Stranger

by Thomas Merton


Original Language English

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

One cloud upon the hillside,
Two shadows in the valley
And the light strikes home.
Now dawn commands the capture
Of the tallest fortune,
The surrender
Of no less marvelous prize!

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws become prodigals
Limits are torn down
For envy has no property
And passion is none.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!

-- from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Isn't this a wonderful poem given to us by Merton? It's worth going back and reading it again with a sense of inner stillness. (Go ahead, I'll wait...)

The way this poem opens is fascinating --

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star


The "no one" here is you and me, Merton himself, the speaker of the poem. We encounter the real magic and mystery of the world when we can witness it as "no one." That's "Where peace begins / And rages end" -- when there is no ego-self to assert its right to be the central focus of everything.

That's when things unfold and reveal themselves to be deeply and utterly themselves:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.


(Love those lines. The witness is so still, almost non-existent, and we are left selfless amidst the "work of God.")

And then we have the "stranger" of the poem's title--

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!


There's that vast, silent Self within, almost unknown to us, a stranger, yet there nonetheless, seated in wordless immensity. "Seize up my silence / Hold me in Thy Hand!" That's the way. Fierce and trembling, the mystic calls out to be grabbed whole by that unknown, oh-so-intimate one.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!



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





Stranger