Notes to Poem:
Silence Is Golden

Peter Y. Chou

Commentary on Poem "Silence Is Golden":

Silence is golden

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
This proverb may date back to Ancient Egypt. The first usage in English is from Thomas Carlyle, who translated the phrase from German in Sartor Resartus (1831), in which a character expounds at length on the virtues of silence: "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule... Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out! Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity." Photo Sources: Thomas Carlyle (; Sartor Restartus (
Sartor Resartus (1831)

says my friend when we hike in the redwoods—
she likes quiet of nature while I talk about
dragon-shaped clouds, snowy egret in the lake,
swerving-serpent trails, sunflares through trees.

Dragon-shaped cloud (air)

Snowy egret in the lake (water)

Serpentine trail (earth)

Sunburst flare (fire) over oak by pond

Sun rays through Redwoods
Purisima Creek Redwoods (2010)
On Sunday, October 7, 2012, my friend took me to Calero County Park in San Jose (Bay Area Hiker). We had hiked here on Sunday & Monday, May 27-28, 2012 for the Memorial Day weekend. Today we started on the Access Trail to Los Cerritos Trail that provided a vista view of the Calero Reservoir. The return trip was a descent on the Pena Trail. I took 148 photos on this hike, many depicting cirrus clouds overhead. When I spotted a dragon-shaped cloud (air), snowy egret in the lake (water), serpentine trail (earth), and sunburst over oak (fire), it seems that the four elements of the ancient Greeks were speaking to me. I told my friend about these nature images, but she told me to keep quiet instead of spoiling the serene quietude of Mother Nature— "Silence is golden". In his Real Work (1964, pp. 61-62), Gary Snyder says "if you want inspiration, the two simplest and best ways to get it are to go on a long walking trip by youself, or take a sweatbath. This will inspire you for poetry." I have taken Gary Snyder's recommendation to heart, and composed poems on my hikes whenever a beautiful scene strikes my fancy. The poem "Breathe In... Breathe Out..." was written while walking down Palm Drive at midnight after leaving Stanford Green Library (6-1-2006). After five hikes at Portola Redwoods State Park this summer, I was inspired to write "Coast Redwoods" (October 28, 2012). This poem "Silence Is Golden" was inspired by many photographic images in my Nature Walks (2016-2012).
Photo Sources: Dragon-shaped cloud, Snowy egret in lake, Serpentine trail, Sunburst over oak— Photos at Calero State Park, 10-7-2012 (;
Sun rays through Redwoods: Photo at Purisima Creek Redwoods, 9-6-2010 (

A time to be silent and a time to speak
Had Patrick Henry remained silent instead of
shouting "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"
the British may still be ruling America.

"a time to be silent"
(Cupid's finger to lips)
France B256 semipostal
(issued Dec. 22, 1950)
L'Amour (1757) by
Étienne M. Falconet
A time to be silent and a time to speak is a Biblical quote from Ecclesiastes 3:7 that begins with "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). To portray silence, I've selected Falconet's L'Amour (1757) as depicted in a French postage stamp. To portray speech, Rothermel's 1851 "Patrick Henry" painting came to mind. Patrick Henry (1736-1799) is best known for the speech he made in the House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, in Saint John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. With the House undecided on whether to mobilize for military action against the encroaching British military force, Henry argued in favor of mobilization. "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" Some Virginians said Henry's opposition to the Stamp Act smacked of treason. Along with Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, he is regarded as one of the most influential promoter of the American Revolution and its fight for independence against the British. Other prominent speeches include Susan B. Anthony's fight for woman's suffrage (1872-1890) to give women the right to vote (19th Amendment, 1920), and Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech "I Have a Dream" (1963) that brought racial equality to the blacks in America.
Photo Source: France B256 (; Patrick Henry's Speech (

"and a time to speak"
Peter F. Rothermel's painting
(1851) Patrick Henry Before Virginia House of Burgesses
"Give me Liberty or Give me Death!" speech (1775)

Now I'm pondering on silence— like the space
between words allowing us to read with ease,
the white paper where stories are written,
the cinema screen where films are projected,

Stepfan Bärle: "Pondering Silence"

Space between words

Pen writing on white paper

Cinema screen to project film
Beside physical images of silence in photographs such as Erik's "About Emptiness" and Stepfan Bärle's "Pondering Silence", there are also metaphysical symbols of silence such as the space between words that makes reading easier, the white paper as background of the stories we read in books, and the cinema screen where films are projected.
Photo Sources: Pondering Silence (Stefan Bäur;e's Photos); Space Between Words (; Pen writing on paper (; Cinema screen (

the blank canvas where artists paint their work,
the empty space where galaxies call their home.
In the beginning, God SAID "Let there be light"
and the miniscule black jar was shattered—

Blank artist's canvas

Galaxies in empty space

God SAID: "Let there be light!"

Light from Big Bang
When we admire paintings in a museum, rarely do we ponder that all artists begin their work with a blank canvas, just as writers start their story or poem on a blank piece of paper. Lao Tzu expounds on emptiness in Tao Te Ching, IV: "The Tao is an empty vessel, / yet use will not exhaust it. / Like a deep fathomless abyss / it is the source of all things... / Its fountain is deep and everlasting. / I know not who gave it birth, / it came even before the gods." And in Tao Te Ching, XI, Lao Tzu reminds us "Mold clay to form the walls of a pot; / It is the emptiness within which gives its use. / Cut out doors and windows to make a room; / It is the space therein which makes it useful. / Therefore, we profit from the existence of things, / but are served by things which are non-existent." Just as empty space in our home allows us freedom of movement, so the 170 billion galaxies in our observable universe may call empty space their home. Electromagnetic waves, such as X-rays, radio waves and visible light, can travel through empty space. These waves move at the speed of light and consist of vibrating electric and magnetic fields oriented at right angles to each other. When God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis I.3), we may correlate it with the Big Bang creation of the universe. The "black jar" that was shattered is the Singularity point of no dimension that gave birth to this universe.
Photo Sources: Artist canvas (; Galaxies in empty space (; "Let there be light" (; Big Bang (

releasing this expanding space-time universe
from a single dark point whose birth pang
was so loud that the Big Bang noise can
still be heard 14 billion years afterwards.

Expanding universe
Time Line of the Universe (NASA)

Cosmic microwave background radiation
detected by Penzias and Wilson (1964)

14 billion years old universe
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP)
The expanding universe is the increase of the distance between two distant parts of the universe with time. Metric expansion is a key feature of Big Bang cosmology. In 1964 the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) that's left over from an early stage in the development of the universe was detected by American radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs. They were awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery. I recall Professor Robert Dicke presenting a lecture at Cornell (circa 1965) on "thermal background radiation from the Big Bang". At the time there were two competing theories on the creation of the universe— George Gamov's "Big Bang" and Hoyle-Bondi-Gold's "Steady State". The first postulated that the expanding universe is due to the momentum of the Big Bang. The second postulated that new matter is continuously created as the universe expands. After Dicke's talk that his theoretical calculations on the residual radiation from the Big Bang has experimental verification from Penzias & Wilson, the audience turned to Professor Thomas Gold who was sitting behind me— "Tommy what do you have to say about your Steady State theory?" Gold shook his head saying "It's hard to argue against experimental evidence. Looks like it's the Big Bang."
Photo Sources: Expanding universe (; Penzias & Wilson (; 14 billion years old universe (

Sages say our mind is a restless monkey
with endless thoughts like machine gun bullets—
if you wish to be enlightened, catch the gap
between thoughts— when one ends and the next

Monkey mind from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin'en ["heart-/mind-monkey"], is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable". "Monkey King" Sun Wukong in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West (1590) personifies the mind-monkey. He is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. Later, Monkey King accompanies monk Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India. In Raja Yoga, Vivekananda writes "the human mind is like a restless monkey." The image of thoughts as machine gun bullets is from Paul Brunton's Wisdom of the Overself (1943)— "Thoughts, whether they be abstract ones or pictorial images, are emitted from the deeper layer of mind not like a flowing stream of continuous water from a tap but like a steady series of separate bullets from a machine gun." (p. 39). Swami Chinmayananda advised students who wish to be enlightened to catch the gap between thoughts to see the underlying consciousness. Just as the screen is the substratum of the movie, so Consciousness is the background of our thoughts. (Say Cheese, p. 122).
[Photo source: Using Photoshop & Monkey Swinging ( to create Monkey Mind,]

begins, or be attentive while falling asleep—
between the waking and sleep state— witness
the twilight zone and see that silence does not
begin when the music stops but is always there.
In Day by Day with Bhagavan (11-21-1945), pp. 45-6, 48-49— Dr. Srinivasa Rao asked Bhagavan, "What is the meaning of being in sleepless sleep?" Ramana: "It is the jnani's state. In sleep our ego is submerged and the sense organs are not active. The jnani's ego has been killed and he does not indulge in any sense activities of his own accord or with the notion that he is the doer. So he is in sleep. At the same time he is not unconscious as in sleep, but fully awake in the Self; so his state is sleepless. This sleepless sleep, wakeful sleep, or whatever it may be called, is the turiya state of the Self, on which as the screen all the three avasthas, the waking, dream and sleep, pass, leaving the screen unaffected." Ramana said that instead of holding on to that which exists, we are looking for that which does not. We bother about the past and the future, not realizing the truth of the present... "The jnani sees he is the Self and it is on that Self as the screen that the various cinema pictures of what is called the world pass. He remains unaffected by the shadows which play on the surface of that screen. See with the physical eye, and you see the world. See with the eye of realization, everything appears as the Self... To see the sun, there is no need of any other light... Our intellect or buddhi is of no use to realize the Self... To see the Self, the mind has simply to be turned inside and there is no need of the reflected light." In Wisdom of the Overself, Paul Brunton tells the student to be extremely vigilant when going to sleep— "this pause between the two states [waking & sleep] technically termed 'the neutral point' is as brief as a flash of lightning. If he succeed in seizing and keeping hold of it, he may pass from this stage into the pure Mind— the background of all his conscious thought-moments— and retain it as a mere glimmer of utter emptiness throughout the night. If by self-training and the force of his resolve he can fix and prolong this instant when he is still neither asleep nor yet awake, he will pass into a kind of complete self-absorption. The fourth state [turiya] will come upon him unawares, that is he will not be conscious of his actual entry into it. One moment and he will be in the ordinary wakeful state and the next moment he will be in the transcendental one."
Photo Sources: Illuminated Mind,

Silence is not the absence of noise and sound
but the essence of waking, dream & deep sleep—
more luminous than a thousand suns— silence
is golden because pure consciousness is gold.

Waking-Dream-Deep Sleep

"1000 Suns" (Bhagavad Gita, XI.7-13)

Pure Consciousness is golden

Paul Brunton (1898-1981)
Writings on silence from two sages— Paul Brunton, Wisdom of the Overself (1943)— "Silence is the finest method of mystical perceptive worship. What the student has to grasp is that where there is seemingly nothing at all but a static Silence, the Real abides; where his individual perception fails to register either form or entity, there the Overself IS. When he can put the littleness of self aside for a moment and think of that Infinite Element within which he dwells, he will be overwhelmed with a sense of the wonder and mystery that surround the daily movements of mortal men. He can then neither sing its praises aloud with those who believe nor argue about its existence with those who disbelieve. He must remain as the thought finds him, with dumb lips and reverent heart, with quieted body and subdued emotion, silent indeed. This is his loftiest mood, this contented contemplation wherein the struggling I rests at last in the ever-peaceful I AM." (p. 247). Wei Wu Wei, Ask the Awakened (1963)—
Wei Wu Wei (1895-1987)
"When the Maharshi tells us that silence is a more potent medium than speech we tend to be incredulous, for to us silence is merely the negation of noise. When he states that 'stillness is the sole requisite for the realization of the Self as God', we know that he refers to stillness of the mind. So silence also means silence from thoughts, or, as we might prefer to say, absence of cerebration. The negation of noise as an aid to thought could never be in question, for thought must be a barrier to spiritual understanding. The potency of silence, of which he sometimes speaks, as indeed do others, is to be sought in the interval between thoughts, of infinitesimal duration to split-mind but without, or of infinite, duration, in itself, since it is intemporal. To him who experiences it, it might have any conceivable duration, though to an observer it can have none. In itself it is never a momentary thing, for it is the permanent background of what we experience as time, the reality rather than the background, and in a feeble image, the screen on to which the ever-moving pictures of conceptual life are projected. Its incalculable potency then becomes apparent, of it is no other than whole-mind." (p. 15 and pp. 21-22). Silence is the essence, the precious presence, the absolute absence, the Pure Consciousness.
Photo Sources: Waking-Dream-Deep Sleep (; 1000 Suns (; Pure Consciousness (; Paul Brunton (Paul Brunton Philosophical Foundation); Wei Wu Wei (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 11-21-2012

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