In Silence

by Thomas Merton


Original Language English

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.
Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”

-- from The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I love the questions that impregnate this poem.

Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.


Does your name have any inherent meaning?
Are you your name?
When people call your name, are they calling you, or some idea of you?
If you are not your name, what is the purpose of a name?
If you are not your name, what then do you call yourself?

Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?


This is more than a question, really, almost an insistent demand: Who are you? Who are you?

But the question isn't tossed to the busy, thinking mind, which has a thousand quick answers. Merton insists on silence. Remove the background of environment, society, relationship, even thoughts about yourself. THEN ask the question, Who are you? WHO are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet).


In that open silence, the question shifts and morphs. WHAT are you?
Perhaps you are someone else's dream...?
Or someone else's silence...?
Are you separate from the silence?
Do you even exist in that emptiness?
Have you simply imagined yourself?
Can you re-imagine yourself?
HOW would you re-imagine yourself?

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.


Who (be quiet) are you?

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.


Merton suggests that there is a grand, universal dialog occurring all around us -- in that overlooked silence. Everything is alive, and flowing through that life is a silence, and that silence is speaking to us.

You say you do not hear. But be silent, be quiet, be still. And you will realize that you are already part of the conversation.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:


Yes! BE your own silence!

To be filled with noise is to be distracted from you own self. To recognize your own silence, to be comfortable with it, to BE it -- that requires nothing less than to be at ease with your heart and to rest like royalty there.

...and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire.


The whole world burns with this stillness. There is a light and a dancing life hidden in the silence.

How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?


And that silent fire can be overwhelming, frightening, for it consumes everything, including one's ego and one's name. So how can a man be still in the midst of such a conflagration?

The bold dare the heat...



Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study





In Silence