Monday Meditations: The Poetics of Silence

Three poems for a world that never stops talking.

No one spoke –
the host, the guest,
the white chrysanthemums

~ Ryota

Ryota Oshima (1718 – 1787) was a Japanese haiku poet.


The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

~ Li Po

Li Po (701-762), who lived during the glorious Tang dynasty is considered one of China’s greatest poets.


‘Keeping Quiet’ by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

~ Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet and diplomat. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. This poem was written in the 1950s and published posthumously in the collection Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid).

Audio: Here’s a reading of ‘Keeping Quiet’ by American author, psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher, Sylvia Boorstein.

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