The starting point for today’s post was my absence last week. Silent pages. If the frothy filosofer filosofises out loud in a forest and no-one hears him, does he make a sound? Maybe it is the sound of one hand clapping. A new twist on an old conundrum. Oh, I was not in a forest last week. Far from it. I was in Birmingham. Although there was a hint of the Black Forest with the faux German Christmas Market – plywood booths festooned with kitsch, the smell of bratwurst wafting along New Street. I succumbed. I enjoyed a bratwurst standing by the tramway, watching the late afternoon shoppers, and remembering the hotdog I had at a famous stall in Reykjavik – smeared with equal measures of mustard, ketchup and guilt (because someone was not happy getting lost in the cold and rain trying to find this place). Some of the condiments also found their way onto the hotdog.
I am not sure if I have ever experienced complete silence. We live in a world that is dominated by sound. Perhaps, more accurately, we are surrounded by noise. The distinction between noise and sound is a value judgement. Noise in the city and sounds in the countryside. In reality, it is not such a simple dichotomy – as Paul Simon said, “everyone loves the sound of a train in the distance”.
We vary in our ability to cope with silence. We recognise awkward silences, spooky silences, and the comfortable intimate silence couples sometimes share. Is silence a positive presence, something manifest and tangible, or is it just the absence of sound? Is silence an absolute, or does it exist on a continuum? We can enjoy the silence of a walk through a forest, but we become aware of the sounds of wildlife, of the wind in the trees, even of the sounds of our own footsteps and breathing.
And whither poetry? The silences between words, between stanzas, can convey so much, particularly when we consider performance poetry.
Keeping silent can be both a virtue and a sin. What should be uttered and what needs to remain unsaid? Consider the recent revelations about child sexual abuse in the world of football. Consider “whistle blowing” – again, in recent news, the fining of a cruise company for wilful pollution, revealed by someone breaking the silence.
Thinking about silence can lead us into all sorts of strange alleyways.
Silence? I think I’ll keep quiet about it.
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