three friends

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
“Can men live together
And know nothing of it?
Work together
And produce nothing?
Can they fly around in space
And forget to exist
World without end?”
The three friends looked at each other
And burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before.

Then one friend died.
Confucius
Sent a disciple to help the other two
Chant his obsequies.

The disciple found that one friend
Had composed a song.
While the other played a lute,
They sang:

“Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
You have gone
Where you really were.
And we are here—
Damn it! We are here!”

Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and
Exclaimed: “May I inquire where you find this in the
Rubrics for obsequies,
This frivolous carolling in the presence of the departed?”

The two friends looked at each other and laughed:
“Poor fellow,” they said, “he doesn’t know the new liturgy!”

—Thomas Merton. The Way of Chuang Tzu [vi. II.]. New York: New Directions, 1969.

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2 Comments

  1. Here’s what’s sticking with me:
    “They had no explanation.
    Thus they were better friends than before.”
    Were those two lines meant to relate exclusively to each other? I think not– rather, that it was the whole experience that resulted in being better friends. But maybe not, and that “no explanation [hence] better friends” is a curious and disturbing “if.. then” to ponder.

    Reply
    • Yeah, it’s hard to say. These are Thomas Merton’s own versions that he put together using existing translations. I like to think that their friendship was strengthened through the common realization they had, namely that there was no explanation.

      Reply

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