Merton, Thomas,1915–68, American religious writer and poet, b. France. He grew up in France, England, and the United States and studied at Cambridge and at Columbia (B.A., 1938; M.A., 1939). Converted to the Roman Catholic Church during his college career, he became in 1941 a Trappist monk. He was later ordained a priest and is known in religion as Father M. Louis. Merton died as a result of an accident in Thailand while attending an ecumenical council of Catholic and Buddhist monks. Among his volumes of poems are Figures for an Apocalypse (1947), The Tears of the Blind Lions (1949), and The Strange Islands (1957). Best known of his books are his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948, repr. 1970), two volumes on Trappist life, The Waters of Siloe (1949) and The Sign of Jonas (1953, repr. 1973), and Mystics and Zen Masters (1967). His Seeds of Contemplation (1949), The Silent Life (1957), and New Seeds of Contemplation (1962, rev. ed. 1972) are volumes of meditations. Also of interest are his Disputed Questions (1960), Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), Faith and Violence (1968), and Contemplation in a World of Action (1971).
See A Thomas Merton Reader, ed. by T. P. McDonnell (1962); his journals, ed. by P. Hart et al. (7 vol, 1995–98) and his Asian journal, ed. by N. Burton et al. (1973); study by J. T. Baker (1971).
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Merton, Thomas (James)(1915–68) Catholic monk, writer; born in Prades, France. Following his mother's early death, he was raised in France, England, and the U.S.A. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Columbia University, he converted from agnosticism to Catholicism and in 1941 entered a Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Ky., taking the name Louis; his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), became a best-seller and made him a Catholic folk hero. He continued to write poetry and religious works, and after ordination (1949), he served as master of students, then master of novices. In later life he was increasingly preoccupied with social concerns and he became a major figure in the 1960s antiwar movement. Also drawn to solitude, he won permission to live as a hermit on his monastery's grounds (1965). In 1968 he was allowed to pursue a growing interest in Oriental mysticism by visiting the Far East; while attending a religious conference in Thailand he was apparently electrocuted by a faulty fan in his hotel room.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.