I’m always looking for R. S. Thomas. Recently I found him when I was looking for Thomas Merton’s love affair, and that search began while I was looking for a poem presented as Merton’s “Final Prayer.”
I discovered that the so-called “Final Prayer” is, in fact, the last paragraph of a letter Merton wrote to the poet Czeslaw Milosz on February 28, 1959, which, of course, does not lessen the power of Merton’s words, which sound prescient: “All loyalties have to pass through fire. Much has to be lost. Much in us has to be killed, even much that is best in us.”
Seven years later, Merton tested his loyalty to his vow of chastity when he slid headlong into love with a student nurse. Because it seems to me that Christianity’s traditional theology of sex is screwed up, I decided to follow the spoor of Merton’s experiment with sexual passion through his journal entries for 1966-1967.
After the affair was largely over, he notes that he was healthier when he was expressing his love: “I had much less trouble all around when I was seeing M.” Four days later, he writes: “I definitely do not intend to try to see M. or do anything more about her.”
I was still wondering whether killing his love for M. was good for Merton – good too for M., when R. S. Thomas jumped out of Merton’s journal: “Got a very good letter from Ron Johnson,” Merton writes, on July 3, 1967. “He spoke of having met R. S. Thomas in Wales – lovely description of his unearthly Welsh wife.”
“She was English!” I belabored the book, which shrugged and said, “Take that up with Merton.”
Since that suggestion called for powers I lack, I checked the online catalog for the Thomas Merton Center in Louisville, Kentucky, and found an interview with A. M. Allchin about Merton, in which Allchin says that Merton “was interested in R. S. Thomas and quite appreciated him.” Later in the interview, Allchin notes that by 1968 Merton “had this contact with R. S. Thomas and he got interested in the Welsh background in his own family tree.”
Where will RS next appear, just when I’m looking for someone else?
Quotes in this post:
“All loyalties have to pass through fire” – Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz (1997), 20.
“I had much less trouble,” “I definitely do not intend,” and “Got a very good letter” – Learning to Love: The Journals of Thomas Merton 1966-1967 (1998), 254, 255, 257.
Victor A. Kramer, “An Interview with Canon A. M. Allchin about Merton,” 245, 249.