Childhood, Old Age and Silence
The child is like a little hill of silence. On this little
hill of silence suddenly the word appears. The little
hill becomes quite small when the first word of the child
is spoken. It sinks beneath the pressure of the word as if
by magic, and the word tries to make itself look important.
It is as though with the sound that comes from its
mouth the child were knocking on the door of silence
and silence were replying: Here I am, Silence, with a
word for you.
The word has difficulty in coming up from the silence
of the child. Just as the child is led by its mother, so, it
seems, the word is led by silence to the edge of the child's
mouth, and is held so firmly there by silence that it is as
though each syllable had to detach itself separately from
the silence. More silence than sound comes out through
the words of children, more silence than real language.
The words a child speaks do not flow in a straight line,
but in a curve, as if they wanted to fall back again into the
silence. They make their slow journey from the child to
other people, and when they arrive they hesitate a moment,
to decide whether they should return to the silence or
stay where they are. The child gazes after its word as it
might watch its ball in the air, watching to see if it will
come back again or not.
The child cannot replace by another word the word it
has brought with difficulty out of the silence; it cannot put
a pronoun in place of a noun. For each word is there as
it were for the first time, and what is there for the first
time, what is quite new, naturally has no wish to be
replaced by something else.
A child never speaks of itself as "I", but it always says
its name: "Andrew wants..." The child would think
it were disappearing if it were to replace its own name by
a pronoun—its own name that has just come up out of the
silence with the word and is there as it were for the first
The child's language is poetic, for it is the language
of the beginning of things, and therefore original and
first-hand as the language of poets is original and first-
hand. "The moon has got broken", says the child of
the new moon. "We must take it to mother to mend
The child's language is melodious. The words hide
and protect themselves in melody—the words that
have come shyly out of the silence. They almost disappear
again in the silence. There is more melody than content
in the words of a child.
It is as though silence were accumulating within the
child as a reserve for the adult, for the noisy world of the
child's later years as an adult. The adult who has pre-
served within himself not only something of the language
of childhood but also something of its silence, too, has
the power to make others happy.
The language of the child is silence transformed into
sound. The language of the adult is sound that seeks for
Children—the little hills of silence—are scattered about
everywhere in the world of words, reminding men of the
origin of speech. They are like a conspiracy against the
all-too-dynamic world of the words of today. And some-
times it is as though they were not only a reminder of
where the word comes from but also a warning as to where
it might return: back into silence. But what better thing
could happen to the corrupted word than to be brought
back into these little hills of silence to become immersed
therein? Then there would be only little hills of silence
on the earth, and in them the word would try to sink itself
deep down into the hills so that out of the depth of the
silence the first, the original, word might be born again.
The Old People
The Word climbs up slowly out of the silence in the
child, and the words of old men and women are slow, too,
as they return to the silence that is the end of life. Like a
burden that has grown too heavy the word falls out of the
mouth of the old, more down into the silence than out-
wards to other men, for the old speak more to their own
silence than to other men.
They move their words like heavy globules hither and
thither between their lips. It is as though they were rolling
them back in secret into the silence, as though before they
leave the earth themselves, the old men and women were
trying to give back to the silence the words they received
from the silence almost unnoticed when they were children.
An old man and an old woman sitting beside each
other in silence outside their home in the evening...
They and every word that comes from them and every
action to which the word gives rise, are within the silence.
They are not even listening any longer to hear what the
silence is saying, for they have already become a part of
the silence. Just as they led the cattle to water, they now
lead the evening to the watering place of silence and wait
till it is satisfied. Then they slowly rise and lead it back
into the warming light of the house.
Even before they move into the silence of death, the old
have something of that silence within them; their move-
ments are slow, as though they were trying not to disturb
the silence at the end of the journey. With their stick to
help them they still walk hesitantly as if on a bridge
without railings, from both sides of which not language
any more, but death, rises up to meet them. They go to
meet the silence of death with their own silence within.
And the last word of the old is like a ship carrying them
over from the silence of life into the silence of death.