The Song of the Traveller

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968
How light the heavy world becomes, when with transparent waters
All the shy elms and wakeful appletrees are dressed!
How the sun shouts, and spins his wheel of flame
And shoots the whole land full of diamonds   
Enriching every flower’s watery vesture with his praise,   
O green spring mornings when we hear creation singing!

The stones between our steps are radium and platinum   
When, on this sacred day, sweet Christ, we climb Your hill;   
And all the hours, our steps,
Pray us our way to the high top with silent music from the clouds
As each new bench-mark builds us to a quieter altitude,   
Promising those holy heights where the low world will die.

Shall we look back out of this airy treasury
And spill the plenty that we have already in our hands   
To view you, cities full of sorcery,
And count the regiments deployed on your grey plain   
Where you lie boiling in your smoky wars?

For lo! the music of your treachery
Still plagues us with a sullen rumor in this sinless sun,   
And your coarse voice still reaches us.
Sandpapering the silence of our atmosphere.
Shall we turn back to hear those far, far fragile trumpets play?

Let us but lean one moment to the witchery of your thin clarions
And all our flowery mountain will be tattered with a coat of weeds;
And the bright sun, our friend, turning to a prodigious enemy,
Will burn our way with curses,
Hardening our hesitation, in that instant, to a solid weight,

To bake us white as monuments, like Mistress Lot,   
Saltpillars planted on the stony road from Sodom.

Thomas Merton, “The Song of the Traveller” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright 1948 by New Directions Publishing Corporation, copyright © 1977 by The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust. 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

Subjects Spring, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse


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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SUBJECT Spring, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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