The Oracle

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968
The girls with eyes of wicks of lights,
Thin as the rushes, and as many,
Make in their minds uncertain shapes of music,   
And slyly string their phony harps with twine.

The girls with eyes of drops of water,   
Thin as the fires, and as frightened,   
Bring pennies and their empty zodiacs.   
Horses, loose on a plain, drum
The secret dance their thought does now!

Come up and light your harmless questions.   
Burn them to the Brazen Face,   
And wait, in terror, for the Brazen Voice.

       “You girls with eyes of wicks of lights,   
       Shake me: I ring like a bank.
       I shout like the assembly: ‘Go, be presidents!’
       You shall all marry rectangles!”

       “But you with eyes of drops of water,   
       Punch my brass eyes with your little fists;   
       I am a box, my voice is only electric.   
       So keep your pennies for the poor;
       Sew, in your houses, and cry.”

But already, down the far, fast ladders of light   
The stern, astounding angel
Starts with a truer message,
Carrying a lily.

Thomas Merton, “The Oracle” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright 1946 by New Directions Publishing Corporation. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1977)

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Poet Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

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A monk who lived in isolation for several years, and one of the most well-known Catholic writers of the twentieth century, Thomas Merton was a prolific poet, religious writer, and essayist whose diversity of work has rendered a precise definition of his life and an estimation of the significance of his career difficult. Merton was a Trappist, a member of a Roman Catholic brotherhood known for its austere lifestyle and vow of . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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