Place Names

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

Jair son of Manasseh went and seized the encampments
And called them the Encampments of Jair
Nobah went and seized Kenath
With its outlying villages
And called it Nobah
After himself.
(Numbers 32: 41-42)

1827

D’Entrecasteaux enters the bay   
Looks it over
Leaves it with name of his ship:   
“Astrolabe Bay.”


1871-1883

Baron Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay
(Tibud Maclay)   
Comes and goes   
Exploring
Recording the language
As a reward for hospitality
Leaves the coast with
His own name:   
“Maclay Coast”

To further honor
The place where he landed
He called it “Constantine Harbour”
(Grand Duke Constantine
President of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society   
Had paid for the trip.)


1878

Australian gold-prospectors   
Put in at Bongu
In the good ship Dove
But leave at once
Forgetting to name the place   
“Dove Harbor”
But there is a “Dove Point”
A hundred miles up the coast.


1884

Herr Finsch
Representing the Neu Guinea Kompagnie
Hoists the German flag   
Over “Bismarck (naturally)   
Archipelago” “Kaiser
(Of course) Wilhelmsland”
And last but not least
“Finschhafen.”

Thomas Merton, “Place Names” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright © 1968, 1969 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)

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

Poet Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

Subjects History & Politics, Nature, Social Commentaries, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

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 History & Politics, Nature, Social Commentaries, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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.