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Thomas Merton Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.
Title: Thomas Merton Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1960-1968
Quantity: 1.8 linear ft.
Abstract: Papers of the American author, poet, Trappist monk. Articles, essays, poems, and ten notebooks (1963-1967).
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was born in Prades, Pyrennes-Orientales in France, the son of artist Owen Heathcote and Ruth Jenkins Merton. He attended schools in France, England, and the United States, receiving his B.A. (1938) and his M.A. (1939) from Columbia University.

After a brief period teaching English at Columbia (1938-1939) and St. Bonaventure (1939-1941), Merton entered the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he was ordained as Father M. Louis in 1949. He served as Master of Scholastics (1951-1955) and Master of Novices (1955-1965) at the monastery.

Most of Merton's writing dates from his years at Gethsemani. To one of his correspondents he has suggested that he accomplished very little writing of importance prior to his conversion in 1938. He further stated that his productive years should be divided into three periods: from 1938 to his ordination in 1949, "that is up to Seven Storey Mountain, Waters of Siloe, etc, when I suddenly got to be well known, a best seller, etc,"; a middle period lasting "until somewhere in the early sixties" and ending with Disputed Questions, after which he "began to open up again to the world"; and a third period resulting in works like Seeds of Destruction, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, and Chuang Tzu. With reference to this last period, Merton believed that he was (in 1966) "evolving further with studies on Zen and a new kind of experimental creative drive in prose, poetry, satire, etc."

With respect to his reputation, Merton acknowledged "a lot of critics, particularly among Catholics...Most of them are put of by the fact that I sound at times like a Catholic Norman Mailer. I get on better with non-Catholics, particularly the younger generation, students, hippies, etc." He regretted that many readers knew him only from his earlier "ascetic, conservative, traditional, monastic" publications. In retrospect, he wished that he had never "bother[ed] to write about one third" of the inspirational books.

Thomas Merton wrote several books for New Directions, Harcourt, and Farrar, Strauss, as well as numerous articles for publications such as Commonweal, Blackfriars, Catholic Worker, Collectanea Cisterciensia, Harper's, Sewanee Review, Saturday Review, Jubilee, and other periodicals. Among his poetry titles are Thirty Poems (1944), Figures for an Apocalypse (1948), and Emblems of a Season of Fury (1963). Religion and theology titles include What is Contemplation (1948), Thoughts in Solitude (1958), and Life in Holiness (1963). He also wrote essays, collected in Disputed Questions (1960) and New Seeds of Contemplation (1962), among others. His translations include The Wisdom of the Desert (1960) and Selections from Clement of Alexandria (1963). Other well-known titles include The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), The Sign of Jonas (1953), and Breakthrough to Peace (1962).

Though he tried to shed his reputation as a "spiritual writer," he admitted in 1963 that his work, "both poetry and prose, represents a monastic view of life and implies a rather strong criticism of prevailing trends towards global war, totalism, racism, spiritual inertia, and crass materialism. This criticism is not something I want to repudiate, though I regret an occasional note of acerbity."

In the 1960s Merton was increasingly drawn into a study of the Eastern mystics and domestic issues of war and racism. He died on December 11, 1968 while attending an interfaith conference in southeast Asia.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Thomas Merton Papers consists almost entirely of writings from the last five years of Merton's life.

The small batch of outgoing Correspondence contains mostly "open letters" intended for general circulation and a few of Merton's addresses. The collection also includes transcriptions of three Interviews and a few reproductions of his Artwork.

Merton's Writings, the majority of the collection, includes several articles and essays, book reviews, a copy of Disputed Questions, a brochure prepared for a Cistercian abbey in Colorado, introductions and prefaces for books by other authors, notebooks dating from 1963 to 1967, several poems, and four issues of the literary quarterly, Monks Pond, which he founded and edited in 1968. Articles and poems are generally in printed, mimeograph, or typescript form, sometimes annotated and revised.

The ten spiral-bound notebooks contain hand-written notes from Merton's readings of other writers, including Simon Weil, Rilke, Maritain, Schiller, Eckhart, McLuhan, Harrington, Sartre, Hernandez, Artaud, Faulkner, Kafka, and others, with a particular emphasis on Camus. Merton also jotted personal reminders and drafts of poetry among the pages of these notebooks.

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Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically, preceded by the three addresses in alphabetical order by title. Writings are arranged by type and within that by title.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968 -- Archives.


American literature -- Catholic authors.
Authors, American.
Poets, American.

Genres and Forms




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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Thomas Merton Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Thomas Merton, 1968.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: JEJ
Date: Aug 1970
Revision history: 31 Mar 2008 - converted to EAD (MRC)

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Correspondence (outgoing)
Box 1 "Cold War Letters" undated
Box 1 "Miscellaneous/undated" undated
Box 1 "An Exchange of Letters on Monastic Questions" 1962
Box 1 1965-1968 (4 folders)
Box 1 Reproductions, with commentaries ca. 1968
Box 1 Transcripts of interviews 1967-1968
Box 1 Japanese and Indian printed booklets ca. 1968
Baciu, Stefan
Articles and essays
Box 1 "Latin America and Spain in the Poetic World of Thomas Merton," Revue de Litterature Comparée undated
Kirsch, Robert
Box 1 "Cables to the Ace, or, Familiar Liturgies of Misunderstanding" 1968
Merton, Thomas
Articles and essays
Box 1 "The Angel and the Machine" 1965
Box 1 "The Answer of Minerva: Pacifism and Resistance in Simon Weil" undated
Box 1 "Answers on Art and Freedom for Miguel Grinberg" undated
Box 1 "Apologies to an Unbeliever," Harper's Magazine 1966
Box 1 "An Approach to Creativity" 1960
Box 1 "Blake and the New Theology," The Sewanee Review Apr 1968
Box 1 "Christian Culture and Oriental Wisdom" (fragment) undated
Box 1 "Christianity and Race in the U.S." undated
Box 1 "The Climate of Monastic Prayer" 1965
Box 1 "Creative Silence" 1968 - draft A and draft B
Box 1 "Danish Non-Violent Resistance to Hitler" undated
Box 1 "Day of a Stranger" undated - draft A and draft B
Box 1 "The Death of God and the End of History" undated
Box 1 "Dom Vital at Gethsemani" Aug 1966
Box 1 "Easter Homily," Argus Communications 1967
Box 1 "Events and Pseudo-events: Letter to a Southern Churchman," Katallagete Summer 1966
Box 1 "Florence, 1966" 1966
Box 1 "Franciscan Eremitism," The Cord Dec 1966
Box 1 "Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant," Jubilee Jan 1965
Box 1 "The Hot Summer of Sixty Seven," Katallagete
Box 1 "Is Buddhism Life Denying?" (appendix) undated
Box 1 "Isaac of Stella: An Introduction to Selections from His Sermons" undated
Box 1 "Liturgical Renewal: The Open Approach," The Critic Dec 1964
Box 1 "The Meaning of Malcolm X," Continuum May 1967
Box 1 "Monachism Bouddhique: le Zen," Collectanea
Box 1 "Monastic Peace" 1958
Box 1 "The Monk Today," Monde et foi Nov 1966
Box 1 "Neither Caliban nor Uncle Tom," Liberation undated
Box 1 "News of the Joyce Industry," Sewanee Review Jul 1968
Box 1 "Nhat Hanh is my Brother" undated
Box 1 "Note on the New Church at Gethsemani," Liturgical Arts undated
Box 1 "Notes on the Future of Monasticism" undated
Box 2 "Notes on Love," Frontier 1967
Box 2 "Notes on Prayer and Action," undated
Box 2 "The Other Side of Despair: Notes on Christian Existentialism" 1965
Box 2 "Peace and Protest" 1965
Box 2 "Pleasant Hill: A Shaker Village in Kentucky, 1809-1910" undated
Box 2 "The Poorer Means: A Meditation on Ways to Unity" 1965
Box 2 "Pre-Benedictine Monachism: Syria, Persia, Palestine" 1964
Box 2 "Prophetic Ambiguities: Milton and Camus," Saturday Review 1966
Box 2 "Renewal and Discipline in Monastic Life" 1968
Box 2 "For a Renewal of Eremitism in the Monastic State" 1965
Box 2 "A Sermon of Isaac of Stella" undated
Box 2 "Seven Words" 1966
Box 2 "The Solitary Life: A Letter of Guigo" 1963
Box 2 "The Spiritual Father in Desert Tradition," Cistercian Studies undated
Box 2 "Statement on Clerical Celibacy" 1967
Box 2 "The Stranger: Poverty of an Anti-Hero" Unicorn Review 1968
Box 2 "The Street is for Celebration" undated
Box 2 "Three Saviours in Camus," Thought undated
Box 2 "War and the Crisis of Language" undated
Box 2 "Zen and the Birds of Appetite" 1968
Box 2 "The Zen Koan," The Lugano Review 1966
Box 2 Book reviews 1964-1967
Box 2 Disputed Questions 1960
Box 2 "Come to the Mountain: New Ways and Living Traditions in the Monastic Life" 1964
Box 2 Introduction and prefaces 1967-1968
Box 2 Inventory of work in progress
Box 3 "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander" 1965
Box 3 Memoranda undated
Box 3 1963-1964
Box 3 1964 [?]
Box 3 1964-1965
Box 3 1966 (4 folders)
Box 3 1967 (2 folders)
Box 3 "Angels Again" undated
Box 3 "Elegy for Father Stephen" undated
Box 3 "Epitaph for a Public Servant: In Memoriam - Adolf Eichmann" undated
Box 3 "Found Macaronic Antipoem" undated
Box 4 "The Great Men of Former Times" undated
Box 4 "Hopeless and Felons" undated
Box 4 "Man and Master" undated
Box 4 "Origen" undated
Box 4 "Paper Cranes" undated
Box 4 "Prayer to Saint Anatole" undated
Box 4 "The Prospects of Nostradamus" undated
Box 4 "Reading Translated Poets, Feb. 1" undated
Box 4 "Reflections on Love" 1966
Box 4 "Rilke's Epitaph" undated
Box 4 "A Round and a Hope for Smith Girls" undated
Box 4 "Le Secret" undated
Box 4 "A Song from the Geography of Lograire" undated
Box 4 "For the Spanish Poet Miguel Hernandez" undated
Box 4 "Tonight There is a Showing of Champion Lights" undated
Box 4 "A Tune for Festive Dances in the Nineteen Sixties" undated
Box 4 "Western Fellow Students Salute with Calypso Anthems the Movie Career of Robert Lax" undated
Box 4 "Why Some Look Up to Planets and Heroes" 1963
Box 4 "With the World in my Blood Stream 1966
Poetry, anthologies
Box 4 "Early Poems" 1940-1942
Poetry and prose
Box 4 Cables to the Ace, or, Familiar Liturgies of Misunderstanding ["Edifying Cables"] 1966, 1967, 1968
Box 4 Prayers
Box 4 Quarterly, Monks Pond spring, summer, fall, winter 1968

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