Poetry Friday: Excess and Thomas Merton

h1 November 23rd, 2007 by jules

Thomas Merton

Yeah, I’m one of those dirty freakin’ hippies who acknowledges Buy Nothing Day every November 23rd. Black Friday just ain’t my thing. If you’re one of those people who wakes up at 5 a.m. to get in line for sales at Wal-Mart or Sears on the day after Thanksgiving and you shop all day long, I hope you’ll still have respect for me for celebrating the alternative here and I hope we can try to understand one another when I say: I just. don’t. get. it.

And, this is a bit of a stretch, but as I was looking at Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day site, I got to thinking about over-consumption. And that got me thinking about one of my favorite poems ever (which I happen to have matted and framed on one of the walls of my home in a lovely Thomas Merton poster I once found in the cobwebbed corner of an old used bookstore, but I digress). It’s called “The Harmonies of Excess,” written by Trappist monk/acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer/poet/author/social activist Thomas Merton, pictured above (his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, is a fabulous read).

So, sure, this has nothing to do with the over-consumption which Buy Nothing Day addresses. And, sure, I just thought of it ’cause of the word “excess,” but it’s always been one of my favorite poems. Just humor me.

“The Harmonies of Excess” by Thomas Merton

* * * * * * *

The hidden lovers in the soil
Become green plants and gardens tomorrow
When they are ordered to re-appear
In the wet sun’s poem

Then they force the delighted
Power of buds to laugh louder
They scatter all the cries of light
Like shadow rain and make their bed
Over and over in the hollow flower
The violet bonfire

They spin the senses of the mute morning
In an abandoned river
Love’s wreckage is then left to lie
All around the breathless shores
Of my voice
Which on the coasts of larking meadows
Invented all these children and their mischievous noises

I found someone who posted the poem in its entirety here, so you can read the rest there if you’re interested. You really don’t want to miss the last stanza.

Whether you’re out shopping today (shudder) or kicking your feet up and buying not-a-damn-thing, happy Poetry Friday!

15 comments to “Poetry Friday: Excess and Thomas Merton”

  1. Well, that is just lovely. A truly beautiful tribute to the good kind of excess. Thanks, J.

  2. Beautiful poem… I’m with you: I don’t get it either. I can’t wait to watch the documentary “What would Jesus buy?”

  3. “For the lovers in the sleeping nerve
    Are the hope and the address”

    Ohhhh. *happy sigh* Thanks for posting this, Jules. I really loved the full version. He was a true painter of poetic imagery, if that poem’s any indication. I’ll have to look for more of his work.

  4. The only retail establishment I will go to between now and Christmas is the grocery store, and that only because I have to. Wait, no–I will also go to the Leaf and Bean. I don’t think of that as retail; it’s more like breathing. I don’t get the frenzied shopping thing, either, and all those people crammed into small spaces really freak me out.

  5. Thanks, Jules.

    I’m with you all in staying home today. It’s not so much that I’m a hippie (although I certainly have hippie sympathies), but I am a big time curmudgeon. And no way am I going anywhere with ALL THOSE PEOPLE.

    We do celebrate Xmas with my parents, but I’ve already ordered and shipped the kid presents and for the adults I know where to shop where there won’t be ALL THOSE PEOPLE.

    Happy Stay-at-Home Friday!

  6. Kelly H., I’m more of a severely liberal curmudgeon than a true-blue hippie, too (though my husband jokes that we’re dirty-freakin’-hippie parents, since both our children ended up being co-sleepers. And I say that with respect to dirty-freakin’-hippie co-sleeping parents everywhere).

    Kelly F., in my mid-20s, I went on a HUGE reading kick of All Things Thomas Merton. My favorite singer/songwriter/musician slid in a Thomas Merton reference in a song and then gushed over his writing in an interview, and there ya go. She could say that Elmo is philosophically enlightening, and I’d consider it for a moment and try to find more of his writings. So, that was my introduction to Merton, and I have journals full of Merton thoughts. He was brilliant, and some of his poetry is quite good.

    Adrienne, this probably makes me a hypocrite, but if I were to go out and buy a cup of coffee today — esp. from Leaf and Bean, which I just had to go look up and seems very yummy, indeed — I’d not consider that part of the buying craziness/chaos today. Coffee is just a staple and is not included. Yup, I’m definitely a hypocrite.

  7. I’m with you on buying nothing today. Except I need to get brown sugar so the candy-making can proceed. And what with all the wind, we need more leaf bags. But that’s IT. Thanks for the poem and the reassurance that I’m not the only one adamantly staying at home today!

  8. Merton’s so amazing … I hadn’t seen this before. Thank you for posting it!

    I DID make one important purchase today (at least, the last time I checked, my bid was winning)! Yeeha!!

  9. Linda, that’s a purchase I can get behind. Wahoo! And good luck.

  10. Well, I’m a day behind but that’s because I don’t turn on my computer on Black Friday. I don’t go shopping either. I get up at 5:30 and head for my local scrapbook store. Yesterday I spent 13 hours making cards and presents. Listening to music, chatting with likeminded women. It’s the best!

  11. I ask my students every Monday, “What did you do this weekend?” I ask them every Thursday, “What will you do this weekend?” And many of them say, without fail, “Go shopping.” These are often the same students who complain how boring Austin is because “there is not enough shopping’ and who are shocked to learn I’ve lived here 11 years without ever going to the outlet mall.

    Though I was unable to observe it–hurray for no shopping day!

  12. I am with you! I celebrate Buy Nothing day every year. This year I planned a blogger meet-up and it was just delightful. I did buy a peck of apples from a farm stand on the way home so we could make applesauce yesterday, but that was just part of my hippie ways…

    I love Merton and have a bunch of his books. His language is exquisite. “the wet sun’s poem…” sigh.

  13. Hey,

    I just put up a series of posts about Thomas Merton that I think you’d enjoy at:


  14. Has anyone seen that Monks Pond for sale on ebay this week? It’s an original that’s stapled – probably by Merton– who gave them away.

    I was just reading about Merton and Evelyn Waugh who advised Merton that he could shave 20% of his wordiness. Also reading Merton commenting on Waugh’s attachment to the Latin Mass. Very different Catholics who admired each other.

  15. […] at 7-Imp has not-shopping and Thomas Merton on the mind […]

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