The snow will make no noise, but clasp the ground in silence,
slowly muffling, snuffing-out, all but the sound of silence.

A blood moon will rise beyond the last wisps of withered wheat
and deepening chills of wind blow circles around the silence.

Old uncle at the festivities, mostly a piece of history, still
he will hear a calliope, watch a merry-go-round in silence.

Sometimes the songs my mother never sang to me
drift on the blown flurries over her stony mound of silence.

So many poems have simply died for a lack of sounding;
are locked, like the terminal years of Ezra Pound, in silence.

What cannot be said, once and for all, howls dreadfully
like a two-headed dog that continues to hound the silence.

It was too early, earlier, and now it’s become too late
to fix what broke or rewind the clocks unwound by silence.

See how kindness is kin to snow in the darkness—
flakes floating down to a stately, dumbfounded silence.

The slight interfering noise towards the end of the audio was contributed by my dog, Chloë , who was nearby, lying on her back with her paws in the air, wriggling and panting with joy.

66 responses »

  1. Interesting how my mood change from the beginning to the end. I started with mood of appreciation for the silent snow – an air full of activity without quiet …. but as the poem progressed, a melancholy too over. Thanks for the extra note about the background noise which gave me a chuckle.

    • Ah…I am partial to that couplet, too. What I like about this form is that one can say many things in one poem that may seem different, one to another, but still hold together because of the prosody.

      I have been meaning to visit your blog site, since reading some of your comments to Bruce, and today I did so. Your piece on haiku is hilarious—I enjoyed it immensely and I agree with the sentiment behind it.

  2. Each couplet was like the fall of an axe splitting open a log – but in silence… The most evocative for me was “chills of wind blow circles around the silence” – something seen a million times and never put into words before. (And perhaps Chloë puts her stamp on the sometimes suggested personal name in a ghazal’s ending!)

    • Such a good way of putting it, Pauline.

      It’s often the case that this form includes the poet’s name as part of the last couplet, though it’s not a required feature. I decided to leave mine out, so Chloë thought she might get into the act. I really had to laugh….considered re-recording, then decided to leave well enough alone.

  3. Is the commentary at the end about the audio quality part of the ghazal? I think this is a common feature of the modern ghazal. Some nouveau-ghazal epilogues offer, for instance, commentary on topics such as early senility or the multiple uses of baking soda, and are longer than the ghazal itself.

    I love the last line –see how kindness…

    By the by, who is Ezra Pound. A baker?

    • Before I drift from the sublime to the ridiculous I should say how deeply happy I am about what you say concerning the final couplet. I always think of the final couplet as having pride of place, and in this case it was the one I most kvetched about, in the writing and re-writing. Thank you, I agree!

      And now for the ghazal epilogue…I don’t know if Chloë was expressing something about my senility or her own. She is almost thirteen years old, which is really “up there” for a dog of 75 pounds. But her silliness teaches me many things, so I let her have the last word, in this instance.

      Poor Ezra Pound. We poets don’t know whether to love or hate him. He was very talented and also always very generous to promote and nourish his fellow workers (like T.S. Eliot) in the word garden. He made some serious political mistakes. I don’t think much of anyone reads him (without assignment in schools) these days. His final great silence is a kind of heroism, I think. He is part of the American Poetry hagiography.

      • But Ezra made a mean pound cake.

        I’m elated that we agree about the last bit (I say bit, you say couplet–go figure).

        Ariel is 4 pounds. I’m not sure she’d recognize Chloë as a dog (small pony, large otter, et cetera).

        • Yes , Ezra did. He still deserves cake, though I doubt anyone is thusly celebrating him.

          A couplet is a bit in a larger poem ( just so you know) like a couple is a bit in a larger society. Without the conventions of society could an individual finally be a bit?

          Ariel is almost ephemeral..or do I mean ethereal? Sometimes I mix up those two words. They both remind me of angels. Chloë can be kind of clunky….although she has long legs and gracefully prances like a gazelle across the high snow in my backyard. When it comes to dogs, I think, like the philosopher Plato, it’s all about the dogginess of dogs, not their size.

    • I have just finished answering the comment before yours, John, and am so pleased to hear that you landed on the couplet that is most important to me…as I said, the lines of the final couplet in this ghazal form are the ones I think the most important and the most difficult to write. Your instinctual “nose for poetry” found them, and I am so glad to hear you like them. Thank you!

  4. I think perhaps Chloe was trying without success to illustrate the unsaid howling dreadfully (that two-headed dog; thank goodness she isn’t Cerberus). I’m glad to find what she weighs. I was going to ask how large a dog she is, as she was obviously not Siddy-sized. I do think kindness falls silently in the dark most of the time, which doesn’t make it less felt or effective…

    • Chloë is a medium-to-large dog that we adopted from a kill-shelter in West Virginia in 2004. She is all black with white markings, an idiot dog of questionable provenance, the dogginess of dog. She has been to two different obedience schools without obvious conversion. I love her dearly because she represents and remains a slip of reality from a past that was wonderful but no longer informs my life. As a big, rambunctious dog, she’s not easy to keep, especially since my own forces become more frail and diminished, but here she is. I love her; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

      About kindness…you are so right.

  5. A very clever capture of the silence which snow bestows on the landscape, and beautifully progressed though various silences. Ironic that Cloe chose this one to interrupt with her own noises!. I enjoyed this poem even though here, in S. Texas we seldom get the silence bestowed by snow the closest that we get is residential quiet due to a power outage. That’s when we realize how much of the background we tune out because it is familiar and incessant. Acoustically it must be awesome to have a power outage and snow!

    • It is quite remarkable how snow brings a kind of silence to all–at least for the time it is falling and everyone is waiting to get up and clear it away. And silence, of course, is a kind of sound of its own. When snow is combined with a power outage it is, as you say, quite amazing….sort of throws you back to earlier times and landscapes of the mind. We don’t get much silence, it seems, these days, so it is welcome when it comes. Of course none of it stops me from envying your S. Texas warmth and the bulbs that must be bursting forth now to tell you of spring!

      • My bulbs are not quite ready and it is just as well as we had a “hard” freeze last night – all of 31 degrees!, but I am already looking forward to the Amaryllis and checking them daily – no shoots yet. This blogging business is great in that it brings us together with folks all over the world experiencing different environmental phenomena. I enjoyed your snow vicariously although that is as close as I care to get.

        • What you say makes me smile, Jane. The children love the snow and can’t wait to go out and build forts and snowmen, have snowball fights, slide downhill and ski. I was the same, once upon a time, but now, like you, I think the best kind of snow is vicarious snow. The cold gets into my bones and I am deathly afraid of falling on icy walkways. As you say, blogging brings the variety of weather home to us….often my poetry deals with weather and my readers– from the southern hemisphere, especially—have made me much more appreciative of all the different environmental phenomena. I am luxuriating just now in a bunch of yellow tulips that were sent to me for my birthday, and most envious of your being able to grow Amaryllis!

  6. Can snow be poignant? I think you made it so. This is my favourite couplet: “It was too early, earlier, and now it’s become too late
    to fix what broke or rewind the clocks unwound by silence.” probably because it ticks of regret and lost things, like poems and words and moments.

    • Poignant snow…now that is a wonderful image, a real poetic—as opposed to a visual—image. (With all the current madness for photography I have been thinking lately of different kinds of mental, as opposed to physically visible images, and why I have an idiosynchratic aversion to accompanying poems with photos…) What you say about regret and lost things is also interesting in that it touches on the peculiar way the past is mute and irretrievable even as it speaks to us all the time.

  7. I’m glad you told me what it’s like because, you know, I wouldn’t know.

    I love the word “calliope”. Also the name of one of the best bottles of Shiraz I’ve ever had.

    Silliness aside, this is a beautifully sad poem. “the songs my mother never sang to me” – got me right in the feels, as the young ‘uns say.

    • You are such a dear and patient reader, MoSY, to put up with all my Northern Hemisphere winter poems. I hope you understand that it’s the fickleness that continues to fascinate (and impinge upon) those of us who live here— the four seasons are quite definite, and as soon as we get used to one extremity, we careen into another!

      “Calliope” is indeed a nice word. She’s one of the nine muses in Greek mythology, too.

      The “songs my mother never sang” also makes me sad when I indulge in thinking about it… mostly I don’t think about that…. except maybe sometimes in the evocative silence of a deep snowfall.

  8. Sydney is experiencing a severe thunderstorm as I’m reading your poem Cynthia.
    I was so moved by your words and to me…..

    The thunder is deafening
    As I read your poem in silence

    The sun will quietly pierce the clouds
    And drive out the silence

    Oh now you’ve reminded me of the songs my mother always sang to me
    And now she is lost in her own silence

    I love your poems Cynthia
    That bring my noisy world a precious silence.

    • I think you have here the beginnings of a Ghazal-in-English! It’s amazing how something like thunder, which is deafening, but can also be threatening, can bring a certain kind of silence… how silent is the world of the deaf…..Now you’ve set me on a whole new track of thinking about silence! 🙂 Thank you for coming to read, Shubha, and for your kind words.

  9. This reminds me of the first poem I remember loving as a child – THE FIRST SNOWFALL, by Robert Lowell. It, of course, famously begins “The snow had begun in the gloaming / And busily all the night / Had been heaping field and highway / With a silence deep and white.”
    I still love those lines, though many consider them corny.

    • Yes, I recall that poem and liking it as a child. It’s in a style most popular in the 19th century, which is why some folks today would call it corny. Your comment sent me back to read it again.

      When I was young I never bothered to remember the authors of what I read, only the stories and poems themselves, and going back to read this one again was a revelation about the author: it was James Russell Lowell who wrote it, not Robert Lowell….Robert Lowell would have thought the poem corny, such a modernist was he! And Amy Lowell was such an imagist she probably would have rejected the snowfall poem as too Romantic. Those Lowell’s! They thought they owned poetry!

      But you and I like the poem, and it was fun to revisit it today. There are many lovely lines among the verses…though Death and The Deity are definitely handled in an outmoded way. Thanks for a thought provoking comment!

  10. An impressive ghazal, Cynthia, the sad beauty of silent snowscapes deftly captured with a hint of the mystical to entice us. You are certainly adept when it comes to poetic forms!

    Stay snug and warm,


    • Hello Paul….Poetry in English has been so heavily influenced by the imagist and so-called “free verse” movements in the twentieth century, and now the slams and the performance poetry, that a little while ago I was tiring of what seemed unwritten rules and began to wonder about those traditional forms, why they had been dropped and what they may be worth now, as a sort of Jungian “collective unconscious”. So I have been working with them a bit, hoping to use them in today’s idiom even as I try to keep to the underlying structures. Those underlying structures may be dyed in the wool of language, so to speak, and can sometimes actually light a creative spark by the very fact of their tendency to conduct and to limit. It’s a balancing act between content and form—always precarious, but so far I am enjoying it! Thank you, as always, for your kind and encouraging words.

  11. I was totally wrapped up in the silence of snow, listening in my imagination for what I can’t see here in Texas, but as you got to your Mother – I longed to hear my Mother’s voice as she was, once strong and beautiful in her thoughts. I read so much into this beautiful work of yours Cynthia – you know how to boil it all down to the simplicity of what is “life.” As many of us know it. Have a beautiful weekend my friend.

    • Thank you so much, Mary. Difficult as it is to weather the changes that life brings, it seems there is always much of music and memory in that snow, that silence. And speaking of weekends….I hardly notice them anymore, now all the days are just days… 🙂

  12. Ah, the silence of silence – everything in nothing! Your poems ring their silence through snowy vales and thunderous heights and touch places forbidden to all but a great artist who weaves through our silence and touches our nothing. A masterful piece Cynthia! *sigh* – layer upon layer – brilliant!

    • Thank you very much, Rob. Silence seems at a premium these constantly noisy days, but a serious snowstorm has a way of making everything silent. I like your “everything in nothing” image, because that’s the kind of silence it is…one that definitely speaks.

  13. I have read and re-read and read again these couplets. The silence of Ezra Pound’s last years thunders. Like the rent, yet still air following a constant shrieking, this man’s life of outwardly directed self-hatred could have done with a great deal more silence, namely contemplation over the incognoscible, ineffable foundation that not only do we not know where we come from, neither do we know where we are going. Silence before that which we do not know–deference to that which is greater than ourselves–surely beats instantaneous judgements, and braying in public against that which he pompously decided he had all figured out. Five years before he died, he told Alan Ginsberg: “. . . ‘Any good I’ve done has been spoiled by bad intentions – the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things,’ Then very slowly, with emphasis, surely conscious of Ginsberg’s being Jewish: ‘But the worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-semitism.’ . . . ” [H. Carpenter, A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound]

    That said, I come away from this with a renewed appreciation over how my life has almost always been spent reacting to and decrying things which have happened or are happening, while keeping to myself the words which another in my life is wishing for and hoping to hear. In this, I have much in common with Ezra, and so fall silent once more–dumbfounded.

    • This is a most thoughtful, perceptive comment, Lance…a beautiful meditation, in fact. I am humbled to think the poem may have inspired it. I’ve read that quotation of Pound’s before and it has always made me sad. I always think of him with deep regret—he was a gifted poet, more so, I think than all those he helped to make famous. Why his thinking and feeling took such a hideous turn in those days of his anti-semitism remains a mystery to me….and the great silence at the end of his life is heavy with such questions.

      I especially like your reading of the poem as expressed in your second paragraph. The noise of the decried negative and silence of the loving affirmative is a predicament in which I often see myself as well. Thank you so much for what you have written here.

      • … I am charmed by your gifts. I suspect many who write about Ezra Pound do so with more than thinly-veiled envy over the clarity of line and lazerlike baring of truth of his verse. Reading between their lines, I’m met with a person who never developed that insulating veneer of social behaviour I cloak myself in to the point where I can no longer hear nor see nor feel the raw sound, light, and emotion he wouldn’t shield himself from, yet eventually couldn’t absorb or reflect back anymore. Just as children have no need for lessons on how to express themselves when drawing or painting, yet increasingly come to see their work as silly or stupid and then become stilted, Ezra Pound remained unwilling to stop being true to his inner self. Eventually his spirit broke on the reef of everyone else’s self-protective sneers and decided that all who looked so askance and aghast at him must be right.

        If only he hadn’t let himself get snared by those whose ideologies were masking their lust for pure power. I doubt he understood how that worked, or what they were really doing. I doubt he knew much about wielding power, except when it was took the form of a blue pencil.

  14. It isn’t enough to say how much i adore your writing it just doesn’t encompass how good you are. Words fail me. I bask in your skill.

  15. The seventh couplet hits me the most at a deep heart level. I’ve read this poem a number of times and it captures some of what silence holds, or might hold, and for some reason it is not easy to read.

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