THOMAS MERTON: Monk and Poet by George Woodcock

THOMAS MERTON: Monk and Poet

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A balanced, perceptive, low-key appraisal of the life and work of the noted American Trappist. Woodcock is a Canadian poet and radical historian who has written biographies of Godwin, Proudhon, and Kropotkin. He is not a Catholic, nor even a Christian, but a sensitive and well-informed observer of religion, and he brings to his subject a nice combination of personal sympathy and critical distance. This is not primarily a biography, and so Woodcock doesn't try to make Merton come alive as an individual. He doesn't even bother to tell the reader that Merton died by accidentally electrocuting himself with a malfunctioning fan. This approach is understandable in a way, since Merton led such an uneventful life, especially after entering the monastery. But it necessarily lends the book a sort of pallor it might otherwise have avoided. In any case, Woodcock traces Merton's spiritual and intellectual development from the period of his conversion, with its traditional and sometimes rather shallow Catholic piety, through his long immersion in Christian mysticism, to his final stage of commitment to revolutionary politics and the wisdom of Eastern religions. Merton wrote some 60 books, and Woodcock ably guides the reader through this welter of material. He quotes generously from Merton's poetry, as he illustrates the evolution from the rich liturgical symbolism of the early work to the later spare, angry didacticism. In the long run Merton's claim to fame will probably rest on his interpretations of Buddhist and Taoist thought, and Woodcock devotes an interesting chapter, ""The Call of Asia,"" to this. A fine introduction to a significant figure.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux