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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Merton Judging Merton 
4th-Apr-2009 10:35 pm
Thomas Merton OCSO
A number of people have been asking me for recommendations regarding reading Thomas Merton since I started reading strongly in him back in November, and posting quite a bit based on that reading. While I hope I've shared some reasonable thoughts on that point, it struck me that something else I've recently found might be worth posting for those curious about such reading. I recently tripped across a copy of a sheet of paper from February 6, 1967, a bit less than two years before his death, where Merton himself sketched out a graph where he attempted to evaluate his own work. There are a number of titles in circulation now that are not covered here, as many collections of his work were put together after his death. There are also already-published titles he neglected to include, like The Secular Journal or the important poem Original Child Bomb, as well as immediately forthcoming works such as Mystics and Zen Masters, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

This list is a roughly chronological sketch of his published work as he knew it at that time. (I preserve his order, but add the original publication dates.) He ranked them according to seven grades, running the following range: AWFUL, VERY POOR, POOR, LESS GOOD, GOOD, BETTER, BEST, with none of his work earning a "BEST" rating in his own eyes. The general shape of his judgment mirrors that of most critical readers of his work. I can't figure out how to make a nifty graph on LiveJournal to copy his layout, so I'll just reproduce it as a straight list with his rank listed afterward.
Thirty Poems (1944, Poetry) – BETTER
A Man in the Divided Sea (1946, Poetry) – LESS GOOD
Figures for an Apocalypse (1948, Poetry) – POOR
Exile Ends In Glory (1948, Biography) – VERY POOR
The Seven Story Mountain (1948, Autobiography) – BETTER
Seeds of Contemplation (1948) – BETTER
The Waters of Siloe (1949) – GOOD
The Tears of the Blind Lions (1949, Poetry) – BETTER
What Are These Wounds? (1950, Biography) – AWFUL
The Ascent to Truth (1951) – LESS GOOD
The Sign of Jonas (1953, Journal) – BETTER
Bread in the Wilderness (1953) – LESS GOOD
The Last of the Fathers (1954, Biography) – LESS GOOD
No Man is an Island (1955) – GOOD
The Living Bread (1956) – LESS GOOD
The Strange Islands (1957, Poetry) – GOOD
The Silent Life (1957) – BETTER
The New Man (1961) – BETTER
Thoughts in Solitude (1958) – BETTER
Spiritual Direction and Meditation (1960) – LESS GOOD
The Wisdom of the Desert (1961) – BETTER
Disputed Questions (1960) – BETTER
New Seeds of Contemplation (1962) – BETTER
Life and Holiness (1963) – LESS GOOD
Seeds of Destruction (1964) – GOOD
The Way of Chuang Tzu (1965) – BETTER
Seasons of Celebration (1965) – GOOD
Raids on the Unspeakable (1966) – BETTER
Emblems of a Season of Fury (1963, Poetry) – BETTER
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966, Journal) – BETTER
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