Date of Award

Spring 1959

Document Type



Languages & Literature

First Advisor

Joseph Ward


This thesis is not intended to be a critique of representative examples of Thomas Merton's poetry in their conformity to the canons of art. Their validity as pieces of art is not brought into the discussion. The primary purpose of this thesis, as the title indicates, is to demonstrate the relationship that may exist between contemplation--either "active" or "passive"--and Christian poetry; assuming that as the contemplative life of the poet develops, his poetry, as all his other human activities, becomes more and more profoundly centered in Christ.

Christian poetry is not exempted from the canons of art simply because it may be devotional. To absolve a poetry from these canons is to destroy it as poetry. for this reason, some critical opinion on several of Merton's volumes of verse appears in an Appendix to this thesis.

It is brought out in the thesis that Merton's later poetry is mystical--the poet has joined a small group of poets who seek mystical contemplation. Because of this fact, Merton's poetry must needs be discussed in the light of the so-called "degrees" of the spiritual life, purgation, illumination, and union. This does not mean that a poet is not a Christian poet unless he writes "mystical" poetry. The import of a discussion of mystical poetry for the many Christian poets who do not and never will pursue the mystical vocation lies in the stress on the concept of spirit in Merton's poetry. The emphasis on a spiritual reality is vital to all poetry, and the more this reality is sought by a mortification of self, the more fully will it be realized. If, in the case of the Christian poet, this mortification is prompted by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the spiritual reality behind the material symbol will become none other than Christ Himself. In this manner, the Christian poet can at least begin to bridge the widening gulf between the myth and the metaphysic of modern society.