"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thomas Merton on 'The First Lesson About Man'

This surreal poem, "First Lesson About Man" (from "The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton") is an all-too accurate view of the world from which the late, great Catholic contemplative, Trappist monk and prolific writer, Thomas Merton, sought refuge in the late 1940's. Sadly, it seems no less applicable to our state now, some 40-odd years after Merton's death, than it did on publication.

To paraphrase the words of the great 12th-century Sufi poet, Rumi: "We may need more grace than I thought."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

First Lesson About Man” by Thomas Merton

Man begins in zoology.
He is the saddest animal.
He drives a big red car called anxiety.
He dreams at night
Of riding all the elevators.
Lost in the halls,
He never finds the right door.

Man is the saddest animal.
A flake-eater in the morning,
A milk-drinker.
He fills his skin with coffee
And loses patience with the rest of his species.
He draws his sin on the wall,
On all the ads in all the subways.
He draws moustaches on all the women
Because he cannot find his joy,
Except in zoology.

Whenever he goes to the phone to call Joy,
He gets the wrong number.
Therefore he likes weapons.
He knows all guns by their right name.
He drives a big black Cadillac called death.
Now he is putting anxiety into space.
He flies his worries all around Venus,
But it does him no good.
In space where for a long time there is only emptiness,
He drives a big white globe called death.

Now dear children
Who have learned the first lesson about man,
Answer your test:
“Man is the saddest animal.
He begins in zoology,
And gets lost
In his own bad news.”

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