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Silences

E.J. Pratt
From:   E.J. Pratt: Complete Poems. ed. Sandra Djwa and R.G. Moyles. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.


There is no silence upon the earth or under the earth like the silence
    under the sea;
No cries announcing birth,
No sounds declaring death.
There is silence when the milt is laid on the spawn in the weeds and
    fungus of the rock—clefts;
And silence in the growth and struggle for life.
The bonitoes pounce upon the mackerel,
And are themselves caught by the barracudas,
The sharks kill the barracudas
And the great molluscs rend the sharks,
And all noiselessly —
Though swift be the action and final the conflict,
The drama is silent.

There is no fury upon the earth like the fury under the sea.
For growl and cough and snarl are the tokens of spendthrifts who
    know not the ultimate economy of rage.
Moreover, the pace of the blood is too fast.
But under the waves the blood is sluggard and has the same
    temperature as that of the sea.

There is something pre—reptilian about a silent kill.

Two men may end their hostilities just with their battle—cries,
'The devil take you,' says one.
'I'll see you in hell first,' says the other.
 And these introductory salutes followed by a hail of gutturals
    and sibilants are often the beginning of friendship, for who would
    not prefer to be lustily damned than to be half—heartedly blessed?
No one need fear oaths that are properly enunciated, for they
    belong to the inheritance of just men made perfect, and, for all we
    know, of such may be the Kingdom of Heaven.
But let silent hate be put away for it feeds upon the heart of the hater.

Today I watched two pairs of eyes. One pair was black and the
    other grey. And while the owners thereof, for the space of five
    seconds, walked past each other, the grey snapped at the black and
    the black fiddled the grey.
One looked to say — 'The cat,'
And the other— 'The cur.'
But no words were spoken;
Not so much as a hiss or a murmur came through the perfect enamel
    of the teeth; not so much as a gesture of enmity.
If the right upper lip curled over the canine, it went unnoticed.
The lashes veiled the eyes not for an instant in the passing.
And as between the two in respect to candour of intention or
    eternity of wish, there was no choice, for the stare was mutual and
    absolute.
A word would have dulled the exquisite edge of the feeling.
An oath would have flawed the crystallization of the hate.
For only such culture could grow in a climate of silence —
Away back before emergence of fur or feather, back to the unvocal
    sea and down deep where the darkness spills its wash on the
    threshold of light, where the lids never close upon the eyes, where
    the inhabitants slay in silence and are as silently slain.


March 1936


E.J. Pratt's works copyright © to the estate of the author.


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