The World of Silence

Nature and Silence

   The silence of nature is a conflicting silence from
the human point of view. It is a blessed silence
because it gives man an intuitive feeling of the great
silence that was before the word and out of which every-
thing arose. And it is oppressive at the same time because
it puts man back into the state in which he was before the
creation of language; before the creation of man. It is
like a threat that the word might be taken away from him
again into that original silence.
   If man were nothing but a part of nature, then he would 
never be solitary. He would always be connected with
everything through silence—but in a relationship that 
would concern only the natural side of his nature. Man
is not, however, only a part of nature, but also spirit, and
the spirit is solitary when man is connected with things
only through silence, for the spirit needs to be connected
with things through the word. Then the spirit ceases to
be solitary in the neighborhood of silent nature: it
speaks and is still in the silence. In fact through the word
it can create silence. That is the sign of the divine origin
of the word that out of it can arise the absolutely other,
that which is not contained in the eternal givenness of 
the word: the unexpected silence.
   The relation with things through silence is a permanent
relationship, but the connection through the word is tied
to the moment. But it is the moment of truth which
appears in the word, and that is the moment of eternity.

   We have said that the silence of nature is permanent;
it is the air in which nature breathes. The motions of
nature are the motions of silence. The alternation of the
seasons is the rhythm of silence; the pattern of the
changing seasons is covered by silence.
   The silence of nature is the primary reality. The
things of nature serve only to make the silence clearly
visible. The things of nature are images of the silence,
exhibiting not themselves so much as the silence, like
signs pointing to the place where silence is.

   Silence was there first, before things. It is as though
the forest grew up slowly after it: the branches of the
trees are like dark lines that have followed the movements
of the silence; the leaves thickly cover the branches as
if the silence wanted to conceal itself.
   A bird sings in the forest. That is not a sound directed
against the silence; it is the bright glance falling from the
eye of silence itself on to the forest.
   The forest grows ever larger, because the silence grows
ever greater. The leaves must fall more thickly and the
birds sing more loudly. But now the bright eye of silence
can no longer penetrate the forest.

   The broad back of the mountain...Gently it presents
itself to the human eye and waits patiently for men to cry.
Then the forest catches up the word and gives it back to
man in the echo, for it belongs to man and not to the forest.
   After the echo the silence becomes still deeper, but
where the echo moves along the mountain the ridge of the
forest seems exalted.

   Outside the forest, the flowers are like silence that has
thawed and glistens in the sunlight.
   Beside the forest the lake: like a seal stamped by silence
on the face of the earth. Or it may suddenly seem like a
grey-blue plate fastened on the earth to prevent the silence
from breaking through completely and covering up every-
   There are two ships sailing at both ends of the lake,
slowly, watchfully, observantly.
   A mighty tree stands near the lake. Its heavy trunk
is pressed in the earth like a great stake planted against the
silence. But the silence has crept up along the trunk and
the crown of the tree spreads itself out to make room for
the silence.
   The things of nature are filled with silence. They are
like great reserves of silence.
   The forest is like a great reservoir of silence out of
which the silence trickles in a thin, slow stream and fills
the air with its brightness. 
   The mountain, the lake, the fields, the sky—they all
seem to be waiting for a sign to empty their silence on to
the things of noise in the cities of men.
   A bird flies from one side of the valley to the other.
And it is as though silence were being thrown through
space through the body of the bird as through a ball. The
bird's voice is like the sound of the ball cutting through
the air, and the silence is even more audible after every
note of the bird has sounded.
   In the expectant stillness, the silence in things increases.
Things seem to sink in the silence, to be merely the outer
edge of silence. That is what has happened to the old
villages on the hillsides in the Ticino. They have sunk
in the silence, like ships resting on the ocean bed of silence,
and the clouds above are like brightly colored fish that,
having once upon a time collided with the huge ship-
wrecks at the bottom of the sea, now keep well away.
   The people who walk slowly through these villages are
like divers, hauling up the lost treasures of silence from
the ocean bed.
   Some who have been talking as they have entered
these villages have left them full of silence.

   At the beginning of spring things return from the silence
and come back more to themselves.
   In spring when the leaves sit shyly on the branches like
butterflies, and the blue sky moves among the branches
so that the leaves quiver more in the blue than on the 
branches, the tree belongs more to the sky and to itself
than to the silence.
   A deer jumps between two trees, and the bright
patch on its coat is like a sound traveling through the
   Then all at once the moon appears, and the crescent of
the moon is like the opening slit through which the silence
trickles down in to the forest and covers everything.
   In the heat of the summer noon the silence breaks
right into space. Time itself seems to stand still, para-
lyzed by this sudden jolt.
   The vault of the sky is stretched up high, and the sky
is like the upper edge of silence.
   The earth has sunk down low. Only its edge is visible,
the lower edge of silence.
   The mountain, the trees, and the scattered houses are
like the last things remaining after everything else has
been utterly absorbed by the noonday silence. The
silence seems calm, as it were coagulated; and it is as
though even these last remaining things would vanish as
soon as the silence moves.
   A bird flies slowly into the sky, and its movements are
like dark trails that keep the silence enclosed within
itself. It is as though, otherwise, the silence might open
in the next moment and draw everything into itself.
   Not the darkness but the light belongs to silence. That
is never so clear as in the summer noon when the silence
is utterly transformed into light.
   The silence is as it were uncovered, and light appears
as the inwardness of silence.
   In these summer noons the silence is quite uncovered,
and the light within lies naked to the eye. Nothing moves,
nothing dares to move.
   The light seems so much the essence of silence that the
word seems quite unnecessary. The light is all at once
the fulfillment of the silence.

          It might well be that the inner light might sometime come
          out from us so that we should need no other light. (Goethe)

   In the night silence moves nearer to the earth. The
earth is filled with a silence which seems even to penetrate
the very surface of the soil. The words of the daytime
are dissolved in the silence of the night.
   A bird suddenly begins to sing in the night. And the
song is like the residue of the sounds left over by the day-
time, which, taking fright, embrace each other in the
birdsong and make the song a hiding place.
   A boat travels over the lake and the beat of the oars is
like a knocking on the wall of silence.
   The trees stretch up high into the night as if they were
taking something up with them along their trunks and
were going to hand it over to the silence. The next morn-
ing the trunks are even straighter than the evening before.
   Strangers to themselves and suddenly strangers to the
place where they are, things stand in the night as though
they had not been here in the daytime but had been set
down in the night by silence without noticing it them-
selves. They seem to have traveled in on the silence as on
a ship, secretly: as Odysseus was brought to Ithaka and
put down on the shore and treasures laid beside him, so 
things are brought along silently in the night.

   Sometimes it is as though the silence of nature were in
rebellion; as though it wanted to invade the word of man.
   The wind rumbles, rushing headlong as it rumbles, as
if it were looking for the word and wanted to take the
word away from the mouth of man as he speaks: the word
vanishes in the rumbling of the wind.
   Nature is afraid, when the wind rumbles, lest the
silence may leave her and something else take its place.
   The silence is gathered together tightly in the storm,
but it darts up in the lightning, flashing without thunder
through the forest.
   There is a fear in the bending of the trees. It is the fear
of the creature faced with change and transformation.
   But suddenly all is still. Every sound has been shattered
in the raging of the wind.

   The sea roars. And it is as though it wanted to tear
itself open; as if with the soaring waves it wanted to
uncover itself.
   But suddenly it sinks into itself again as if in the depths
it had found the object of its search; and the depth is
suddenly covered by its own calm again.
   At night the threads of the moon reach down into the
depths of the sea like nets. And now when through the
silence that lies upon it the sea sinks down into itself, it
is as if with the sound of the sea all human sounds have
sunk into the sea and man cries out to himself in fear.

   Fire...When the flame stops a moment in the crack-
ling fire and returns with sudden violence to the ground,
then it is as though the fire wanted to fetch something,
and so the flame stops for a moment, but then rises
higher and more vehemently still and with an ever more
intense despair.

   When the silence in nature is so dense that the things
in nature seem to be only more intense condensations of
the silence, then it seems as though man, too, ceases to
possess the word, and the word is only a chink in the

          Is there another country in the world in which the silence
          is so perfect? Here in the land of the Eskimos there is no
          wind in the trees, for there are no leaves. No birds sing.
          There is no noise of flowing water. No frightened animals
          flee away in the dark. There is no stone to become loose
          under human feet and fall down a river bank, for all these
          stones are walled in by the frost and buried under the
          snow. And yet this world is far from dead: it is only that
          the beings which dwell in this solitude are noiseless and
             This stillness which had been so solitary, which had
          calmed me and done good to my worn-out nerves,
          gradually began to weigh on me like a lead weight. The
          flame of life within us withdrew further and further into
          a secret hiding place, and our heart beats became ever
          slower. The day would come when we should have to
          shake ourselves to keep our heart beats going. We had
          sunk deep into this silence, we were paralyzed by it, we
          were on the bottom of a well from which we could pull
          ourselves out only with inconceivable difficulty. (Gontran
          de Poncins, Kabluna)

   One can hear man trembling with fear in this passage
lest he be dissolved in the silence and become merely a
part of the silence of nature. The words seem to have
grown in the fear, thrown like great shadows on the wall
of silence, the silence that comes ever nearer. The words
are like the last attempt to keep back the wall of silence
lest it move any nearer.
   The silence of nature presses into man. The spirit of
man is like the sky over the broad surface of this silence.
The spirit makes the silence of nature a part of the human
world. It redeems the silence that is only nature and
links it with that silence from which the word came and
in which there is a mark of the silence of God.