Today’s post is a potpourri of meditations on the necessity of spending time alone, to catch our breath and let silence nourish us in the deepest possible way. Scroll below for a selection of prose and poems on this theme by some of the greatest minds in contemporary literature. Then watch a beautiful short film at the end, simply titled ‘Silence’.
Mary Oliver: Excerpts from ‘At the River Clarion’
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear much voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through
all the traffic, and ambition.
~ From Mary Oliver’s collection of poems, Devotions (2020)
Mary Oliver (1935-2019) is one of America’s most beloved poet. Oliver lived as she wrote, with a steely determination that belies her gently persuasive poems, mostly about the beauty and lessons humans can learn from the natural world. She won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards. In 2007, she was declared to be America’s best-selling poet.
May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude (1975)
“There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.” (Journal of a Solitude, 1975)
May Sarton (1912-1995) was a prolific author who was long considered by her very loyal readers to be a gifted and sensitive writer of poetry, novels, and journals. Sarton’s numerous collections of poetry include Coming Into Eighty (Norton, 1994), Collected Poems: 1930-1993 (1993), Halfway to Silence (1980), A Private Mythology (1966), The Lion and the Rose (1948), and Encounter in April (1937). Over the course of her career, Sarton taught at several colleges and universities, including Harvard University and Wellesley College.
Next, a stunning poem by May Sarton, titled ‘The Work of Happiness’
I thought of happiness, how it is woven
out of the silence in the empty house each day
and how it is not sudden and it is not given
but is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
but the tree is lifted by this inward work
and its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.
So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
and strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
white curtains softly and continually blown
as the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall —
these are the dear familiar gods of home,
and here the work of faith can best be done,
the growing tree is green and musical.
For what is happiness but growth in peace,
the timeless sense of time when furniture
has stood a life’s span in a single place,
and as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
the shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
but where people have lived in inwardness
the air is charged with blessing and does bless.
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.
Short Film: ‘SILENCE’ by Allar Tukmatšev