When Thomas Merton entered a Trappist
monastery in December 1941, he turned his back on secular life—including
a very promising literary career. He sent his journals, a
novel-in-progess, and copies of all his poems to his mentor, Columbia
professor Mark Van Doren, for safe keeping, fully expecting to write
little, if anything, ever again. It was a relatively short-lived
resolution, for Merton almost immediately found himself being assigned
writing tasks by his Abbot—one of which was the autobiographical essay
that blossomed into his international best-seller The Seven Storey Mountain.
That book made him famous overnight, and for a time he struggled with
the notion that the vocation of the monk and the vocation of the writer
were incompatible. Monasticism called for complete surrender to the
absolute, whereas writing demanded a tactical withdrawal from experience
in order to record it. He eventually came to accept his dual vocation
as two sides of the same spiritual coin and used it as a source of
creative tension the rest of his life.
Merton’s thoughts on
writing have never been compiled into a single volume until now. Robert
Inchausti has mined the vast Merton literature to discover what he had
to say on a whole spectrum of literary topics, including writing as a
spiritual calling, the role of the Christian writer in a secular
society, the joys and mysteries of poetry, and evaluations of his own
literary work. Also included are fascinating glimpses of his take on a
range of other writers, including Henry David Thoreau, Flannery
O’Connor, Dylan Thomas, Albert Camus, James Joyce, and even Henry
Miller, along with many others.
215 pages. Paperback.