While reading a book today, I was struck by the opening chapter’s commentary about the author struggling with the silence that fell between himself and God for a period of some time. Being the sort of person who is very sensitive to silence, and not in a particularly good way, and knowing a lot of people who struggle in their own ways and in their own situations with a similar horror for the silence that I have, I was moved to write my reflections, as it were, in a poem. As is my custom, first I will show the poem, and then I will analyze it and comment on some of the various reflections and contexts the poem was meant or imagined to deal with. We all, after all, live lives of both speech and silence.
Why can’t I bear the silence
That fills these empty rooms?
For though no sound can be heard
Other than my labored breathing
My head cannot keep silent
Being filled with doubts and questions
Things that have remained unsaid
That I would wish to say
If you were here to hear me
And I was not merely
Whispering in vain
Or talking to the wind.
Oh, if you were here,
I would surely be able
To fill the silence all around us
With words of all kinds,
Witty words said with a smile
When I felt I could take the world in stride,
Questions full of pregnant meaning
As I pondered over the deep matters
That always fill my curious mind,
Comments full of cutting and biting
Words that would wound the delicate heart
That I swore to protect from danger
Even from myself, if need be.
Why can’t I hear a word
From you across the silence?
Why can’t some indication
Of the feelings in your heart
Reach across this unbridgeable gulf
To where I stand on a lonely shore
Listening to the rhythm of the gentle waves
Seeking to calm me in vain?
Does the silence trouble you too?
Do you wish to fill the void as I do
With the half-formed thoughts of your heart,
With the record of every anxious care
Provoked by the falling dark?
Or do you only speak aloud
When you know the precise words to say
So that the silence may not be wasted,
But is used to prepare the message inside,
Mixed and seasons in good proportion
So that they may make an excellent feast
For all who partake of them?
Why do you remain silent
Despite the words that pour from me
Like blood pouring from my veins?
What rivers are dammed
Behind your impassive lips?
What layers are concealed
By the look of your expressive eyes
That do not include a key
To decode their depths of meaning?
When you know that I wish to hear
Some good and kind word
Some word of love and regard
To come from your lips,
Why do you withhold from me
The honey of your tongue?
What is going on inside
That I do not see,
Nor yet comprehend,
And how long will that silence last
While I wait in agonies?
Why can’t I bear the silence,
If that is my lot to bear?
Although this poem might seem as if it is a direct poem written about one person in particular, in reality there are many situations imagined in this poem, some of them personal to myself, and some of them related to the concerns and thoughts of those I happen to know and see around me. When a poem or reflection has as many distinct but interrelated connections and contexts (all interrelated by the issue of silence and its seeming accompaniment by a lack of love or concern), a writer such as myself whose words spill forth from an expressive heart faces a serious dilemma. There may be people who read this work and are either flattered or horrified to think that I am writing about them in part or in whole, while there are other situations that I am thinking of involving others and not myself (except as an observant outsider) that that are of such a delicacy where I do not wish to speak of the people involved by name or even reveal that their concerns are a subject of my own melancholy reflection. So, I will simply say that the inspiration of this particular poem is in part in reading about the struggle of someone else with the silence of God, my own wrestling with the silence of God and other people in my life, and other situations that I observe where there are people in relationships who are impassive stone walls, unable to respond kindly and thoughtfully to the love and concern of their husbands or wives, leading to serious estrangement.
I do not bear silence well. Even though the words I read or hear in music and conversation often provoke deep and serious (and sometimes painful) reflection, silence allows the thoughts and cares and anxieties of my own heart to bubble up like water flowing from a broken water main, seeking the low lands where it may collect into a pool. In conversation, at least, there is the chance of distracting myself from what is within by paying attentive concern to others, to hear their own thoughts and feelings expressed. It does not appear that everyone shares this enjoyment in communication with others, or is sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. That is part of the danger of speech as well. We may speak to fill the silence for our own personal benefit, yet we also have to reflect upon the way that others will hear our own words and take them to heart as well. If our words make us feel better and yet hurt and cut other hearts, and fill them with anger or grief or suffering, then our words have done no help at all, for it is of no benefit to our longings for love and relationships if that which heals ourselves harms someone else. We would be no better in that way than those who work out their own brokenness by breaking others through abuse, and that is not an acceptable course of behavior.
So we are left with a dilemma of silence. Silence is, by its definition, the absence of audible communication. Yet there is a lot of thinking and feeling that goes on in the absence of those words, and body language that seeks to either allay concern or show immense anger and frustration that one does not wish to express. At times silence can result from trying to think and ponder over the right words to say, trying to understand what it is that one thinks and feels before committing it to words spoken or written. At other times silence results not from any conscious desire not to communicate, but simply the absence of communication because time and opportunity prevent those conversations from happening in the first place. At other times there are blocking people or situations that are preventing communication from happening, because the time and situation are not right. All of these silences are different, and should be treated differently. Some are the cause for a gracious loosening of bonds but the maintenance of good feeling, others are the cause for deep concern, while others are simply situations that we have to bear with until circumstances change. We cannot, therefore, view all silence as threatening, even if we may greatly prefer friendly conversation to awkward silence in our relationships with others.
That said, as I have discussed the main point of the poem, I would like to comment a little bit on the language of the poem. As I was writing, I reflected on the language of Ecclesiastes with its concern for vanity and burdens. I thought of metaphors relating the flow of language to the flow of rivers or of blood, and of silence as a gulf like the one I grew up near as a child, or as a dam like those of the West  that prevent the rivers from reach the sea, so that those waters may be diverted to drinking water or irrigation. I also spoke of speech being like a good meal when it is well-prepared. It is no secret to those that know me that I enjoy spending time with friends over food. Indeed, almost everyone who knows me on a personal level has at least some experience of seeing how I enjoy lively and witty conversation over lunch or dinner, eating slowly because I cannot be bothered to be quiet enough most of the time to fill my mouth with food . It ought to be of no surprise that my poems reflect my own personal background and experiences and personality, even when I am reflecting at least in part on the concerns of others, and on some of the many tangled and complicated and dramatic ways that silence plays a role in our lives, and in feeding our anxieties with the absence of confirmation that we seek that others do care for us on the other side of silence.
 For some of these concerns, see, for example:
 See, for example: