Patrick O`Sullivan writes uplifting articles in Irelands Own magazine. Articles about recent past and Ireland of today.
It was the American poet and philosopher R.W. Emerson who wrote; “Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of the gods?” He might have said the whispers of heaven for his reflection is essentially a reminder of the power of silence.
William Penn, the English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania would surely have agreed. “True silence,” he wrote “is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body?” If what he says is true, then there must be many more restless minds than ever for we love in an age that smothers us with noise on every side.
There is the relentless groan and grumble of traffic, the equally relentless distractions of an ever present media, so many television channels that we hardly know what to do with them, the bland cajolement of background music in store and supermarket. It seems that we cannot escape it at all.
R.S. Thomas, the Welsh poet and clergyman wrote: “I never thought other than that God is that great absence in our lives, the empty silence within, the place where we go seeking, not in hope to arrive or find?”
Mother Theresa had something of the same idea. She reminded her followers that God could not be found in noise and restlessness. “God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls!”
How lovely it is to go into a wood on a long summer’s day and hear the stillness there, the singing of the birds or the rustling of the leaves or the faint whispering of grasses. How lovely to walk down some old boreen and hear the honey bees hum to their hearts content in the flowers of the foxgloves the purple thimbles opening upwards along the stem.
How lovely to sit and look up at the starry sky when the air is mothy and warm and the scent of the honeysuckle carries far.
The German philosopher, Kant wrote that two things filled his mind with ever new and increasing awe the more steadily he reflected on them: the starry heavens above him and the moral law within him. One was as real as the other, part of his existence, his being.
Many of the ancient philosophers too were convinced of the value of silence. Inner silence gave rise to insight, self reflection and self awareness, some of the richest things of all for the human heart and spirit.
Researchers at an English University recently published findings which show that quietly reading poetry for instance is very good for the mind. This may be little consolation to the hard pressed exam student, but it may be of interest to those of us with a little more time on our hands.
The researchers mentioned poetslike Donne and Dickinson, the latter an American poetess who wrote more than one poem about silence. Her poems are often cryptic and compressed, but they are generally worth the effort. Speech she wrote was one symptom of affection, silence another. The most perfect communication came from the silence within and was never heard at all.
Gerard Manley Hopkins meanwhile was one who saw the link between silence and music:
“Elected Silence sing to me, and beat upon my whorled ear; Pipe me topastures still and be the music that I care to hear?”
I love the image of silence as the pipe music that carries him so quiet and gentle places in his mind. Christina Rosetti agreed. “Silence” she wrote “is more musical than any song”. It is surely an indictment of our own times, however that the noise of the traffic is so loud on busy roads that many of the song birds cannot hear each other sing. This has obvious implications not only for the maintenance of territory but also for breeding and reproduction.
The Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote “Under all speech that is good there lies a better silence. Silence is asleep as eternity; speech is as shallow as time.”
One of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy also left us food for thought in this regard. It was wonderful he wrote to listen to another man’s silence. As an old neighbour of ours put it one time. “The things we cannot say are best said in silence.”
It might do no harm therefore to reflect upon the value of silence and give it a place in our lives. All it takes is a few quiet moments to ourselves, a time maybe to reflect on what is important to us and what is not, a time to rejoice in the beauty of the world around us: the scent of old roses in a country garden, their double pink bloom twined among the branches of apple and pear tree, the pure whiteness of lilies bringing a grace of their own, peonies like silk, old fashioned beautifiul.
Even today the summer still has places and moments of silence: places and moments that allow us to hear the heavens whisper again.
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