Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The chime of a clock, the patter of rain on the roof

In The Tempest, Caliban tells Stephano and Trinculo not to be perplexed about the music that wafts about their ears:
Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices…
I sit here on my hill over Ventry Harbor and listen. The isle is full of sounds that give delight.

Gone are the voices of the cuckoo and the corncrake -- the cuckoo from the heath, the corncrake from the hay field -- replaced these days by the occasional industrial whirr of big hired machines wrapping silage in black plastic. There is a kind of music in the metallic clang and thump from Dineen's Garage on the road below –- the honest sound of keeping the world in repair. A dog barks. Crows caw-caw-caw from Lizzie's trees in Ballybeg. The wind rattles the slates and whistles at the keyholes. Somewhere high above a jetliner hums its way to America.

I'm deaf in one ear and have a hearing aid in the other. But with what I have left, I listen. To the music of what happens.

There's a little book from long ago by Max Picard called The World of Silence. Silence is the source from which language springs, said Picard, and to silence language must constantly return to be recreated. I wonder if in fact language springs from silence. Maybe it springs from the sounds of nature -– birdsong, the lowing of cattle, the cry of a newborn lamb, the wind in the willows -– not silence, but a scribble of sound on silence. In any case, I agree with Picard that language must return to silence, or almost silence, if it is to retain its power to furnish out souls.