Hearing the silence

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‘Tine is a horse that runs in the heart, a horse,                                            

Without a rider on a road at night                                                            

The mind sits listening and hears it  pass. ‘                                                                     

This wonderful quote from Wallace Steven’s ‘The Pure Good of Theory’ is in a brilliant interview with Kevin Corcoran by Sandeep Parma in the latest Wolf magazine.  It took me back to Stevens and ‘An Ordinary Evening New Haven’ and to thinking about the poets that I love and whose work is under my skin.  Maitreyabandhu’s new book ‘Yarn’ also just arrived and is full of silences.  The first section opens with: ‘Trace the knottings of your back/ to another country,/already dreamlike – a table/ laid out under apple trees, pulling on your coat/ to walk in the rain.’

That ‘knottings of your back’  seems to sum up everything that you need to find the road into silence.  ‘Silence’ is also the  name of Sara Maitland’s book about trying to find the place and the meaning of silence.  I borrowed this from Dave, a fellow Quaker, after a light filled, silent meeting at his little house deep in the trees in Brittany. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, since reading extracts from it in a newspaper.  It’s an interesting book, quite inspiring in parts, but it ends with a dilemma.  Words break silences; how can a writer reconcile silence and the act of writing.

This follows on, from earlier blogs about going into/under/ joining up with what is inside or silent within.  I notice that a lot of my poems are about going in, deeper, scalping to the bone, finding the etching.  Today I wrote in my journal, ‘I need to go further in and deeper, the layers getting stickier, more friable, soil sliding under the nails.’  Not a lady-like pursuit then this poeting.  Maitreyabandhu’s Buddhist writing is about rough journeys through alien landscapes that have to be undertaken alone.

Strange that the vicissitudes of getting old teeter between the banal and the intense.  Suddenly there is so little time and the equipment needed seems to be wearing out, the journey is becoming harder. Eliot asks ‘Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?’ and I read ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufock’ again and it seems to mean something entirely different as I struggle with the knots, with ‘do I dare to cut my hair?’ with the problems, altogether, of eating not just peaches but anything nice that adds to the weight that recalcitrant knees don’t want to carry around!

The days here are mostly silent.  Sun striping the orchard, the moon high in a cold sky.  The struggle with the knots is closely linked to time and how to use time.  How to learn to love potato peeling?  To watch the layers of skin slipping into a bowl of water and be thankful for the earthy smell, for the weight of them in the hand, for the nodding rows of green transformed into baskets and boxes of winter garden in the kitchen.  How to take the silence into every small action; to let the bare trees, the light through the hedges become the illuminated, attentive life?  Peter Redgrove wrote a lovely poem about shedding leaves – here is part of my own leaf-shed poem:

Under the leaf-shed the hollowed apple

and transparent pear fizz with bee and wasp

probing through their skin.  This is

the place within where leaf shed

hides the summer’s rot

reducing from the whole to part.

This is the leaf-shed that takes us all apart.




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5 responses to “Hearing the silence

  1. Love the way you transform the problem of peeling potatoes in the act of evoking it. Such is poeting. Is a life a story of our attempts, thwarted, distracted, now urgent, now forgotten, to go deeper ever. Redcat a witness to the sinking deeper and deeper into the truth, the essence of things, of being.
    Or alternatively a sense of accruing richness, of turning to a burnished-by-life red-gold, the depth inside oneself, as the body turns to ash.
    And the chattering mouth in the dark. Redcat goes and comes in the rhythm of the relationship between the descent into the cave of silence and the return to tell what was found there.
    Thank you for allowing words to fizz and buzz like fruit-drunk wasps

  2. An insightful and inspiring post. I’ve come to the conclusion that my poems are shallow because I shy away from ” going into/under/ joining up with what is inside or silent within.” I must do better!

    Your comments about potato peeling touched a chord with me – I do love to meditate about the small things in life that bring us so much pleasure, like the sudden greening of the brown stubble in the field across the way.

  3. And your reflections on the pains and penalties of aging reminded me of this poem which I wrote last year (first line: Emily Dickinson)

    Should beauty crowd me till I die
    you can be sure – I will not lie –
    the ache of nature’s loveliness
    is marred by age’s ugliness.
    The glow of artistic masterpiece
    contributes to our happiness
    which our decay cannot outweigh,
    but only the memory
    of our youthful beauty
    can take away the ghastliness
    of growing old and dying.


  4. Victoria Field

    What a beautiful post about many themes that occupy me – time, silence, transience, autumn – and lovely to see all those writers name-checked.

  5. I’ve just read your blog for the third time and each time I love what you say more. Brigid, never move to a city, or even a town, you connect so strongly to the earth environment. Love, and with admiration, Caroline

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