The World of Silence

Men and Things in Silence

   It is a blessing to have a common understanding not
only about the meaning of things but also about the mean-
ing of silence. Simply not to be talking is not the same as
to be silent. Silence must be present within a man as a
primary reality in its own right, not merely as the opposite
of speech. This living in the primary silence adds another
life to man, who is only man through the word: it adds
the life in silence. It points him beyond the life that is in
the word to a life beyond the word, and it points him
beyond himself.

       Often Platon Karatajev said the exact opposite of what
       he had said earlier, and yet both the one and the other
       were right...When Pierre was sometimes taken aback
       by the deep meaning of his words he asked Platon to
       repeat what he had said. But Platon was unable to remem-
       ber the words he had spoken only a minute before...
       Platon did not and could not understand the meaning of
       the individual words torn out of their context. Every
       word and every action of Platon was the expression of an
       activity which he himself did not understand yet which
       constituted the whole of his life. Platon's life was mean-
       ingless as a single individual life and received its meaning
       only as part of the whole life which he felt flowing cease-
       lessly around him. His words and his deeds streamed 
       from him as directly as the fragrance from a flower.
       (Tolstoy, War and Peace)

   That is a picture of man inside such a firm, unchanging
order that the word is no longer used to release an action.
The actions follow one another unobtrusively, unnoticed
by anyone.
   With this Platon of Tolstoy there is no further need of
words and therefore the word has a freedom of its own.
It is no longer directly bound to the object and no longer
to other words, but nevertheless it is not completely
unleashed: it hovers blessedly over objects and actions.
The words are connected and held together not by formal
external logic but by the blessedness of this freedom of
their own. Therefore "there is no contradiction here",
and a man "can say the exact opposite of what he had
said before and yet the one and the other were both right."
   The words do not point to themselves nor to the things
and actions they describe, but to the blessedness of the
inward freedom. Such a man can speak and yet be silent;
and he can be silent and yet speak. In fact the silence is
made audible by the word, and the bliss that is usually
only a feeling becomes as visible as a concrete object,
visible in its transparency.

   The little old towns of the past seem to lie in an opening
of silence, still surrounded by silence at their extremities.
It is as if the covering had been removed from silence at
one place; as if silence were itself looking down on to the
little town.
   There is still a kind of numbness in the houses, a shock
caused by the all too sudden eruption of the little town
from the surface of silence.
   Everything is very close together in the little town.
Houses, streets, and squares are all packed tight as if
ready for instant removal. It is as if it needed only a little
jolt and everything would disappear again through the
opening in the silence.
   The streets are like bridges over the silence. And the
people walk so slowly up and down as though they were
afraid the ground was not firm enough to hold them.
   Only the cathedral is secure, like the solid opening of a
shaft down which the silence moves to the still deeper
silence below.
   Contrast with that the big cities of the modern world.
It is as though silence had suddenly exploded and thrown
everything into disorder and confusion. The city has been
destroyed by the explosion of silence. It lies there like what
is left behind after an explosion, like the ruins of silence.
   The language spoken by men in cities does not seem to
belong to them any longer. It is a mere part of the general
noise, as if the words were no longer formed by human
lips but were only a scream and a shriek coming from the
mechanism of the city.
   It is said today that people need only go into the country
to reach the "quietness of nature" and silence. But they
do not meet the silence there; on the contrary, they carry
the noise of the great towns and the noise of their own
souls out into the country with them.
   That is the danger of the "Back to the Land" move-
ment: the noise that is at any rate concentrated in the big
towns, locked up as if in prison, is let loose on the country-
side. To decentralize the big towns is to decentralize the
noise, to distribute it all over the countryside.

   Sometimes, when the wall of a house stands in the light
of noon, it is as though the light were taking possession
of the wall on behalf of silence. One can feel the approach
of the silence of the noonday heat. The light lies firmly on
the wall as a sign that the wall belongs to the silence.
   The gate in the wall is shut; the windows are covered
with curtains; the people inside the house are very quiet,
as though they were lowering their heads at the approach
of the silence.
   The inside wall seems to expand through the silence
pressing in on it.
   Then suddenly a song lights up on the wall from inside.
The notes are like bright balls thrown at the wall. And
now it is as though the silence rises from the wall and
climbs upward towards the sky, and the windows in the
wall are like the steps of a ladder leading the silence and
also the song into the sky above.
   Sometimes there is a seat by the side of a road, with a
cat resting on it. And beyond the cobble-stoned street
there is nothing but a meadow from which a steep slope
falls to the valley. The seat, the cat, the street, the meadow
seem to hover between the sky above the earth at the
bottom of the slope. And here, here in these few things
rests silence itself. It is as if the silence had gone out of
the rest of the world and taken these few things with it
here to take its rest in them.
   The cat is as motionless as if it had previously been
one of those stone animals that wait eternally on cathedral
walls: the animal of silence, able to watch over silence itself.
   These few things—the animal, the seat in the sun, the
cobbled street, the field—are all lifted out of the routine
of the world by silence. Animal, seat, and earth have
returned to the beginning where only silence was, before
the creation of language. In the beginning they were thus
as they are now, and thus they shall be brought to the end
of the world.
   The man looking at them would like to add his own
silence to these things of silence, so that it might travel
with them again from the beginning of the world until
their end—But then he expresses what he sees before
him in the word, and in the word he sees the silence even
more clearly than with his eye.

   A great wall of stone, the great outside wall of the
theater at Orange in Provence: it is silence itself.
   It is not the silence that arises by crushing out the
word; here the silence is not ground down by the stone-
work. Here it is from the very beginning in the stone, in
the stone as the Greek gods are in the marble, where it
is not as if man had fashioned them out of the marble but
as if they themselves had appeared in the marble exactly
as they are; as if they had traveled for a long time through
the blocks of marble until they came to the end of the
marble mountain. As out of a gate, out of the last gate
of the marble mountain, the gods step out of the marble. 
   And exactly so is the silence in this wall. It seems to
have traveled through all the stones of earth, until it has
arrived at the last wall of stone here, and now it waits.
Round gates have already broken out of the wall below
and at the sides, as if everything were prepared for the
silence to move out from here into the world.
   If the wall were only one single stone, it would be like
a memorial of silence—only a memorial. But as it is, made
up of many small stones, these stones as they arise from
the ground and stretch out in all their length and breadth
are like the limbs of silence. The silence is alive; it is no
mere memorial. The many stones are like the stone flesh
of silence. One can feel the texture of silence in this great
wall of stone.
   It is as though the whole earth could be supplied with
silence from this place; in fact as if a whole world of
silence could be erected from this place: the groundwork
consisting of silence, rivers conveying silence instead of
water between their banks, and on their sides trees stand-
ing packed tightly together as the stones here in the wall.
   The trees bear a bright radiance on their branches
between their leaves, and the bright radiance between the
leaves is like the fruits of silence.