When Prophecy Still Had a Voice
The Letters of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax
Their letters show Merton as an irreverent and often hilarious critic of presidents and popes. He also turned to serious issues, such as the war in Vietnam and the dangers of nuclear holocaust. Merton and Lax's correspondence is filled with reminiscences of friends and faculty from their years at Columbia, including Mark van Doren, Lionel Trilling, Ad Reinhardt, Edward Rice, and Jacques Barzun. These letters of two poets and solitaries betray a giddy delight in wordplay, unconstrained by rules of grammar or conventions of spelling. Puns, portmanteaus, and inside jokes abound. The thirty-year exchange began when Merton dashed off a note on June 17, 1938, after spending a week with Lax's family.
The final epistle in this extraordinary correspondence was written by Lax on December 8, 1968. Merton died in Bangkok five days later and never received it. Arthur Biddle spent nearly ten years collecting every letter known to exist between Merton and Lax, a total of 346, two thirds of which have never been published. Biddle provides chronologies of their lives and places events and people in context within the letters. This volume also includes the text of a rare interview with Lax.
Arthur W. Biddle is professor emeritus of English at the University of Vermont.
"Here, in their garrulous exchange of letters spanning 30 years, we see the childlike part of Merton: the innocent, eccentric, irreverent, prankish Thomas Merton. . . . Even a reluctant reader will be seduced by the rich brew of humor and wisdom that these letters provide."—Lexington Herald-Leader
"A delight. . . . At the same time, they reveal serious struggles with personal vocation and issues such as peace and the Cold War."—Library Journal
"The letters are reckless, sophomoric, erudite, witty, iconoclastic, frank, serious, youthfully exhuberant, scatological, excessive, wordly, mystical, selfconsciously clever, earthy, subversive, and holy—but above all, charmingly human."—Wade Hall
Other Titles in BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Literary