by Thomas Hood
There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave — under the deep, deep sea,
Or in wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
No voice is hush’d — no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke — over the idle ground
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox, or wild hyena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.
Here we have a sonnet. It is 14 lines and in the Italian Petrachan style. The first 8 lines are the Octave, the last six lines are the Sestet.
In the first four lines, we are presented with “Silence” as a tangible presence. The first two lines contrast different types of silence while the third and fourth lines give examples to clarify. In all three examples, the grave, the deep sea, and the desert, there is silence because there is life to be found there.
In line five, the speaker expands on the first two lines by describing those places as mute.
In line seven, we are introduces to clouds and cloudy shadows. They are described as wandering freely but without noise.
The last six lines of the sonnet describe a different type of setting. Here we find a place wherein that humanity lived, long ago, but that place has since been abandoned. The speaker describes these places as “green ruins” and “antique palaces.” The speaker also describes things in this Sestet that are, by definition, noisy. Wild foxes and hyenas calling (what does the fox say, btw?), flitting shrieking owls, and low winds moaning are… sounds. And yet the speaker tells us that Silence is here also, self-conscious and alone. This allows us to know that Silence is not literal and that it relates to humanity.
What does he mean by the last line? I think “true Silence,” to the speaker, is a place where man’s absence is visible and tangible. One does not expect man to be active in the grave, the deep sea, or the desert. Humanity’s absence is felt in the places where one can see it has been, but is now gone.
I suppose in this analysis, sound is something akin to love and silence is the absence of that love. Absence is most apparent in the places where substance once resided. Silence is most true where sound once existed. Loneliness is most real in the heart that was once full of love.
Who is Thomas Hood?
Thomas Hood (23 May 1799 – 3 May 1845) was an English poet, author and humorist, best known for poems such as “The Bridge of Sighs” and “The Song of the Shirt“. Hood wrote regularly for The London Magazine, Athenaeum, and Punch. He later published a magazine largely consisting of his own works. Hood, never robust, had lapsed into invalidism by the age of 41 and died at the age of 45. William Michael Rossetti in 1903 called him “the finest English poet” between the generations of Shelley and Tennyson. Hood was the father of the playwright and humorist Tom Hood (1835–1874).