Thomas Merton and the Eternal Search

Elie-Merton-320Paul Elie at The New Yorker:

Here ends the book, but not the searching. Thomas Merton ended “The Seven Storey Mountain” with a little Latin to that effect: Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi. Set tombstone-style in small caps, at once pompous and obscure, it runs against the spirit of the book, which is personal, casual, talky, and self-deprecating—the story of a conversion to Catholicism and a call to a Trappist monastery as the adventures of a young New York dangling man.

Here ends the book, but not the searching. Those words turned out to be as true as any Merton wrote before or after. “The Seven Storey Mountain” sold six hundred thousand copies in 1948 and 1949, and the book’s success forced Merton into the role of a cloistered celebrity, a spokesman for silence. Boxed in by this development and suddenly unstoppered as an author, Merton set himself to overcoming “the limitations that I created for myself with The Seven Storey Mountain” and “the artificial public image which this autobiography created.” There would be no sequel, but over the next twenty years he would scatter accounts of his further adventures across tens of thousands of pages: devotional books, poems, essays, letters, journals, aphorisms, and song lyrics—everything but fiction.

more here.