Pondering – on silence


389px-Faras_Saint_Anne_(detail)I was reading about John Cage today and his famous piece, 4’33”. As you may know, that is a composition conceived in 1952, meant for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer(s) to not play the instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece, which is meant to consist of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence”.

The reason why I was reading that is less important, the irony was that there was an awful amount of noise around me while I was plunging into Cage’s reasons to write a piece about silence. Now, precisely at the time when I was sort of praying for a miracle that would stop all that noise, my eyes fell on the fragment quoted below:

“In 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. Such a chamber is also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, ‘I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.’ Cage had gone to a place where he expected total silence, and yet heard sound. ‘Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.’ The realisation as he saw it of the impossibility of silence led to the composition of 4′33″.”

And lo! While I was reading that, the huge noise around me stopped, and I was able to hear the music of my neurons, chewing on the relative silence suddenly fallen upon my surroundings . Quite a poetic coincidence, if I may add.
But coming back to the point, what people grew to call as “silence” is merely the absence of sounds. An absence otherwise relative, as demonstrated by the quote above – for our own body always plays its own music, above the absolute state of silence. Sometimes we like it, sometimes we don’t, simply because silence, like all things, is sometimes necessary, and other times it should be replaced by something else. There can be silence in the middle of the storm, as well as it can lack in the middle of some anechoic chamber. What matters most is not the physical silence that we experience, but the mental one, when the mind comes to that state of silence called peace – because that is when we actually “hear” our soul.

– Liliana Negoi (Endless Journey and curcubee în alb şi negru)

© 2013, essay, Liliana Negoi, All rights reservedIllustration ~ St. Anne by an anonymous painter in Faras, which was a major city in Lower Nugia between what is now Egypt and the Sudan. It is housed in the National Museum in Warsaw and the photograph of it is released into the U.S. Public Domain.


Jamie Dedes is a Lebanese-American poet and free-lance writer. She is the founder and curator of The Poet by Day, info hub for poets and writers, and the founder of The Bardo Group, publishers of The BeZine, of which she was the founding editor and currently a co-manager editor with Michael Dickel. Ms. Dedes is the Poet Laureate of Womawords Press 2020 and U.S associate to that press as well. Her debut collection, "The Damask Garden," is due out fall 2020 from Blue Dolphin Press.