great journey prior to his untimely death. Traveling in the United States and the Far East, Merton enjoys a new freedom that brings with it a rich mix of solitude, spirited friendship, and interaction with monks of other traditions.
In his last days in the United States, Merton continues to follow the tumultuous events closing the 1960s, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Meanwhile, with the blessing of his new abbot, Merton travels to monasteries in New Mexico and among the redwoods of Northern California, keeping his journal all the while. In these travels, as well as on a later trip to Alaska, he gains a better understanding of his eremitical yearnings and begins to see a way to reconcile his conflicting desires for solitude and fellowship.
When Merton wins approval to participate in a meeting of monastic superiors of the Far East in Bangkok, Thailand, his life enters its most thrilling period. Arriving in Calcutta, Merton is heartbroken by the poverty of the many beggars; in New Delhi and Dharamsala, he makes contact with local Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama. Recognizing each other as kindred spirits, Merton and the Dalai Lama speak from the heart like old friends.
In Bangkok at the beginning of December 1968, awaiting the beginning of the conference, Merton pens a letter home: "I think of you all on this Feast Day and with Christmas approaching I feel homesick for Gethsemani." Tragically, Christmas Day finds Merton back home after all. Electrocuted accidentally in his Bangkok room, Merton is returned to his beloved abbey to be laid to rest in a grave overlooking the woods so familiar to him from his twenty-seven years of monastic life at Gethsemani.
Thirty years after his death, the contributions of Thomas Merton remain as vital as ever. Completing the published Journals of Thomas Merton, The Other Side of the Mountain conveys the intense spiritual exploration and powerful lessons that filled his short life.
October 18, 1967
There was an eclipse of the moon about 4 to 5 this morning. The clouds cleared a little and I was able to see it begin. Then after I said Mass I went out and the eclipse was closer to full, the clouds had almost completely gone. The moon was beautiful, dimly red, like a globe of almost transparent amber, with a shapeless foetus of darkness curled in the midst of it. It hung there between two tall pines, silent, unexplained, small, with a modest suggestion of bloodiness, an omen without fierceness and without comment, pure.
There was a great deal of rain yesterday, and I talked with J [ohn] Ford, a Louisville attorney, about the estate, the Trust, etc. I hope finally something will get done. We have been at it for three years and nothing has happened. This is a new one -- I hope he will act. I should have got a Kentucky lawyer long ago, I guess.
Last evening at supper (wild rice, barbecued beans, knocked out my stomach) I read some of Leonard Woolf's Autobiography-the 4th volume (Downhill All the Way). What a job they did with that Hogarth Press! And what their list brings back to me -- the days when I bought second-hand novels and poetry in London Bookshops -- Eliot, Graves, Lawrence -- and Roger Fry whom they published also. Bloomsbury and their friends -- and the Royal Hotel which L.W sued. All this was a world where I was once a citizen.
Curious contest with the record of Janis Ian sent by a nun at Regina Laudis [monastery, Bethlehem, Connecticut]. Articulate, sensitive, vulnerable, disconcerting: a 15-year-old girl.
Blazing bright days, cool nights, my face still hot from burn as we sat yesterday at top of the long new farm cornfield -- Gene Meatyard, Jonathan Williams, Guy Davenport, Bonnie and I -- in noon sun and drank some beer. Hills glimmering with heat and color. Sky deep blue. All distances sharp. White dead corn leaves blowing about in the hot dust of the field, fully ravaged, fully harvested.
Gene brought some of his photos -- including ones taken around the beatup house down the road in June (the house now repaired and occupied, with a pickup standing outside under the locust tree).
Jonathan had an exciting and beautiful new book of concrete poetry.
Guy picked up the avocado seed Bob Shepherd [from Lexington] threw away there the other day when it was much colder.
Telegram from Doris Dana sent October 20, reached me (the note of the phone message) yesterday, 22nd. Not bad for here! The other day Rosemary Haughton came out (between lectures in Minneapolis and Chicago). It was curious to meet a theologian who is six months pregnant. In a long black cloak with hair blowing in the wind she sat on the concrete dam of Dom Frederic's Lake. I hope my picture of that is good. She is quiet, intelligent, not the obstreperous kind of activist progressive, concerned about a real contemplative life continuing, etc.
Saturday, with some satisfaction, finished "The Sacred City" essay (or rather Sunday morning when I added a final half page) on Monte Alban. I enjoyed writing this and it came easy.
J. W. Hackett has sent a volume of his English Haiku. I am not convinced Haiku can or should be written in English. His are, it seems to me, somewhat weakened by too many present participles and adverbs. I don't see how you can make a Haiku out of "-ing" and "-ly." Dismantle and rewrite as concrete poetry! Then he might have something!
Last evening after supper -- an intruder barged in here, frankly boasting that he had easily figured out the combination of the padlock on the highway gate. Car full of suits on hangers strung across the back seat left halfway up the hill. Had no real reason for being here except curiosity, wanted to get his nose into everything. Why this? Why that? Why do you live in such a place? Young, boasted about his exploits as a "private investigator" -- trailing women to Holiday Inns. Maybe he was investigating me. I thought about it, pacing up and down in the dark, after I had got rid of him. Certainly he has now cased the place, knows how to get in and steal things if he wants to. I don't think he was malicious or systematic, just nosey and disorganized -- a budding operator. He gave his name as Ken Hill and said he came from Chicago. Maybe! I asked where he was going. Vague. Could be Memphis, perhaps. A red car: I'm too dumb to know what kind and I forgot to take a look at the plates.
October 25, 1967
I do not have much news of what happened in Washington Saturday -- an enormous peace mobilization at which there was evidently some violence. An ex-novice whom I happened to meet outside the gate Saturday said that troops had been called to "protect the Pentagon" and in his opinion this made sense "because of all those juvenile delinquents"! Roger Barnard -- who has good judgment -- surmises in Peace News that Johnson will sooner or later stop bombing Vietnam and call a Peace Conference knowing that North Vietnam wants something more than that. Then, having "failed" in his "honest" efforts for peace he will flatten North Vietnam. Or try to. An invasion, etc. The stupidity and blindness of American power, which, in its own terms is perfectly "logical" -- and yet its terms are fantastically arbitrary and respond only to the "reality" of a thinking that goes on within an artificial and closed system. To defend your own reality and then impose it forcefully fully on the outside world is paranoia.
Posted July 12, 2011
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