An Elegy for Five Old Ladies

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

(Newton, Mass., April 20: Five women ranging in age from 80 to 96 drowned this afternoon when a driverless car rolled across a rest home lawn and sank in Crystal Lake . . . the new york times)

Let us forget that it is spring and celebrate the riderless will of five victims.
Old companions are sitting silent in the home. Five of their number have suddenly gone too far; as if waifs,
As if orphans were to swim without license. Their ride was not lucky. It took them very far out of bounds.
Mrs. Watson said she saw them all go at three-forty-five. Their bell had rung too loud and too late.   
It was a season when water is too cold for anyone, and is especially icy for an old person.
The brazen sedan was not to be trusted. The wheels went too well for one short and straight journey.   It was the last: the doors did not open.
Dimly and too late they saw themselves on a very wicked lawn. May God have mercy on their recreation!
Let us accordingly pay homage to five now legendary persons, the very chaste daughters of one unlucky ride.
Let the perversity of a machine become our common study, while I name loudly five loyal spouses of death!

Thomas Merton, “An Elegy for Five Old Ladies” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright © 1963 by The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

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

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

Subjects Death, Living

Poetic Terms Elegy


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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Death, Living

Poetic Terms Elegy

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.