Recently a Canadian poet, J.S. Porter, published a book of poems under the title, The Thomas Merton Poems (Moonstone Press, 1988). His claim is that these poems Merton might have written had he lived longer. Merton, I suspect, would indeed recognize himself in these poems.
One poem particularly caught my eye is without title and reads:
There’s too much of everything
books, stars, flowers.
How can one flower be precious
in a bed of thousands?
How can a book count
in a library of millions?
The universe is a junkyard
burnt out meteors, busted up stars
planetary cast offs, throwaway galaxies
born and buried in an instant
Yet something remains
the dream of fewness
one woman, one man.
There was a time in my life when this poem would have burned holes into me and left me haunted and restless. The dream of fewness…one woman, one man. It still touches the deepest parts of me and triggers a certain ache, but there are now other parts of me that raise questions that weren’t, until recently, inside of me.
Is this dream a dream of the adolescent? Are we longing for a teenage crush? Is it speaking of something more aptly termed obsessional neurosis? Does it refer to something we are meant to outgrow, first fervor, untransformed love? Are we talking here of naive, unrealistic Hollywood daydreams? Are we talking here of a narcissistic longing to find another lonely person with whom to gang-up with against genuine community? Are we talking here about a dream of a sick privatized, selfish love which (as Marxism suggested years ago) hinders the movement towards justice and wider community? Is this a dream for dizzy romance or for what’s most precious in God’s kingdom?
These questions themselves need questioning. What is their root? Are they the fruit of growing up or are they the fruit of cynicism, tiredness, a fatigued spirit, and a heart that has lost its ideals and is content with second best? I suspect it’s some of both. The dream of fewness can be adolescent and can lead to much useless restlessness and aching. Its pursuit can be counterproductive of community and a hindrance to justice. However, the loss of this dream can also indicate a heart that has lost its most important fire for life and had domesticated its passion.
The dream of fewness comes from our wildest longings and is an ache for a great love. As such, whatever its dysfunctions, it is God’s lure pulling us towards our real aim, glory. Nobody who still believes in the dream of fewness needs the reminder that we “do not live by bread alone,” that there is infinitely more to living than the simple sweetening of life. This dream spawns within us a deep and unrelenting restlessness which, perhaps more than anything else, can push us beyond our instinct to settle in, consume, hoard, be secure, and let the amusements and distractions of the good life be somehow enough for us.
To dream the dream of fewness is to know, right within the restless stirring of one’s own heart, that one is, as both Scripture and philosophy affirm, fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods and which demands that one attain a great love. It’s only when we despair of attaining that great love that we grow embarrassed with romance, with “falling in love,” with the dream of fewness and attempt to tame our longings by subduing them with phrases like naive, adolescent, counterproductive of community, sickly privatized, and obsessional neurosis.
Already a generation ago, C.S. Lewis commented upon this as follows: “In speaking of this desire….I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take revenge on it by calling it names like nostalgia and romanticism and adolescence, the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that, when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves, the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell.”
A friend of mine who is getting married this summer recently tried to assure me that she knew what she was getting into: “I’m being realistic, Father, this isn’t naive passion. I’m not looking for Hollywood romance.” I sent her the poem on the dream of fewness with an attached note that read something like this: “Enjoy the first fruits of your love, your honeymoon, the dream of fewness. It’s one of the better foretastes of heaven given us in this life. The accidents of life, soon enough, deprive us of that. Taste and remember!”
The dream of fewness. Taste and remember. Think of how much happier and mellower and centred beyond the immediate the world would be if everyone had tasted and could remember.