Sunday, September 2, 2007

The beauty of silence

Over this summer, I've been reading voraciously--"literary" fiction, children's books, whatever I can get my hands on. I can never quite silence my English major's analysis as I read, but I've been marking passages of books that struck me as especially beautiful or thought-provoking, learning once again just to savor the words and ideas and images.

To break up the gloom of my latest Cormac McCarthy binge, I'm working on Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. I missed this one as a kid, but now's as good a time as any to rectify that. Many passages either make me chuckle or groan with their puns and wordplay, but I found this one thought-provoking:
Milo walked slowly down the long hallway and into the little room where the Soundkeeper sat listening intently to an enormous radio set, whose switches, dials, knobs, meters, and speaker covered one whole wall, and which at the moment was playing nothing.

"Isn't that lovely?" she sighed. "It's my favorite program--fifteen minutes of silence--and after that there's a half hour of quiet and then an interlude of lull. Why, did you know that there are almost as many kinds of stillness as there are sounds? But, sadly enough, no one pays any attention to them these days.

"Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn?" she inquired. "Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven't the answer to a question you've been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause in a roomful of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you're all alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful, if you listen carefully."

A bit didactic, perhaps, but it never hurts to be reminded.

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