ON THE “FIRST LESSON ABOUT MAN”
Here’s a poem I walked with today. Penned in the late 1940’s by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, it seems to be still applicable to the present state of the world.
Man begins in zoology.
He is the saddest animal.
He drives a big red car called anxiety.
He dreams at night
Of riding all the elevators.
Lost in the halls,
He never finds the right door.
Man is the saddest animal.
A flake-eater in the morning,
He fills his skin with coffee
And loses patience with the rest of his species.
He draws his sin on the wall,
On all the ads in all the subways.
He draws moustaches on all the women
Because he cannot find his joy,
Except in zoology.
Whenever he goes to the phone to call Joy,
He gets the wrong number.
Therefore he likes weapons.
He knows all guns by their right name.
He drives a big black Cadillac called death.
Now he is putting anxiety into space.
He flies his worries all around Venus,
But it does him no good.
In space where for a long time there is only emptiness,
He drives a big white globe called death.
Now dear children
Who have learned the first lesson about man,
Answer your test:
“Man is the saddest animal.
He begins in zoology,
And gets lost
In his own bad news.”
Thomas Merton, “First Lesson About Man” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton