Much of a monk’s life is spent in silence. Much of a poet’s life is spent in silence, too — a poet spends a fraction of his time actually writing poems. Merton was both a monk and a poet, and thus well-acquainted with silence. Like meditation, and like prayer, poetry is surrounded by silence. Poetry begins and ends in silence. Silence is also inherent within a poem, like the silences between notes in music. As the great Chinese poet Yang Wan-li said, a thousand years ago, “A poem is made of words, yes, but take away the words and the poem remains.”
This was taken from an article titled, The monk/poet’s journey toward silence, by Frederick Smock. It was written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death, and published in the The Courier-Journal a US newspaper.
This is day one of the winter monastic retreat. I’ll be publishing a photo/poem series for the next week or so. The poem(s) will be from a Chinese layman who lived, probably, in the late eighth and early ninth century. He was known as Han-shan, The Master of Cold Mountain, often depicted with Shih-te known as The Foundling. These two are depicted in paintings as two grotesque little men guffawing in the wilderness. The images, based on a first hand account may not in actual fact be true. Anyway I’ve always had a soft spot for Han-shan and this is an opportunity to air his insights and wisdom.
Please join in this time of silent illumination as you go about your day. A monk once said to me, Where ever you are there will be sound. I understand that to mean silence is not conditional on there being physical silence in order to know silence.
Thanks to Anna for pointing me to the article.