it is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when(being fool to fancy)i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
at moments when the glassy darkness holds
the genuine apparition of your smile
(it was through tears always)and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while;
moments when my once more illustrious arms
are filled with fascination, when my breast
wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
—turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep.
John Cage set this poem to music in Experiences II to express his love for his partner, Merce Cunningham. I came across this story and rediscovered this poem in my continued exploration of the mysteries of the number that does not enumerate, zero.
I halted that post at the thought that “silence is what ‘zero’ is about. No sound is here.” Just pausing to let the wonder sink in. Cummings is describing love, but his words capture my wondering about silence and my silence here about that, until now:
and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while
The music scholar William Brooks looks into Cage’s use of this poem in his essay “The Pragmatics of Silence.” Brooks summarizes
Cage’s most celebrated musical proposition …: silence, the musical equivalent of ‘empty space’ (an ‘empty music’) is – regardless of its metaphysical attributes – an experience, not the absence of one.
How, then, can one compose silence? Although Cage later concluded that silence cannot be composed, Brooks sees Experiences as an attempt to do so. He finds, however, that Cage’s silences in the piece are “unnecessarily long” to the point that
for me, their length invites consideration (listening, true experience) of silence in its own right, independent of its possible function in the sounded continuity. I cease to wait for the next sound and I simply hear the silence; it becomes a ‘theme’, a musical presence exactly like the melodies that precede and follow. As such – as a presence – it has its own meaning, its own expressivity. If I had to describe this in words, I would offer terms like ‘quietude’, ‘contemplation’, ‘solitude’, ‘fullness’.
Brooks’ comment here reminds me of my other approach to the silence of zero, my Buddhist practice.
Silent in body, silent in speech,
silent in mind, without defilement,
blessed with silence is the sage. (Itivuttaka 3.67)
One final comment on ee cummings. I think I read his poetry when I was too young. “it is at moments after i have dreamed” went right by me then because I had not experienced the loss of a loved one yet.
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