The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz
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 The decade-long correspondence (195868) of writer/monk Merton and Milosz, Polish poet and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature. By 1958, Merton had spent 17 years in one of the strictest contemplative orders of the Catholic Church but had paradoxically achieved world fame through his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and his subsequent books on monasticism and contemporary spiritual life. Milosz was living with his family near Paris, disgusted both by Communist Poland and by what he saw as the political posturing of Sartre and Picasso. This correspondence, which was initiated by Merton as a result of reading Milosz's famous critique of Communism, The Captive Mind, covers the controversial final years of Merton's life, when he modified his otherworldly stance and became increasingly involved in the peace movement, and his longstanding fascination with Buddhism. The letters show both men struggling for a meaning beyond the clichÇs and spiritual drought imposed by society in the name of Soviet atheism or of an America trivialized by the media. Milosz calls on Merton's status as a writer who can make a difference, urging him to speak out against the banalities of commercial television and to adopt a more Manichean outlook, in the manner of Camus or Simone Weil. We relish Milosz's brief but searching analyses of Russia's self-image and of Polish Catholicism, not to mention his excoriation of the new vernacular Mass as a concession to boy- scoutish cheerfulness. Surprisingly, Merton claims scant sympathy with the student protests at Berkeley, where Milosz had settled, and imagines that his Zen may not be theirs. It is refreshing to see Merton in his intellectual mode, writing without thought of his public. Art, religion, the Cold War, and a host of contemporary writers flit elegantly through these letters of friends who hardly ever saw each other, yet achieved a remarkable meeting of minds.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-374-27100-3
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996


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