The World of Silence

Silence and the Peasant

   The village...Shyly the walls of the houses
rise from the earth, first as if step by step and slowly,
horizontally, and then a little upwards into the air, care-
fully, as though they were afraid to meet something that
should not be touched.
   The paths in the village lie there as if they had been
cast off like old shoes. They are short, they disappear
round the corners and suddenly stop. They are like the
remains of a great road that is no longer there. Only the
silence still goes over them, and behind it a few people
silently following in the wake of the silence.
   But from the little windows of the houses silence
watches itself passing on the path below.
   The people are slow, as though they were trying to
move in the slow rhythm of the silence itself.
   Two people stand by each other talking in the street in
the morning. They look round carefully as if they were
still being observed by the silence of the night. The
words go backwards and forwards between them stealthily,
as if they are seeing whether they can still speak after the
silence of the night. They have been speaking for a long
time already, but it is as though the silence were becoming
still more dense as time goes on.

  In the spring the first primrose and a catkin slip out
unobtrusively through a chink in the silence, and then
all the crocuses and tulips are there. They come so
suddenly that one can almost hear them, but the sound is
changed into color: into the brilliant reds and yellows
of the tulips.
   The birds begin to sing. It is as if the silence of the air
were being grazed by the wing of the bird: such is the
origin of song.
   In the summer the flowers in the peasants' gardens are
as thick as fruit, like colored milestones, signposts on
the road of silence.
   Sometimes on a summer's day the village is sunk in
silence, as if sunk under the earth. The walls of the
houses are the last remains above the earth, and the church
tower stands high like a cry for help, like a cry turned into
stone in the silence.
   On such a summer's day the flowers in the gardens are
different: the dark flowers are like seaweed on the bottom
of the sea of silence, and the bright ones like reflected
images of the stars on the ground of silence, or like
glistening fish in the water of silence.

   The cattle in the fields: they are the animals of silence.
The broad surface of their backs...It is as if they were
carrying the silence there. Their eyes are like brown
pebbles on the road of silence.
   Two cows in a field moving along with a man beside
them...It is as if the man were pouring down the
silence from the backs of the animals on to the fields; as
if he were plowing with the silence.
   The moo of the cow is like a rent in the silence, like
silence tearing itself to pieces.
   The wide gestures of the men in the fields—they are
re-sowing the silence that has been destroyed in the towns.

   The life of the peasant is a life in silence. Words have
wandered back into the silent movements of man. The
movements of the peasant are like a long stretched-out
word that has lost its sound on a long journey.
   The peasant repeats the same motions every time he
mows and sows and milks, in every kind of work. The
motions he performs are as concrete an image as the house
he lives in and as the trees on the field. All the noise of
work is absorbed into the constant pattern of the same
repeated movements, and the peasant's work is surrounded
with silence. In no other vocation is the pattern of daily
work so clearly visible and concrete as in that of a peasant.
   The peasant moving along behind his horses and the 
plow...All the fields of earth lie underneath this
plow, under the tread of the horse and the peasant. The
motions of the peasant, the horse and the plow are
independent of language as if they had never set out from
language; as if the peasant, before he left home for the
fields, had never said: Now I am going into the field to
plow;—in fact, as if no man had ever spoken of fields
and horses and plowing, for the movements of the
peasant are become like the silent orbit of a star.
   The movements of the peasant are so slow that it seems
as though the stars were moving with him and as though
peasant and stars were crossing each other's silent paths.
   The plenteous grain falling into the opened earth from
the hand of the peasant is like the abundance of stars in
the milky way. Grain and stars both shine through the
mist and the haze.
   The peasant's life is like a constellation of silence in
the vault of the human sky.
   Because the whole of the peasant's life became a
regular pattern, it stepped out of the circle of the rest of
human life and is linked more with the patterns of nature
and the patterns of the inner life than with those men
who are outside the world of silence and the world of
   Sometimes when a peasant moves with the plow and
the oxen over the broad surface of the field, approaching
ever nearer to the edge of the horizon where the sky
touches the earth, it is as if the vault of the sky might in
the next moment take up into itself the peasant, the
plow, and the oxen, so that he might plow the soil of
heaven as one of the constellations.

   The peasant is a link in the sequence of the generations,
backwards and forwards, so that the generations of the
past are with him in their silence, and with their silence
future unborn generations as well. The individual in
every other walk of life is not only more obtrusive than
the peasant, but also more intensely involved in the pres-
ent, more detached from the past and the future and from
their silence.

   When peasants make a great noise on their festive
occasions, it is as if they were trying to break out of the
silence, which they can do successfully only by the use of
   Look at the movements of peasants in the old Dutch
paintings. The movements of their faces and limbs are like
those of men who have just risen from silence, violently
shaking off the peace and silence, and trying out all kinds
of movement at once as if they wanted to know all the
things one can do with the face and limbs in crying and
laughing, the things they have forgotten in the silence.

   A peasant and his wife sitting in the evening in front
of their house, both in a long silence...Suddenly a word
falls from the mouth of one or other into the silence. But
that is no interruption of the silence: it is as though the
word were simply knocking to see if silence were still
there—and then it goes away again. Or it is like the last
word proceeding from a man so that silence should have
full sway, the last word that runs after all the others that
have been before and disappeared, a straggler belonging
more to silence than to language.
  This silence of the peasant does not mean the loss of
language. On the contrary: in this state of silence man
returns to the beginning of time, when he was waiting to
receive the word from silence. It is as if he had never yet
possessed the word; as if it were now to be given to him
for the first time. It is not man but silence out of which
the first word now appears again.
   Man towering up from the level of earth: that is like
the word leaping up from the surface of silence. But only
the peasant still has this level ground of silence within
him today. The peasant, towering up from the level of
the field, corresponds to the level ground of silence out
of which the word of man arises.