Thomas Merton’s golden poem, Song for Nobody

Another poem from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds is Song for Nobody by Thomas Merton. This golden poem is Beautiful, Enigmatic, and Profound. Below are some reactions to it as I try to fathom the poet’s spiritual perspective. If you have any comments please feel free to post them below. I’d be curious to hear your take on it.

Black-Eyed-Susan Flower

Song for Nobody
by Thomas Merton

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)

A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

Merton’s mystical poem is a light-filled meditation on a flower, most likely a Black-Eyed-Susan from the description. The poem takes the reader from a material object, to its spiritual aspect, to pure subjectivity, to a heaven within. The yellow flower, its golden spirit, possibly a flower deva—each sings its song by itself for nobody. The poet sees the object, imagines the singing, and senses a subject awake within it. He then strips away each attribute, a sort of neti-neti meditation (not this, not this) to get to the real essence, just pure wakefulness. Then, a golden heaven sings a song to nobody.

There’s a lot in here, more than I can comprehend from his informed perspective. But it is Merton, the poet, who is singing his song of the flower, for himself and his readers. So we each take from it what we can, based on our own knowledge and experience.

Below I share a Vedic explanation of creation as a cosmic song, which seems to relate. As an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion, Merton must have been aware of these spiritual matters, and may have also practiced some form of meditation, along with his prayers.

This singing a song to nobody reminds me of the second stanza in the four-stanza Wallace Stevens poem, Of Mere Being:

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

This deeper spiritual vision also reminds me of the second line of the opening four-line stanza in William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, seeing a heaven in a wild flower:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

They all point to a deeper transcendental reality, a more enlightened vision of the Self. It reminds me of the ancient rishis, the Vedic seers who were awake inside and heard the Veda humming to itself within their own consciousness. They cognized the richas, the hymns of the Veda, that sought them out. The Veda is the blueprint of creation, and the richas are the laws of nature. The universe is sung into existence. For more details on this transformation, see this post with thoughts on language, translation, and creation.

That quality of wakefulness is described in Rk Veda, 5.44.14: Yo jagara tam richa kamayante. He who is awake, the richas seek him out. (Peter Freund’s Favorite Sanskrit Expressions, page 3.)

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explained the process of Vedic cognition during a 1976 European Symposium on Science and Consciousness: He Who Is Awake the Hymns Seek Him Out.

I mentioned these references in a post about the last poem William Stafford wrote the morning of the day he died.

From my own experiences as a meditator and a poet, Merton’s poem reminds me of the magic that can happen between an observer and an aspect of nature, as in my encounter with lotus pads, and the poetic commentary that followed, reflecting upon that intimate experience in Sometimes Poetry Happens, where the three—the seer, the seen, and the poetic process—are one, and that oneness is ultimately pure wakefulness, pure being, as expressed in a later poem, Seeing Is Being.

Another poem from Soul Food, edited by Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson-Pearce, is John Glenday’s Concerning the Atoms of the Soul.

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4 Responses to “Thomas Merton’s golden poem, Song for Nobody”

  1. John Glenday’s poem, Concerning the Atoms of the Soul, illuminates and nourishes the mind | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Related poems worth seeing: Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, Buddha in Glory, reminds us of our eternal nature within; and Fishing For Fallen Light: A Tanka inspired by David Lynch and Pablo Neruda. Another poem recently added from Soul Food is Thomas Merton’s Song for Nobody. […]

    Like

  2. Jane Sturgeon Says:

    Ken, I just wanted to let you know that I rented ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ film on YouTube. I sat and watched it in peace, not even knitting, and loved it. Thank you for recommending I see it. It is special. Hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

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