Song For Nobody – 5 poems from Thomas Merton’s book – Selected Poems of Thomas Merton

by Mark Votava

51+9lFhWO5L._AC_UL320_SR212,320_1. The Regret

When cold November sits among the reeds like an unlucky fisher

And ducks drum up as sudden as the wind

Out of the rushy river,

We slowly come, robbed of our rod and gun,

Walking amid the stricken cages of the trees.


The stormy weeks have all gone home like drunken hunters,

Leaving the gates of the grey world wide open to December. 


But now there is no speech of branches in these broken jails.

Acorns lie over the earth, no less neglected

Than our unrecognizable regret:

And here we stand as senseless as the oaks,

As dumb as elms.


And though we seem as grave as jailers, yet we did not come to wonder

Who picked the locks of the past days, and stole our summer.

(We are no longer listeners for curious saws, and secret keys!)


We are indifferent to seasons,

And stand like hills, deaf.

And never hear the last of the escaping year

Go ducking through the bended branches like a leaf.


2. Tropics

At noon the sky goes off like a gun.


Guards, on the Penal Island,

Converging, mad as murder, in the swearing cane,

Arrest the four-footed wind.


But the chained and numbered men

Do not cease their labor:

Building a cage for the devouring sun.


At six o’ clock exactly,

The day explodes like a bomb,

And it is night.


Instantly, the guards

Hide in the jungle, build a boat

And escape.


But the prisoners of the state

Do not cease their labor:

Collecting the asphalt fragments of the night.


3. Spring Storm

When in their ignorance and haste the skies must fall

Upon our white-eyed home, and blindly turn

Feeling the four long limits of the wall,


How unsubstantial is our present state

In the clean blowing of those elements

Whose study is our problem and our fate?


The intellects go mumbling in the snow,

And find the blurred, incredible sun (and moon)

Jammed in the white door, and the troubled straits

The dugout where the fallen sky lies down.

A mess of secret trumpets, with their weight

Of portents, veil the bluntness where we run.


How true a passion has this hour begun!

The sky melts on my patient animal

(My pointless self, the hunter of my home),

My breath burns in the open like a ton

In the blue waking of those elements

Whose study is our quibble and our doom.


O watch the woolen hundreds on the run!


4. Wisdom

I studied it and it taught me nothing.

I learned it and soon forgot everything else:

Having forgotten, I was burdened with knowledge –

The insupportable knowledge of nothing.


How sweet my life would be, if I were wise!

Wisdom is well known

When it is no longer seen or thought of.

Only then is understanding bearable.


5. Song For Nobody

A yellow flower

(Light and spirit)

Sings by itself

For nobody.


A golden spirit

(Light and emptiness)

Sings without a word

By itself.


Let no one touch this gentle sun

In whose dark eye

Someone is awake.


(No light, no gold, no name, no color

And no thought:

O, wide awake!)


A golden heaven

Sings by itself

A song to nobody.


Which poem is your favorite?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.