In his poem “Silence,” Billy Collins invites us to reflect on the fact that silence can vary in quality by situation and circumstance. The silence of the crowd in the first stanza is a silence of worry, even fear, as the crowd waits to see if the player will rise. The silence of the orchid is a silence of quiet beauty. The silence of the falling vase in the second stanza is a silence of anticipation as it awaits a crash, while the silence of the belt is a silence of relief.
The distinction of the various types of silence continues throughout the poem. There is something quite distinct about the silence of an embrace and the silence of one partner rising and turning away. One is a silence of intimacy, the other a silence of anger or annoyance or disgust.
In the poem's final two stanzas, we learn how the narrator is experiencing the silence of the morning until he picks up his pen and begins to write. On a literal level, the scratching of the pen on paper breaks the physical silence by introducing sound. But there is more. The poet compares the silence before he writes to the “poorer silence” after. Since he has started writing, his mind is no longer silent. It is active now, sorting through ideas and memories, selecting words, creating phrases and lines. The quality of the silence has changed. Externally, the poet's room may be silent when he puts down his pen, but his internal silence has been disrupted. Silence no longer reigns both inside and out.