Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The Silence of the Stars by David Wagoner

                    THE SILENCE OF THE STARS

                     When Laurens van der Post one night
                     In the Kalahari Desert told the Bushmen
                     He couldn't hear the stars
                     Singing, they didn't believe him. They looked at him,
                     half-smiling. They examined his face
                     To see whether he was joking
                     Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
                     Who plant nothing, who have almost
                     Nothing to hunt, who live
                     On almost nothing, and with no one
                     But themselves, led him away
                     From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
                     And stood with him under the night sky
                     And listened. One of them whispered,
                     Do you not hear them now?
                     And van der Post listened, not wanting
                     To disbelieve, but had to answer,
                     No. They walked him slowly
                     Like a sick man to the small dim
                     Circle of firelight and told him
                     They were terribly sorry,
                     And he felt even sorrier
                     For himself and blamed his ancestors
                     For their strange loss of hearing,
                     Which was his loss now. On some clear night
                     When nearby houses have turned off their visions,
                     When the traffic dwindles, when through streets
                     Are between sirens and the jets overhead
                     Are between crossings, when the wind
                     Is hanging fire in the fir trees,
                     And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove
                     Between calls is regarding his own darkness,
                     I look at the stars again as I first did
                     To school myself in the names of constellations
                     And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,
                     I can still hear what I thought
                     At the edge of silence where the inside jokes
                     Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,
                     The C above high C of my inner ear, myself
                     Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:
                     My fair share of the music of the spheres
                     And clusters of ripening stars,
                     Of the songs from the throats of the old gods
                     Still tending ever tone-deaf creatures
                     Through their exiles in the desert.

                     David Wagoner

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 

This week's post marks the beginning of Tuesday Poem's third year.  Zireaux is today's editor on the hub; welcome the ways in which he pushes the boundaries of what constitutes poetry. . . Zireaux has chosen a 'clip' - a conversation - between Australian TV favourites, Kath and Kim. He writes '. . . Ideas are not what poetry is about. Poetry is spoken music (some might say written music, but I'm less convinced of this, unless we equate reading with hearing, which seems a stretch)' and '. . . I can't help but feel that by isolating poetry, by assigning it to a particular habitat, we're neglecting an abundance of poetic forms -- in the deep hydrothermal vents of literature, in the ice caves, in the teeming jungles of planets beyond. . . "    
". . . The deep hydrothermal vents of literature, in the ice caves, in the teeming jungles of planets beyond. . .' Ah, poetry! Thank you, Zireaux


  1. thank you for this poem, claire. i am sure this is a big surprise to you (not), but as an anthropology student, i was/am still in awe of the !Kung bushmen.

  2. Hi Susan - not surprised at all. . . I, too, have a deep respect (and awe, yes) for the !Kung Bushmen - how much we can learn from them and their ways. xo

  3. absolutely. so interesting that the point of view used to be that they were "primitive" in a pejorative sense, and yet now we (the academic/developed world denizens/oh so educated) appreciate the utter sophistication of their culture, and that it is a hallmark--not an anomaly--of their sophistication how attuned they are to the rhythms of natural forces.
    rock on....!

  4. Very beautiful Claire - thanks for this post. Have you read A Mantis Carol by Laurens van der Post? A wonderful book about a San man (or what seems to be the politically correct !Kung bushman), who mysteriously found living in New York. Also, Have you seen Pippa Skotnes' excellent etching series Sound of the thinking strings?

  5. Dear Claire, 'they walked him slowly like a sick man'--so truly what our culture has done to us--every year tearing away more and more of what might be left of our natural wonder at the natural world. We are not only in a 'sorry' state, but like Van der Post can feel or should feel so bereft that we are so removed from it. I like very much Wagoner's turn in the poem, that he found a way to discover his share of the music of the spheres, which is a marvelous thought--that the old gods and the ancient understanding might still be available, and that we each get our share. Thank you for posting this. xo

  6. The yearning to hear shows such faith. Don't we often only look/listen for those things that we inherit? That we recognise? I think this is beautiful in its belief and longing. Thank you for sharing it, Claire.

  7. Dear Claire, This is wonderful, in every sense of each syllable, thank you for sharing it. Yes, some of my music is surely the old gods, the wise old gods. Love xo

  8. Only last night I went outside and remembered to look up – next time I must also remember to listen. What a great poem! Thanks Claire.

  9. Thanks Claire,
    an uplifting poem...it gives me lots of hope to see poetry like this illuminating the world.

  10. Beautiful poem, beautiful story, beautiful ideas. Love this poem - must share!