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			Thomas Merton 
and Latin America: 
a Consonance of Voices 


Malgorzata Poks 


Katowice 2007 


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			Thomas Merton and Latin America: 
a Consonance of Voices
		

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			Malgorzata Poks 


Thomas Merton 
and Latin America: 
a Consonance of Voices 


Katowice 2007 


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			Pr.=
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Michal Motloch 


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Zenon Dyrszka 


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Prof. dr hab. Tadeusz Rachwal 


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Wyisza Szkola Zarzqdzania Marketingowego i J
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Wydano za zgodl} Rektora 
Wyiszej Szkoly Zarzl}dzania Marketingowego i J
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ISBN 978-1>3.61061-00.7 


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			Spis tresci 


Streszczenie.............................................................................................................7 
Preliminary Remarks........................................................................................... 13 
Introduction ..........................................................................................................16 
I. Two Continents, One Destiny: The American Hemisphere 
of Thomas Merton ..........................................................................................28 
Critique ofthe North American Mind.. .................30 
The Other America: First Contacts and Fascinations.. .................39 
Discovery ofthe American Hemisphere.. .................4] 
The New Man: Healing the Wounds of Divis ion.. .................47 
The Meeting of Strangers.. .................52 
II. Encounter in a Secret Country: Thomas Merton 
and Jorge Carrera Andrade .......................................................................... 69 
III. Franciscan Love of Life and Respect for All Living Things: 
Thomas Merton and Carlos Drummond de Andrade ................................. 92 
IV.El Poeta Loco and the Secret Soul of Things: Thomas Merton 
and Alfonso Cortes .......................................................................................100 
The Surrealist Imagination: Cortes and Other Vagabonds 
ofthe Strange .. 
Cortes as the Only True Surrealist.. 
V. Contemplation in the World of Action: Thomas Merton 
and Ernesto Cardenal...................................................................................132 
VI. The Early Legend that Returns: Thomas Merton, Ernesto 
Cardenal, and Pablo Antonio Cuadra ........................................................155 
The Sacred City.. ...............157 
Liturgy ofthe Stars ................................................................................... 164 
Liturgies of Power: Prophetic Choices in Kahll1s of Dishonor................. 166 
Art ofthe Sacred City: The Work of Love and Compassion.. ...............172 
The Cosmic Dance.................................................................................... 19] 
VII. In the Paradise of Squares: Thomas Merton and Nicanor Parra .......... 201 
''ill The Most Human of Poetry: Thomas Merton and Cesar Vallejo ........ 229 
Conclusion........................................................................................................... 252 
Appendix. Thomas Merton and the Poets of North America: 
A Consonance of Sorts.................................................................................. 261 
Bibliography ....................................................................................................... 282 


...............107 
...............110
		

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			Streszczenie 


Thomas Merton (1915-1968), arnerykanski rnnich trapista z klasztoru 
Gethsemani w Kentucl-y, byl pisarzem, poet't. autorem wielu klasycmych 
pozycji z dziedziny duchowosci i monastycyzrnu, oraz wplywowym kryty- 
kiem kultury i spoleczenstwa arnerykanskiego lat 50. i 60. Na tie dyna- 
micmie rozwijaj'tc	
			

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			8 


Thomas Merton and Latin America: a Consonance of Voices 


dorczyk Jorge Carrera Andrade czy Argentyilczyk Miguel Grinberg, 
podobnie jak Merton zaangazowani w pokojow'l rewolucjl' zmierzaj'lc'l do 
budowania nowej swiadomosci. Odnosz'lcy sil' z pasj'l do rzeczy swiata 
tego. choc mocno zakorzeniony w glebie wartoSci duchowych. Nowy Ame- 
rykanin mial wszelkie dane ku temu, by ocalic wsp6lczesnego czlowieka 
zar6wno od rozpaczy, jak i plytkiego, pozytywistycznego optyrnizrnu. 
Poprzez niego amerykanska p611.-ula miala ponownie uswiadomic sobie 
i zrealizowac swoje powolanie do odkupienia starego swiata. 
Punktem stycmosci mil'dzy Merton=-poet'l a Mertonem- 
propagatorem wartosci kulturowych .inn"j" Ameryki. s'l thunaczenia po- 
ezji latynoamerykanski	
			

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			Streszczenie 


9 


czanym swiecie, zyciem swoim i tw6rczosci'l swiadcz'l 0 istnieniu inn
 
nonny. Pozostaj'lc poza zasil'giem komercyjnych slogan6w i przykrojonej 
na miarl' tOZsarnosci czlowieka masowego, obnaz.aj'l iluzje i pozory zycia w 
zbiorowosci. Ich sprzeciw wobec pornni	
			

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			10 


Thomas Merton and Latin America: a Consonance of Voices 


w agrarn	
			

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			Streszczenie 


11 


- czasem nawet nie w pelni uswiadomione - przekonanie, ze pelrut odpo- 
wiedi na pytania 0 istot y Zycia i czlowieczenstwa zawiera nonnatywna 
etyka wsp6lczuj'lc	
			

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			12 


Thomas Merton and Latin America: a Consonance of Voices 


Na zakonczenie warto jeszcze wspornniee, ze afrrmacja wsp6lnych ko- 
rzeni obu Ameryk i zaangazowanie Mertona w pojednanie P6lnocy z Poln- 
dniem domagalo sil' od niego podjl'cia nastl'Jlllego kroku w kierunku przy- 
wr6cenia swiadomosci jednosci w rozbityrn swiecie. Tym krokiem mialo 
bye doprowadzenie do spotkania W schodu z Zachodem. Istotnie, etap laty- 
noski w jego dzialalnosci, choe nigdy nie zostal fonnalnie zakonczony, 
traci impet w drugiej polowie lat szesCdziesi'ltych, podczas gdy Merton 
coraz wil'c	
			

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			Preliminary Remarks 


The life and thought of Thomas Merton (1915 1968), arguably the 
most famous American Trappist monk of all time - spiritual master, social 
and cultural critic, writer and poet - has been enjoying an ongoing popular 
and critical attention ever since the publication of his autobiographical 
novel The Seven Storey Almmtain in 1948. Known especially for his 
seminal writings on monasticism and contemplation, as well as on political 
and social issues, Merton is also coming into his own as a poet, with his 
long epic The Geography of Lograire beginning to receive its due in terms 
of serious scholarly research. Along with all the classic Merton themes still 
being explored with ever fresh vigor by readers and scholars alike, new 
areas of interest are constantly coming to light and new connections 
in Merton scholarship are eagerly being pursued. Now that even the story 
of the Gethsemani mystic's interest in Sufism has at long last been told,' 
the absence of any sustained effort to analyze the Latin American 
connection in his life and work seems all the more intriguing. In 1991 
Robert E. Daggy complained of this strange oversight in The American 
Benedictine Review. Since Stefan Baciu's 1967 pioneering article "Latin 
America and Spain in the Poetic World of Thomas Merton," this field of 
research has been all but neglected. while. Daggy notices. Merton "did not. 
as he did in other areas of interest, write about Latin America but to and for 
Latin American.s.,,2 Additionally, though the author of The Seven Storey 
.Ummtain was among the first North American.s to read and introduce 
Ibero- American poetry to English-speaking readers through a series 
of highly acclaimed translations, a book-length study of Merton as 
a translator is still to be written. To attempt to fill this dual gap would he 
claiming too much for a work of this scope. Since this book will focus on 
a broadly construed "resonance" between the poetic voices of Thomas 
Merton and Latin America, the task of comparing the original poems with 
his English renditions would transcend the limits of this work While no 
effort will be made to assess the legitimacy of Merton as a competent 


1 Rob Baker and Gray Hemy, eds., Merton and SlIfism: The Untold StOl)" (LoUIs- 
ville: Fons Vitae, 1999). Sufism is the mystical tradition oflslam. 
2 Robert E. Daggy, "A Man of the Whole Hemisphere. Thomas Merton and Latin 
America." American Benedictine Reriew 42.2 (1991): 124.
		

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Thomas Merton and Latin America: a Consonance of Voices 


translator, the opinion of established literary critics will be cited to support 
the validity of such a claim. 
Entering an unexplored territory entails making difficult choices. 
Placing in the center of attention the relationship between Merton's thought 
and the values inscribed in the poetry of the .'other" America forced me 
to adopt a wide-angle lens and leave more detailed explorations of the topic 
to future research. All things considered, this book is meant to be a small 
beginning, a matter of opening a window, if not exactly 3 door, onto 
Thomas Merton's Latin American proj"ct. 
This book was originally written as a doctora] dissertation. I wish 
to acknowledge my debt to a number of people who helped me along the 
way. First of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to prof. Joanna Durczak the 
project's supervisor, for her encouragement, invaluable criticism, patient 
r,,-readings of my work, and kindn"ss in guiding m" ovcr th" hurdl"s of the 
doctoral process. I am grateful to prof. Agnieszka Salska and prof. Agata 
Preis-Smith, the reviewers of my dissertation, for suggesting ways 
of improving the manuscript. My very special thanks go to dr. Theresa 
Sandok for her careful reading of the t",,-t and her invaluable help in the 
editing process. I wish to thank the Shannon Fellowship sel"ction 
committee for making my research at the archives of the Thomas Merton 
Center at Bellarmine University, Ky, possible, and to the Center's director, 
dr. Paul Pearson, for refening me to useful materials and patiently 
supplying the missing bibliographical details. Last but not least, I would 
like to thank my parents for their continuing support and unflagging belief 
in my work 


While the great majority of this manuscript is previously unpublished, 
some sections of the following chapters appeared, mostly in much modified 
versions, in the fonn of articles prior to this publication. Here are the 
bibliographical data of their original publication: 
1. "Thomas Merton's Poetry of Endless Inscription: A Tale of Liberation 
and E""panding Horizons." The .UertonAnnuaI14. Ed. Victor A Kramer. 
Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. 
2. "Gethsemani, K y - Postcards from the Monastery (Who is the 
Rhinoceros?)." British and American StI«:lies 3. Local Colors of the 
Stars and Stripes. Ed. 1\1 Wismiowska. Torun: Wydawnictwo 
Uniwersytetu 1\likolaja Kopernika, 2001.
		

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			Preliminary Remarks 


1'; 


3. "The North American Mind in the Poetic Critique of Thomas Merton." 
American Portraits and Self-Portraits. Ed. J. Durczak. Lublin: 1\laria 
Curie-Sklodowska University Press, 2002. 
4. "Encounter in a Secret Country: Thomas 1\lerton and Jorge Carrera 
Andrade." The .Merton Annual 18. Ed. Victor A Kramer. Louisville, 
Ky: Fons Vitae, 2005. 
5. The following article is about to appear in print: "The Meeting 
of Strangers: Thomas Merton's Engagement with Latin America." 
The .Merton Annual 20. Ed. Victor A Kram",. Louisville, Ky: Fons 
Vitae, 2007.
		

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			Introduction 


Sununing up twenty-five years of his creative life, Thomas Merton 
confessed: "It is possible to doubt whether I have become a monk (a doubt 
I have to live with), but it is not possible to doubt that I am a writer... 
Disconcerting, disedifying as it is, this seems to be my lot and my 
vocation.,,1 It was a painful confession to make for a person whose greatest 
desire was the fullness of monastic life and who was ready to sacrifice what 
he considered minor gifts to the superior vocation. Upon entering the 
Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in 1941, Thomas Merton 
had hoped to leave the world behind never to return to it again; he wanted 
to shut the door on his decadent youth and start an entirely new life under 
the new monastic name of Frater 1\1 Ludovicus. In the austere radicalism 
of the early years, the young postulant sought no compromise between the 
writer he had hoped to be and the monk he was becoming, convinced that 
one of them had to die. Yet, all his mature life was to be enacted in the 
tension between these two apparently irreconcilable vocations, 3 tension 
with no easy resolution, which used to drive Merton to despair, but which, 
in the final analysis, proved to be the source of his abiding strength both 
as monk and poet. 
Twenty years from his postulant days, with humility characteristic 
of the later Merton, he was to accept his life as "almost totally 
paradoxical.'" It was in the monastery that he assumed responsibility for the 
world at large rather than turning away from it; it was his elected silence 
that made him vocal and shaped his poetry; his constant dissatisfaction that 
allowed him to find peace. Merton's full identification with Trappist 
spirituality opened him to the best that other monastic traditions. Christian 
and non-Christian. could offer to errrich his spiritual life without yielding 
to easy syncretism. The same rebellious impulse that made him reject 
ready-made an.swers and that initially had plunged him into a hedonistic 
search for freedom later launched him on the spiritual journey in which he 
was to discover genuine freedom beyond obsessive systematizations. 
In 1961, attempting to define his philosophy of life for the preface to 


1 Thomas Merton, "First and Last Thoughts," preface, A Thomas Merton Reader, 
ed. T.P. McDonnell (New York: Doubleday, 1989) 17. 
2 Merton, "First and Last Thoughts." Thomas Merton Reader 16.
		

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			Introduction 


17 


A Thomas Merton Reader, he could claim that all life tended to grow 
"in mystery inscaped with paradox.''' 
Some commentators tend to read 1\lerton in terms of discontinuities 
and contradictions, but most, like 1\fichaeiMott. point out that when put in 
perspective his life and work show surprising consistency. It is convenient 
to accept the late 1950s as a watershed decade in this American 
contemplative and writer's life, with the aggiornamento of the Second 
Vatican Council just around the comer and with Merton's own 1958 
epiphany, which leads him to awaken from th" illusion of a "professional" 
spiritual man's separation from the world to the reality of oneness with and 
responsibility for others who have become "my own self.''' At this point 
Merton becomes more openly involved in current political and social 
issues: his heretofore muted protest grows stronger, and more outspoken. 
His rising militancy coincides with formal e".-perimtill.tation in poetry and 
a growing interest in Asian spirituality and Latin American poets. Much 
of the earlier Merton seems to be gone by this time, the ornate "poetry 
of the choir" and the more ascetic "poetry of the desert'
 being largely 
replaced by the prosaic antipoetry of indiguation based on parody and 
coHage. However, th"s" developments are more properly S"till. in tenns 
of evolution rather than rupture - as a broadening of perspectives. 
an incorporation of themes and techniques towards an integrated vision 
of reality that would tran.scend opposites. As Mott sees it, Merton's 
antipoetry ofthe 1960s may well have had much in common with his early 
ambition to write an all-inclusive anti-autobiography modeled on Joyce's 
Finnegans Wake, whose enthusiastic reader he had been since the novel's 
first American publication in 1939. Also, the e,,--ploration of the 
potentialities of language and a fascination with macaronic Joyce-talk are 
manifest in 1\lerton's first ventures into poetry and prose, while the mosaic 
character of such late poems as The Geography of Lograire is sigualed 
in Merton's early inventory of slogan.s, fragments of lyrics and trivial 
details preparatory for writing his intended anti-autobiography.6 


3 Merton, "First and Last Thoughts." Thomas Merton Reader 17. 
4 Thomas Merton, Conjechwes of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Image, 1968) 157. 
, See George Woodcock, Thomas Merton. Monk and Poet: A Critical Shuiy 
(Vancouver: Douglas, 1978) 51. 
6 Michael Mott, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (Boston. Houghton, 
1986) xxiii.
		

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			18 


Thomas Merton and Latin America: a Consonance of Voices 


At the beginning of his spiritualjoumey Merton wrote: 


Geography comes to an end. 
Compass has lost all earthly north 
Horizons have no meanmg 
Nor roads an e
']Jlanation 7 


Little did he suspect that the loss of the cardinal point of the compass 
and the renouncement of the world, which then seemed to be the highest 
gain, was in fact a prelude to a greater task-that of an eventual rebuilding 
of his world, a reorientation, not a r