Dictionaries define the word in negative terms:
muteness, reticence, taciturnity, noiselessness.
The second volume of The Shorter Oxford English
does include quiet in its weighty considerations

but fails to recognize that at the heart of it
is presence, not absence. I think I already knew
when I was a child running through the wildness
of the moors that silence was a dimension of sound

for there it was fed by curlew cries, by the wind
rushing over untidy cotton grass and clumps
of marsh marigolds gleaming from bogs, by the great
grey ships honking far below on the Firth of Clyde.

Silence isn’t a plant to be cultivated in a solitary house
perched on a hill, not the cave single-minded seekers
hunt out so that they can contemplate meanings
away from the hurly-burly of the over-peopled world

with its cash machines and quarrels, ceaseless phones,
splashes of laughter. Silence is that small place
we come upon, the patch we clear to be with our selves
in shop, train, lane, doctor’s waiting room – anywhere.

– Myra Schneider

© 2014, poem, Myra Schneider from The Door to Colour, recently released by Enitharmon Books