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Thomas Merton letters to Clifford Shaw, 1959-1964

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Processed by: Archives Staff ; machine-readable finding aid created by:Eric Weig


Thomas Merton letters to Clifford Shaw




University of Kentucky Special CollectionsLexington, Kentucky 40506


Arrangement is chronological.

Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation Note

[Identification of item], Thomas Merton letters to Clifford Shaw, 1959-1964, 1VF66M28, Special Collections, University of Kentucky.


16 pieces


Monk, author. Thomas Merton was the son of two artists. He attended Columbia University in New York. He converted to Catholicism in 1938 and found himself drawn to the contemplative life of the Trappist monks whose ranks he joined in 1941. Merton served as Master of Scholastics and as Master of Novices at the order's monastery in Kentucky, Our Lady of Gethsemani, before being allowed to live as a hermit in 1965. He left the monastery in 1968 to attend a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, where he died December 10th of an accidental electrocution. Merton won acclaim for his books, poems and articles, beginning with the publication of the autobiographical SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN in 1948. In the 1960s he was known for his concern about peace, civil rights and other social issues. He also promoted ecumenism between Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians.

A prolific writer, Merton produced 139 books and contributed to 104. He wrote 486 pieces for magazines and newspapers in his relatively brief career.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of correspondence between Thomas Merton and Clifford Shaw of Evansville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. Most of the letters are concerned with arrangements for Shaw's visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky (Nelson County). Shaw was interested in setting some of Merton's poems to music. Merton writes about his work, SELECTED POEMS OF THOMAS MERTON and about his religious beliefs by way of encouraging Shaw who was apparently ill at the time. There is also a signed copy of Merton's BORIS PASTERNAK AND THE PEOPLE WITH WATCH CHAINS, and a copy of William Blake's poem, "The lamb" which was set to music by Shaw at the request of singer, Eileen Farrell. There is a typescript of Merton's poem "Love winter when the plant says nothing," which appeared in the volume, EMBLEMS OF A SEASON OF FURY. Merton signed all the letters with his monastic name, Father Louis.


  • Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.
  • Pasternak, Boris Leonidovich, 1890-1960.
  • Shaw, Clifford.
  • Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.)
  • Poets, American--20th century.
  • Trappists--Kentucky.
  • Kentucky authors

User Restrictions

Copyright has not been assigned to the University of Kentucky.