The Poetry of Silence

Makoto Fujimura "Silence-Kairos" (2015), mineral pigments on canvas, 84 x 132 inches

“The LORD is in his holy temple; silence before him, all the earth!” -- Habakkuk 2:20 

"It is important to recall that silence is a necessary condition for deep, contemplative prayer, and an important component of the liturgy." -- Cardinal Robert Sarah

"We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us." -- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

"Our fathers had much to say about stillness, and by stillness they meant the absence of motion or the absence of noise or both. They felt that they must be still for at least a part of the day, or that day would be wasted. God can be known in the tumult of the world if His providence has for the time placed us there, but He is known best in the silence. So they held, and so the sacred Scriptures declare." -- A.W. Tozer

"May your writing be a dialogue with the “myriad musics” of God’s silence so that we, your readers and hearers, may come to know more truly both the woe and glory of the world." -- Gregory Wolfe 

I've been thinking a good deal recently about the relationship between worship and silence. It's gotten me thinking, among other things, about the relationship between silence and words, both of the written and spoken sort: how they mutually inform each other and how silence forms a congregation at worship in positive, necessary and constructive ways. I got to wondering what poets, whose profession rests upon the use of words, have said about silence as it relates to the human predicament. Here are a few of the things that have caught my attention.

"A Work for Poets" by George Mackay Brown

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A ship
A star
A cornstalk

Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read

Then not far from the stone
A well
Might open for wayfarers

Here is a work for poets -
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence

"Silence: A Poem for Remembrance Day" by Malcolm Guite

November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seeths instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are singing as we sing our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

"Silence" by Poem by Edgar Allan Poe

There are some qualities—some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence—sea and shore—
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o’ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name’s “No More.”
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!

"Silence" by Billy Collins

There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the floor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

"Echo" by Christina Rossetti

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

Oh dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again tho’ cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago

Comments

Maureen said…
Lovely post.
Timely and necessary. Thank you.

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