Sound and Silence

John Cage (1912 - 1992)

“The sound experience I prefer to all others is the experience of silence.”
~ John Cage

“John Cage was an American composer, poet, philosopher and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde.”
(source: Wikipedia)

About a year and a half ago, I listened to an interview with John Cage.  During this interview,  he spoke about the meaning of sound and silence. At one point he said, “When I talk about music… I’m talking about sound that doesn’t mean anything.” Being someone who searches for the meaning behind any experience, I was a little surprised when I first heard this.  I didn’t understand how sound – music – could have no meaning. I didn’t like that idea and even felt a little defensive, but since I have a lot of respect for Cage, I wanted to try to understand what he was saying.

This began a long journey for me during which I explored new kinds of music and sound – things I had never taken the time to listen to before. I crossed the boundary of music as I knew it and entered musical worlds I never knew existed. This wandering opened a door for personal reflection that went deeper than just exploring the philosophy of music. It became a spiritual quest, a way of exploring the nature of relationships, and a way of expanding my world view. All of this began with a simple question proposed by John Cage. What is the meaning of sound? Over time, I’ve come to understand a little of what Cage was saying, but there is still  so much more for me to explore, question and wonder about concerning the nature of music and sound.

I’ll share some of my thoughts so far. Sound is used to communicate whether it’s by talking, laughing, crying or singing. Tone of voice is important and that’s a variety of sound. The sound of a baby’s cry and a mother’s cooing response is the first form of communication we experience. And as they say, silence speaks louder than words. Those are human sounds. There are still other sounds  to consider – the sounds of nature, musical instruments and the sounds that make up everyday life such as the traffic on 6th Avenue.  Sound by itself may not have any meaning. It’s the context in which the sound is heard that’s important. I think the meaning can be found there. And yet… there is something to be said about listening without trying to understand. There is joy in just hearing sound for the sake of hearing sound.

This morning I read an essay by Colin Blundell On The Art of Non-Wording.  ( )  It seemed to be picking up where I left off with exploring sound and silence only this time concerning words, not sound. I think the idea was to eliminate words (temporarily) from our thinking and begin to see things without relying on words to identify them. I think of it as experiencing things in the silence of our minds. And so the adventure continues down yet another path.

But for now, I’ve been struggling with a poem I’ve written. It was the inspiration for this post. I was trying to express the restless and relentless searching I’d been experiencing, but just couldn’t seem to find the right words. There was not enough depth in what I was saying. The words were too simple. The feeling was not there. I’m wondering now if this is something that was never meant to be put into words, but only experienced. It’s something to think about. Or maybe I should just listen…

Sound and Silence

Sound and silence.
With you
a strange mix.
“What is the meaning
of sound?”
From the beginning
it was the question.
Until the end
I’ll want to know.
But more so …
What is the meaning
of silence?

I question…
sifting through the white noise
the red, the blue and the black noise,
trying to solve
the riddle,
the koan,
the conundrum…
composing endless enigma variations
with words, not music…
for the friend pictured within
and that union of sound
and silence…

What is the meaning of sound?
But more so…
What is the meaning
of silence?


John Cage speaking about silence –
Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar

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Ariadne’s Reverie

Bambini, Niccolo - Ariadne and Theseus

Bambini, Niccolo - Ariadne and Theseus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The door of the labyrinth, so difficult, which none of those before could find again, by Ariadne’s aid was found by Theseus, the thread that traced the way rewound.”
~ Ovid, Metamorphoses (trans. Melville)

The story of Ariadne and Theseus is one of my favorite myths. It may be because Ariadne used thread in a creative way and I love handcrafted needlework. Or maybe it is her connection with the dark mysteries of the  labyrinth. Of course it’s a beautiful love story, too.

Here’s a simple version of the tale as an introduction to my poem. Ariadne lived on the Island of Crete with her father, King Minos.  It was here that Daedalus, commissioned by the King, built a labyrinth in which to hide a creature called the Minotaur. Anyone entering the labyrinth could not find their way out and became prey to the Minotaur. The Athenian hero, Theseus, came to the island one day with the purpose of slaying the monster and putting an end to this.  It seemed certain that Theseus would not come out of the labyrinth alive, but Ariadne had fallen in love with him and came up with a plan to save his life. She gave Theseus a clew of thread that he could unwind as he entered the labyrinth. He could then use it to find his way back to her after he had killed the Minotaur.  This he did. The story doesn’t end here. Planning to marry her, Theseus sailed away with Ariadne. They stopped at the island of Naxos and while Ariadne slept, Theseus abandoned her. That was the thanks she got for saving his life. But justice won out in the end.  Ariadne married a god and lived happily ever after. Poor Theseus ran into a bit of bad luck –  but that’s a story for another day.

Ariadne’s Reverie

Stiff tree branches
comb the sky,
carding ethereal wool
from the flocks
of Mount Olympus.

Ariadne walks below
gazing skyward,
plucking celestial fibers
from the heavens.
With skilled hands
she spins them into
pure crystalline strands.
A thread for Theseus.

Thinking of him, she muses.
He will take it
and use it as he wishes
to navigate the labyrinth
of her mind.

Lovingly spinning,
She thinks of nothing else.
She is yet to be abandoned,
lost in sleep and dreams,
on the island.

Clouds drift in their purity now,
the sky a soft-white tumbling blue.
The sun burns hot across the sky
and in her eyes.
Ariadne spins…

They have yet to enter
the labyrinth.

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Dream Triptych

Dreamers (1882) by Albert Moore

trip·tych (noun)
1. an ancient Roman writing tablet with three waxed leaves hinged together
2a. a picture (as an altarpiece) or carving in three panels side by side b: something composed or presented in three parts or sections.

I have kept a dream journal for several years now. I keep a tablet near my bed and when I wake up remembering a dream, I scribble it down without turning on a light or even opening my eyes.  If I rouse myself, sit up, let the light enter my eyes the dreams are chased out of my memory and are lost. Of course, scribbling with eyes closed makes for sloppy handwriting. I just type them up in a more legible form later on.

In my experience, I’ve found that the more I record my dreams, the more I remember them. The more I pay attention to them, the more I’m able to see in them.  Patterns begin to appear.  A progression of events will play out during recurring dreams. These change over time as I work through a current problem in my waking life. Dreams ebb and flow according to events going on in my life. Emotional times are dream filled times.

Most of my dreams are long. Often one scene is linked to another until they make up one long dream. These are the ones that are the most fun to analyze and the ones I learn the most from. Occasionally, however, I have a type of beautiful dream that is only a brief glimpse of something.  A vision. A momentary image that lasts but a second or two in my mind, forever in my memory. I have these most often when I’m in what’s called a hypnogogic state – that transitional time between waking and sleeping.

These visions could be analyzed like a “normal” dream. I usually come up with some sort of idea about them. But sometimes it seems the only respectable thing to do with them would be to paint them. I’m not much of a painter so for now I only paint them with words. I use the most picturesque form of words that I know of. I paint them in a poem.


White Flora

I see a small weed
In a wind so strong.
Leaves clutch and sway
Holding on and on.

When leaves expire,
In a burst of white,
Flowers appear
Hope and beauty unite.



I see you
standing on the bones of a whale,
sand shifting beneath your feet.
The sound of waves crashing
mixes with the hum
of a thousand dragonflies
circling around your head.

“Come with me,” I whisper to them,
but I have nowhere to lead them.
They stay with you
as I quietly walk away.



A row of trees
bare and black
reaching mountain heights.

A blast of fury
tempest wind
a momentary bending.

Then electricity
from tree to bended tree.

A mad Tesla experiment?
A bridging of synapses?
What passionate connection
is this?

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An Invitation to the Gathering

The Nine Muses Dancing With Apollo

“Meanwhile I’m still going to the Cezanne room… I again spent two hours in front of a few pictures today; I sense this is somehow useful for me. ”
~Rilke, Letters On Cezanne

It’s been a few months since I stumbled upon the gift of seeing things through the eyes of an artist and the realization of how much that would change the way I write.  I began to spend time looking at paintings, talking with artists and tried to paint a few of my own. But it was by really spending time with a painting that my eyes were opened. The paintings came alive with a sense of movement and a message and my writing changed. I thought about writing a few posts on the topic, but the more I pursued this idea the more it took on a life of its own. So now, I’ve taken the wild step of beginning a new blog dedicated to my discovery where the idea can have a room of its own with lots of space to grow.  I hope a few of my friends from visionsofapollo will pay a visit and say hello to my new vision there.  You may recognize it, after all, it took its baby steps here.  Please come visit me at

“I find myself advancing now, but it all takes a long, long time.  When I remember the puzzlement and insecurity of one’s first confrontation with his work… and then for a long time nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes…”

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On Steps of Blue

Susquehanna River

The flood of September 2011 in Pennsylvania and neighboring states entered my childhood home uninvited and very unwelcomed. There was no loss of life, but it made quite a mess and disrupted the lives of people I love. Thirty years of hard work making a house a home were ripped apart overnight. It was heart breaking to see the home my parents had worked so hard on figuratively swept away. The structure still stood, but things would never be the same. The situation forced my parents to answer the question of whether or not to start over but also to wonder if they really had the choice not to.

The clean up was hard and emotionally draining, but there were things that helped me through it – kind words from a friend, the generosity of strangers, the reliability of family, the memories and hopes we all held onto…and the ability to put my feelings into the words of a poem.  A lot of things were thrown away during the cleanup – only material things, but they were carriers of memories nonetheless. As we watched them tossed away, they reminded us of the impermanency of things and of ourselves.

In this childhood home there was a set of stairs that my mother painted an old colonial blue. I remember sitting on them when we first moved in looking out the window into our new yard, wondering what my life would be like there and writing to a friend that I’d left behind.  There were changes made throughout the house over the years and eventually the steps were covered with carpeting. After the flood, part of the clean up involved tearing up this soggy, wet carpet, revealing the blue stairs once again. During a lull in the clean up, I sat down on them to take a quiet moment for myself and thought of a time when I once sat in that very same place so many years ago.

Here are two poems that came out of this experience.  The first is about my connection to the Susquehanna River which I still love despite the havoc it created in my life, the second is about my first and last memories in the house – and positive hopes for the future. This is for my parents who created the best home any child could ever want. I hope they know that where ever they are, that is where home will always be whether there are blue painted stairs to sit on or not.


past life and sorrow

memories now adrift
from bend of time
to swerve of tomorrow

calling me home
and taking my home
the river carries on
as it is carried on

in my life
in my blood
in my past
in my future.

(Acknowledgement to James Joyce whose Finnegan’s Wake inspired a few lines and the title of this poem.)


On steps of blue
a handful of hours
return to me,
with lonely thoughts of
new beginnings and
things that were left behind.

Sitting on blue steps
time whispers urgently
and my thoughts are flooded
with memories in the making
of forced good-byes
and reluctant beginnings.

Between then and now
steps of blue
one after another
ushered me to this 
place and time
and I fear I’ll continue
taking steps of blue…

But, oh! To dance lightly
on stepping-stones
of red, yellow, green,
breaking the monotony of blue
letting sound and colors carry me
to a place not of the past,
and not of the future.

Only then do steps of blue
seem sky-like, only needing
the whites of clouds,
and leading upward
to the here and now – 
to the place of today,
free of yesterdays and tomorrows. 

(Thank you to friends who supported me during that hard time.)

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A Visit From Persephone

Prosperpine (1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Prosperpine (1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

After the unusual spring weather we’ve been having, a little taste of winter seems to have returned if only for a little while.  It brings to mind the myth of Persephone.

Persephone (called Prosperpine by the Romans) was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest.  Hades, the god of the underworld, was captivated by her beauty and one day abducted her taking her to the underworld to be his bride. Her mother was heartbroken and searched far and wide for her daughter. While doing so she neglected her tending of the earth. This resulted in the end of spring and growth on the earth. Seeing that this was causing problems (people were growing hungry) Zeus demanded that Hades return Persephone to her mother. Before doing so, Hades tricked Persephone into eating four pomegranate seeds knowing that anyone who ate or drank in the underworld would be destined to stay there forever. And so Persephone was allowed to spend two-thirds of the year with her mother above so the earth would produce, but was forced to return to Hades for four months of the year – the duration of our winter.

Some time ago, I dreamed of Persephone. She came and offered me pomegranate seeds only these seeds weren’t fresh – they were dried and shriveled up like raisins. It was unfortunate that something woke me up too soon. The dream seemed unfinished. Something was about to happen and I’ve been wondering ever since what it could have been. Would I have taken the pomegranate seeds she offered? What then? And what did it mean that the seeds were desiccated and not fresh?

In my dream, because I woke up, Persephone went away.  Just as now, with the return of the chill,  she seems to have stepped away again. But her story reminds us always that spring will return. Like Demeter, the good mother earth longs to see her daughter – young and fertile – the season that brings new life.

Pomegranates (1885) by Otto Wilhelm Thome

A Visit From Persephone

Persephone came to me one night
Offering seeds in the waning light
Is it a vision of the past that I see
Or a hint of what is yet to be?

If I refuse these gifts you bring,
Will my life return to spring?
Or, since they’ve withered, in a backwards way,
Would I see spring begin to decay?

If my dreams do foretell
But in waking I break the spell
With waking conscience I must choose.
The dawning spring is mine to lose.

With no guidance from slumber deep
(Or have I been given a gift from sleep?)
I feel the choice is up to me
Let winter hold me or set myself free.

Posted in dreams, mythology, poetry, the unconscious | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Poetry’s Intent

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens

“What syllable are you seeking,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.”
~Wallace Stevens, To The Roaring Wind

Endeavors have a way of taking on a life of their own and since my posts have recently been leaning more towards poetry than myth, I thought I’d write about something I often wonder about concerning poetry.  Should a poet’s intentions be readily apparent or does some element of mystery and self-interpretation serve a poem best? It may seem that the answer is quite obvious – both ways of presenting poetry have their merits – but I think these ideas are worth exploring.

I am a lover of words and sounds, as I believe most writers are. Some of the things that appeal to me most about poetry are the turns of phrase, the rhythms, the repetition of sounds and the shapes of vowels and consonants as they are spoken.  I am also a lover of meanings and symbolism and so I love the metaphors, the descriptions that inspire feelings and bring images to mind and the linking of words with emotions. But there is also the most important part which is the idea of connection between two human beings – the poet and the reader.  It doesn’t always stop there. If the poem touches deeply on universal themes, the potential for connection with the whole human race is present. How can the poet convey his or her insights in a way that bridges that incredible gap?

There is a poem by Wallace Stevens that I love, but I can’t tell you what it’s about. I’ve read Earthy Anecdote a thousand times and have it mostly memorized. Curiosity has led me to search for an interpretation many times without success.  It is a riddle poem, lighthearted and fun. Or is it?  No one really knows what it means for certain. There are continuing speculations and discussions about this poem – evidence that it has resonated within the minds of its readers for many years.

There is no doubt that something about Earthy Anecdote captures attentions and stimulates imaginations.  For me, it evokes a feeling of something wild and mysterious.  I would love to know what was on Stevens’ mind when he wrote the poem, but not knowing his intention doesn’t stop me from reading it again and again and loving the mystery behind it. It may be the mystery that makes me love it even more.

I think that some poems communicate universal truths and experiences in the same way that dreams speak to us, using the mysterious language of images and symbols which help us to connect and understand each other on a deeper level without words. A sunset has no words, no meaning, but two people can share the same aesthetic experience whether they are seeing the same sunset together or any sunset at any time in the course of one’s life. A painting works this way and so does music. No words are needed to share in the most basic of human emotions and experiences. Poetry carries words, but quite possibly it is the wordless music of sounds and syllables and the word-painted images within the poems that carry the real meaning.  Can the feeling or sensation of a poem be successful in translating these universal emotions even if the words are not fully understood? It is for the reader to decide.

Earthy Anecdote
by Wallace Stevens

Every time the bucks went clattering
Over Oklahoma
A firecat bristled in the way.

Wherever they went,
They went clattering,
Until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the right,
Because of the firecat.

Or until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the left,
Because of the firecat.

The bucks clattered.
The firecat went leaping,
To the right, to the left,
Bristled in the way.

Later, the firecat closed his bright eyes
And slept.

From Wallace Stevens Collected Poetry and Prose

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The Bleeding Hearts

It’s springtime and my bleeding hearts need tending.
I see last year’s dead stalks laced with dried pine needles –
the evergreen leaves that were supposed to last forever.
I pluck and tear the loathsome stalks away
discarding all of winter’s sorrows
uncovering bruised-purple warriors
that will turn to green and reappear as
small, floral droplets of blood.

The new stalks are corpse white
with raw, finger-like sprouts
rising from bleached bones.
They foreshadow blossoms to come –
blossoms young and alive,
made of blushing pink arms
that cradle and care for
the delicate drops of blood
turned pure white,
holding winter’s sorrows
so they won’t darken sunny days.

I tend my bleeding hearts –
they carry my fading distress –
and winter seems so far away.

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The Art of Letter Writing

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude
with good company. 

~Lord Byron

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart 
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
~W.H. Auden

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls;
for thus friends absent speak. 

~John Donne

I often ask myself why I want to share what I write and why I have such a need to communicate what I think, experience and feel. Why is it so important to be heard and understood? I think, for myself and for others, it’s not a matter of vanity or some sort of self-gratification, but a way of living life.  When I don’t give my words to someone their life is over too soon – the words are dead as soon as they hit the page. My words are what I am, so naturally I want them to live.

People have communicated in so many different ways since the earliest of times first through art and symbols – as found in Neolithic cave paintings –  and in music, which was so often the basis of ritual and religion.  Stories and history were passed down through the oral tradition and then with the written word. From cuneiform script and hieroglyphs to pen, printing press and computers we have progressed through the ages.  We have come a long way. Now we communicate electronically in quick, barely there sentences and often those sentences are incomplete. Even words aren’t spelled out completely these days.

I often think about the ways we communicate now. Being an introvert, I have a difficult time meeting new people and making friends. The friends I do have are few and very important to me. I tend to need them more than they need me and that causes a great loneliness.  I wish I had lived in an earlier time, when letter writing was one of the main forms of communication – no texting or tweeting or instant messaging – just long, deep sentences, rich paragraphs, meaningful words. Life was shorter then, but time was longer. Life was slower. People took time to contemplate and describe their experiences, their impressions, their feelings.  They took time with their words and penned them carefully. It was a form of art.

Art is creativity. I spend a lot of time in my inner world and the need to get outside of that and create and express things is very strong. I’ve experimented with different ways of doing this – painting, dancing, crafting, music – but writing is what I do best. I guess my motto could be: If you want to know me, read me.

Today’s brief way of communicating is unfulfilling to me. I long for someone with whom to have deep conversations with – someone to take me back to a more leisurely time and give me the opportunity to practice my art and my life. I often wonder what will become of us all if we forget how to talk?

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Reflections on Rilke’s First Duino Elegy

“Yes, springtime needed you! The very stars, row on row, sparkled for your attention.”
Rainer Maria Rilke The First Duino Elegy



I saw the flock of dry leaves
tumbling overhead
being swept away,
and I did notice
the tiny cloudlets
arranged so prettily
in that sweet spot in the sky
where the color condenses into a startling blue.

Orion is still visible in the starry sky,
steadfast although faded by clouds –
a strong and weary warrior
at the end of a winters battle,
while below the snowdrops blossom
just when winter seems victorious
like tiny, white bells
ringing in the new season.

Yes, life persists.
I see constancy amid change
in spite of the deaths of things
and the stars still capture my attention.
And, yes, there are flowers, too.

Posted in acceptance, change, poetry | Tagged , | 13 Comments