In her book of sonnets, Pilgrim, You Find the Path by Walking, Jeanne Murray Walker has several poems exploring silence. To introduce them, she uses a quotation from Max Picard: “Silence is the only phenomenon today that is ‘useless.’ It does not fit into the world of profit and utility: it simply is.”
I’m not sure I agree, or perhaps I don’t completely understand. I think silence, like love, does a lot.
At times, usually at night when I don’t hear the hush of trees, the murmur of crickets, the cars driving towards Detroit or maybe Chicago, silence scares me. “Nothing’s happening,” I think. I don’t like the thought that everyone and everything is taking a break at the same time.
Other times, like when I walk into a library and breathe in the pages of the books, silence settles what is restless inside of me, even if I can’t name it. I’ll flip through pages of books and magazines not looking to be tamed of this restlessness, but content to let it run wild in the silence of the story I choose to enter into.
In a poem about going to the ocean, Jeanne Murray Walker contemplates what she sees and hears — the “green-gray water,” the “wheeze and hiss” of its “great body.” In the poem she has no book or phone; there’s nothing else going on, nothing else to do except see and hear the ocean. “Therefore the mind finds metaphor,” she writes. And then:
How I see better what
after sitting quietly with what is not.
I think that in both my case and in Jeanne Murray Walker’s silence does something to us, and while I shudder to think of making a campaign for silence, complete with a platform, branding, and hashtags, I do think silence’s usefulness, like love’s, is vital. Perhaps these entities that make us feel something are dependent on us. Could it be that silence and love are around us all the time, waiting, hoping we’ll find them, hoping we’ll let them mark us, with no care in the world whether they are useful?
This week, consider what silence is and what it does. Then write a poem about it.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Sandra Heska King we enjoyed:
Browse more poetry prompts
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