The Imagination and Art
Readers of Merton's widely known autobiographical narrative, The Seven Storey Mountain, will realize that the author had a ready and suggestive imagination. There was the scene, for example, in which sitting on the terrace of a hotel in Cuba he felt suddenly inspired by Mary, the mother of Jesus, to write a poem, which he immediately did, a poem that he appropriately called “Song for Our Lady of Cobre.” Similarly, he later related a mysterious experience in which while in Olean in upper New York State where he was an instructor at St. Bonaventure College, he inexplicably heard the tolling of the bell of the monastery that he had visited in Kentucky and to which he would return for the rest of his life. There was also the unsettling episode in which also at Olean he found himself transfixed, while praying at night, by a vision of the “edge of the abyss” and by the apparition of a mysterious person whom he found himself unable to describe. 1.
While these are instances of what might simply be characterized as the psychological imagination, the sort of thing one might encounter in Poe or Rilke, Merton's interest in the imagination was primarily ontological. As with Blake and Coleridge, he was interested in the imagination as a means of attaining truth or reality either through imaginative discernment or through the creative joining of things together to restore their original unity, thus regaining a sense of the depth and authority of____________________