Thomas Merton is dead.
Let the world maintain
As few men did,
Merton sought God
as his sole ambition.
He was a mystic.
Explain him no other way.
His hill-top view of the valley
You miss his message
if you mistake that vista.
Merton loved God and men
and trees and food
and drink and song and laughter,
thick tomes and bongo drums,
Aquinas and Ginsberg and Joan Baez and Pope John
and saints who fast and pray,
the sometimes lovelier souls who
still lustily and behave badly.
Merton had few tears
save some for pseudo-Christians
blind to their faith
Save some for sufferers
bound to their fate.
Build no cairn for Merton
Pile no stone to mark his absence.
Sound no eulogy,
Piled up words to mark his presence.
Sing a song of joy
that Merton lived.
for Merton won.
The heights are his.
The void is ours.
Fill the emptiness
with light and sound
cheerful, triumphant noise.
For Merton now knows God!
By Fr. John T. Loftus
Fr. John T. Loftus, who was Bellarmine’s founding academic dean and a longtime friend of Thomas Merton, sent this poem to the student body on Dec. 11, 1968, the day after Merton’s accidental death by electrocution in Thailand, where the Trappist monk was attending a conference on East-West monastic dialogue. Fr. Loftus passed away on Jan. 7, 1969.
The drawing above of Fr. John T. Loftus by Charles Campbell ’71 originally appeared in Untitled 1969, a spiral-bound booklet that was written and published by students of Bellarmine-Ursuline College, who sold it for 49 cents. The illustration accompanied this text, written by Evelyn Williamson:
Do you really believe Fr. John is dead? Do you? If you do, then check the meaning of the word “dead.” It can be defined as “lacking in gaiety,” “deprived of vital force,” “no longer having relevance or significance,” and “lacking power or effect.” Is Fr. John any of these?
Could we even imagine how gay he must be at this time? For one who loved to see the smiles in the eyes of those he met, how his twinkling eyes must be smiling now as he is in the most complete union with his Vital Force!
As far as “no longer having any relevance or significance,” those who know him could never be able to label him as irrelevant or insignificant.
Finally, is Fr. John now “lacking power or effect”? Hardly, for he has touched, if not engraved upon, the lives of thousands of students, young men and women with the potential to bring about almost any effect possible, and even some of the “impossible.”
So, is Fr. John really dead? He would rather we answer with our lives: “Is his life part of us, and are we alive?”