Andalusia Blog: Voices in the Woods | Arts & Culture
Merton outside his hermitageA couple months ago, Orbis Books released a splendid collection of essays by Thomas Merton. In his essay, "Day of a Stranger," Merton mentions a number of the poets and prophets, Eastern and Western sages, men and women artists and visionaries whose disparate voices sustain him spiritually as he embarks on his new life as a hermit in the Kentucky woods.
At the hermitage there is room for many voices: "Of Vallejo, for instance. Or Rilke, or Rene Char, Montale, Zukofsky, Ungaretti, Edwin Muir, Quasimodo, or some Greeks. Or the dry, disconcerting voice of Nicano Parra, the poet of the sneeze. Here also is Chuang Tzu whose climate is perhaps most the climate of this silent corner of woods. A climate where there is no need for explanation.
Here is the reassuring companionship of many silent Tzu's and Fu's; Kung Tzu, Lao Tzu, Meng Tzu, Tu Fu. And Hui Neng. And Chao-Chu. And the drawings of Sengai. And a big graceful scroll from Suzuki. Here also is a Syrian hermit called Philoxenus. An Algerian cenobite called Camus.
Here is heard the clanging prose of Tertullian, with the dry catarrh of Sartre. Here the voluble dissonances of Auden, with the golden sounds of John of Salisbury. Here is the deep vegetation of that more ancient forest in which the angry birds, Isaias and Jeremias, sing.
Here should be, and are, feminine voices from Angela of Foligno to Flannery O'Connor, Theresa of Avila, Juliana of Norwich, and more personally and warmly still, Raissa Maritain." (Thomas Merton: Selected Essays, p. 234). I'd say that's pretty distinguished company for Flannery to be in! It certainly underscores the esteem that Merton had for her, but what about you? Whose voices would uphold you if you were living as a hermit in the wilderness? Whose books would you want to have with you - besides, of course, Flannery's?