Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Silence Museum

Outside it is always noisy
but within these walls, more than a metre thick,
we hold, insulated, the history
and lost examples of silence.
Visitors are ushered, whispering
through padded cubicles, astounded.

Turn off your phones and music,
speak only in whispers.
We Curators live in silence.
It is our vocation – chosen
from the quietest children
we were trained to listen.
It is like a religion.

The first floor is devoted
to the silence before a sound
with perfect specimens of the pregnant pause:
the counted silence between flash and thunder
that measures your distance from a storm,
the animal quiet of the dog that will be first to bite,
the charged stillness of a held breath
between the last tick and the explosion,
and, the prize of our collection,
the last natural recording of a pin about to drop... 

Beautiful isn’t it?

On other floors we preserve
examples of the silence after a sound –
the straining, listening silence after
the bump in the night,
the sullen tongue-holding of the instructed silence,
one minute silences filled with awkward sorrow,
and rare samples from ground zero
those twin silences of shock and awe.

Our interactive exhibit invites you to consider:
the silence of the crowd at the call for volunteers,
the silence of a majority who oppose without speaking
– the silence that is mistaken for complicity,
the silence that is suffered in.

Listen for a moment…

Our researchers are gathering examples
that measure silence – its depth and width
from the silence of mutual understanding
which needs no vocabulary
to the dumb silence of incomprehension,
from an argument seen through triple-glazed windows
to the last wilderness on a windless day.

Many silences are near extinction.
But we can manufacture them
using the exact wavelengths and frequencies
that echo the weighty absence of sound in space,
and we are close to containing
that final silence
when your own music stops,
and your body ceases whispering
its rhythmic commentary.

(c) Clare Kirwan 2005        

First Published in Aberrant Dreams

Picture: Los Angeles new Museum of the Holocaust


  1. Fortunately we have these repositories which roar with perspective.

  2. One hates to be critical, but did you mean 'Turn off you phones'?

    Wouldn't 'Turn off your 'phones' be more accurate?

  3. Stunning, Clare. I would normally quote a favourite line, but in this case, I'd just be replicating the entire piece.

  4. A pedant writes: I've seen what you've done there. Still missed the apostrophe from 'phone though.

  5. Paul - Hmmm. Strokes beard reflectively

    Dave - Yes I missed an 'r' off - thanks for pointing that out. Even the publishers didn't spot that one - I suppose you'll be wanting a prize. I'm not going to argue the toss with you on the apostrophe front. I'm using 21st century English, you can use what you want.

    Angie - Thanks very much - I enjoyed yours too!

    Rainy - Thankyou. Glad you liked it.

    Martin - You say the nicest things! I love reading this out and leaving big 'tumbleweed' pauses at the appropriate places - glad it works on the page too!

  6. I am fascinated by silence and spent quite a long time exploring it, creating "Breaking Silence" which uses people's spoken reflections and found sound, and "Radio Silence", a poem written for a visual artist I met who went on to make 2 pieces about silence. If you're interested, you can see/hear my work on MySpace, but I wanted to say that I really like your poem, Clare. Thanks for posting it.
    Heather :)

  7. Kind of reminds me of T.S. Eliot's Still Point.

  8. Heather - I've only dipped my toe into silence - I love the idea of 'found' silence and will mention it in my next post about silence, because there WILL be one... oh yes! Thanks for your comments

    Kass - Thanks for mentioning that. I'm not very well read so always welcome being pointed in the direction of quality work!