The Alchemy of Silence and Sound

Rebekah Choat reflects upon “How to be a Poet”

How To Be A Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.

Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon

affection, reading, knowledge,

skill – more of each

than you have – inspiration,

work, growing older, patience,

for patience joins time

to eternity. Any readers

who like your poems,

doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath

the unconditioned air.

Shun electric wire.

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.

Make the best you can of it.

Of the little words that come

out of the silence, like prayers

prayed back to the one who prays,

make a poem that does not disturb

the silence from which it came.

Image by Becka Choat
Image by Becka Choat

I have a complicated relationship with silence.  Sometimes when the shadow presses in close around me, silence imposes herself on me, stealing my voice, locking me away in a wordless place where I can only wait for deliverance.  At other times, silence is my salvation, coming, as Oliver Wendell Holmes says, ‘like a poultice…to heal the blows of sound.’

I’m still working through my understanding of silence. Are these two different kinds of silence, or is it (as I begin to suspect more and more) the same silence, simply experienced in different places and times? I’m not at all sure. What I do know is that when I seek silence out, I do so from a desire to be still and take time to just Be, giving myself space to breathe, to really see and hear the essence of the created world, perhaps to feel the air of the Spirit moving in and through all things.  When silence seeks me out, I begin to realize, she does so – at least some of the time – because I have let myself become too busy, spending my time doing so many not-essential things that I forget to breathe and to look and to listen.

I’m coming to recognize that however silence and I come together, the fruits of our time with one another are often the same. I sit and grow quiet within myself. I breathe slowly, deeply. Things come into focus, each settling into its proper place. Somehow, sometimes, through the alchemy of silence and sound, sight and Spirit, I catch a glimpse of the essence of a leaf, a rose, a butterfly. Small words come to me, and I fashion them as gently and carefully as I can into poems that, I hope, don’t disturb the silence from which they come, but preserve and hallow it.


Becka Choat is a reader, a writer, a lover of the printed word, dedicated to bringing people books to nourish mind, soul, and spirit. Her website is


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