A Dirge

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968
Some one who hears the bugle neigh will know   
How cold it is when sentries die by starlight.

But none who love to hear the hammering drum   
Will look, when the betrayer
Laughs in the desert like a broken monument,   
Ringing his tongue in the red bell of his head,   
Gesturing like a flag.

The air that quivered after the earthquake   
(When God died like a thief)
Still plays the ancient forums like pianos;   
The treacherous wind, lover of the demented,   
Will harp forever in the haunted temples.

What speeches do the birds make
With their beaks, to the desolate dead?
And yet we love those carsick amphitheaters,   
Nor hear our Messenger come home from hell   
With hands shot full of blood.

No one who loves the fleering fife will feel   
The light of morning stab his flesh,
But some who hear the trumpet’s raving, in the ruined sky,
Will dread the burnished helmet of the sun,   
Whose anger goes before the King.

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

Source: Poetry (April 1942).


This poem originally appeared in the April 1942 issue of Poetry magazine

April 1942


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 Religion, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Christianity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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