Silence and Poetry (Episode 18)

We love poetry — and we find that, of all literary forms, poetry seems to most quickly and assuredly bring the attentive reader to the threshold of silence.

“Poets all see silence as sacred ground,” notes Kevin, “because it’s from the silence the poems come.” Together we muse on how poetry puts us in touch with our bodies, our intuition, and how the relationship between poetry and silence is, perhaps, just the same as the relationship between silence and sound that forms the foundation of music.

Much like musicians use notes, poets are the composers of words. They pay such attention to the space between. More then we do in typical writing, typical everyday language, they heed the mystery, they listen to the offbeat, and they use it. They know how to harness it, they know how to hold it open-handed… it’s I would dare to say closer to silence then any other writing is. — Cassidy Hall

Because we are all “poetry geeks” pretty much just as much as we are “silence geeks,” we joke that trying to create a podcast about poetry should take us 200 hours (or more). So this week’s episode is just a check-in, a snapshot of where our journey with poetry has taken us at least for now.

From Mary Oliver’s earthy reflection written in response to a cancer diagnosis, to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska’s playful consideration of how the experience of the mind or soul has an “embodied” or “natural” dimension, to the more ethereal or even transcendent perspective of Evelyn Underhill, the poems we consider in this episode dance between matter and spirit, between consciousness and mystery, between wonder and doubt and insight. And while none of these poems are specifically “about” silence, they all usher us into that place where word and silence kiss.

Silence is embodied, and yet silence is paradoxically also immaterial… To encounter silence implies materiality. — Carl McColman

Some of the poets, authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Silence isn’t a fleeing from the world, it’s a fleeing to the world. It’s actually getting out of your ideas about the world, and actually showing up and being present in the world. — Kevin Johnson

Episode 18: Silence and Poetry
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: April 10, 2018

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Carl McColman
Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.


  1. Great moment of poetry saying. By the way I totally agree that for a poet silence is mainly treated as a musician does it, but a musician that with few notes suggests an entire symphony.

  2. Happy to share a number of the titles in the list above, the Rumi, the Oliver (Devotions), the O’Donohue and Merton’s collected.

    There are so many poets one might add to the list but allow me to suggest just one of interest. Eugene Peterson’s Holy Luck. Reading this it is easy to see/hear why there is such a playful poetic flow to so many passages of his renowned bible translation, The Message.

    You three have inspired me to save up to purchase and never would I have ever guessed Rahner as a poet. However, the book I most want to save towards is Notes On Silence (as, for the Canadian, the exchange and the shipping make the purchase something of a commitment 😉 )

    Lastly, I must suggest one more title, covered I think elsewhere in the episodes and that is Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul. Author-translators Sweeny and Burrows cut a masterwork here in making Eckhart’s writing accessible to me the all-things-mystic-novice and immediately plunge the reader into the mystery. I had plans to read one poem a day, along with numerous other ‘daily’ books I read however, the poem that opens the book, before one even gets to the first chapter so arrested me that I paused in its silence reading it only for days and days and days before I felt I was ready to leave it and move on.

  3. Thank-you for your podcasts.
    I also discovered another poem about silence a couple days ago: ‘A Night Visitor’ by Brother Paul Quenon.

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