Friday, 17 August 2012

The Sound of Silence


My favourite song of all time. All right, tell me I am a boring old f*** but I still love that Simon and Garfunkel song best of all. There was a time when I knew all the words - that time is long gone but whenever I hear it now I stand and listen. As to what it means - well I just went on line to find out and there are so many interpretations that I came away thinking that as far as I am concerned it means whatever I want it to mean.

I once wrote to R S Thomas, the Welsh Poet, asking him what one of his poems meant and he replied, saying it meant whatever I wanted it to mean and that that was the essence of all good poetry - it spoke to the individual.

But - silence - we so rarely 'hear' it, even out here in the countryside. We are near to Leeming airfield, so often there are jets flying over; we are near to Catterick Garrison so often there are helicopters flying over; the main road is probably a quarter of a mile up the lane and in the Summer the Dales are full of motor-cyclists, so there are often motor-cycles roaring past on the main road, particularly at the weekend. Then there are the natural sounds - the wind whistling through the trees, the songs of birds, the sound of rain on the window-pane.

But one place you can more or less guarantee silence in a real sense is inside a church. The church in the photograph is the 11th century church at Edlingham in Northumberland. It is one of the most peaceful, quiet places I have ever been to. If you go there when there is no-one else there (and it seems to be little-visited) the sense of peace and quiet is amazing.

Is it because the walls are thick and the place is insulated against outside sounds? Well, yes to some extent. But I like to think that these thick walls have absorbed the silence of generations of worshippers, that what you are homing in on is that all-pervading sense of peace and continuity.

A friend, W, is visiting that part of the world next week. I hope W and her friend find time to visit Edlingham, to sit awhile in its peace and quiet and absorb the beauty of the ancient place.

13 comments:

Jan said...

Love that song too-brings back lots of good memories!

it's me said...

Though, I am not particularly religious, I always visit churches when I am traveling and just sit a while. The UK offers lots of opportunities for those special moments.

The older I get the more I enjoy silence. Hard to find these days. I especially dislike stores that blast music at me while I try to shop.

Dominic Rivron said...

Even in an anechoic chamber you can hear the sounds your body makes - high pitched sounds and the rush of your blood.

John Cage wrote 4'33" precisely because he wanted people to listen to the sound we call silence. (And that piece, I must admit, is more my cup of tea than S&G). As Cage said:

"There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot."

Trawling for John Cage quotes I found this, too, which is off the point but rather good, I think:

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones."

The Solitary Walker said...

Lovely post, Pat — and you could never be boring, rest assured! Really liked your RS Thomas anecdote.

Ah, Simon and Garfunkel, wonderful songs...

... and that John Cage quote is great, Dominic!

Dartford Warbler said...

I sat up on our hill this morning, in the sun, trying hard to listen to the sound of birds and the wind, but tourist traffic and the planes going in and out of Bournemouth airport made it almost impossible. Thank goodness our brains are able to filter out a lot of background noise.

Heather said...

You are not a boring old anything Pat! There is something fascinating about churches of great age. I was in the one at St. Briavels in the Forest of Dean yesterday which has it's origins in the 12th Century. It smelt musty and a bit damp and hadn't been modernised apart from a small kitchen area tucked away in the corner of a side chapel. There were some very old tombstones in the churchyard and inside was the beautiful peace and quiet you mentioned.

Bovey Belle said...

We have low-flying jets too, and regularly have helicopters going over, and also the big Hercules aircraft flying very low and practising drops in our valley.

There is little road traffic to cause noise, but at the moment Next Door has a big noisy digger making yet more cow highways across his farm. We have the dairy herd making a lot of noise if the wrong person is bringing in (this particular person hassles them and constantly beeps the horn of the Landrover) and at times we have the constant complaint of cows separated from their calves soon after calving (just the other side of our hedge in fact).

From our bedroom I can hear the beautiful watery noises of our stream, and there are always birds.

You can't beat a good church for quiet and solitude though.

angryparsnip said...

Some songs do bring back so many memories.
When ever I travel I always visit churches. You never know what you will find from very simple to ornate. And usually quiet, except for the busy popular big ones.
How is the Hedgehog doing ?

cheers, parsnip

Tom Stephenson said...

'The Sound of Silence' brings back memories of unrequited love for me, Weave - or at least my first aborted attempt at stalking in 1968. The church is nice though.

cloudia charters said...

well written; quieted my soul




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Pomona said...

I remember hearing Thomas talking on the radio about God's grace - I love his poems. We hear planes in the distance now, and the railway under certain weather conditions, but most of the summer our visitors comment on the deafening levels of birdsong! Which I hardly notice any more ...

Pomona x

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love that song too. Silence is much more difficult to find than it used to be,

Loren said...

Love that song,too.

More importantly, I, too, miss the sound of silence. I wonder if there is anywhere in the world where you can still find silence for any extended period of time.

Even far back in America's wilderness you're constantly bombarded by the sound of jets flying over, or, worse yet, backpackers who bring their music with them.