‘Silence is the perfect’st herald of joy: I were little happy if I could say how much.’
Shakespeare, as always, says it most memorably. All too often we mar a perfect silence by some banal observation. Rupert Brooke has a poem about this, called ‘The Voice’ in which he is waiting in the woods at night for his loved one to appear: ‘and there I waited breathlessly, alone’. Suddenly he hears her voice ‘profaning the solitudes’.
The spell was broken, the key denied me,
And at length your clear flat voice beside me
Mouthed cheerful clear flat platitudes.
You came and quacked beside me in the wood.
You said, ‘The view from here is very good!’
You said, ‘It’s nice to be alone a bit!’
And, ‘How the days are drawing out!’ you said.
You said, ‘The sunset’s pretty, isn’t it?’
By God! I wish – I wish that you were dead!’
Whether gazing at the immensity of the night sky, or watching the sun rise, or observing a water wagtail crossing the lawn like a clockwork toy, or looking out at the moonlight on the ocean, only silence is appropriate and, when we can share that silence with another, the experience is deepened.
Some of the most memorable Quaker Meetings for Worship that I have experienced, have been when no one speaks and a deep and deepening silence is held for sixty minutes. On such occasions one can imagine the early disciples of Jesus, after his death, gathered in an empty room, praying until suddenly the Spirit descends like tongues of fire and they all understand one another at the deepest level – beyond the need for words.