The lines quoted appear in the last two stanzas of Billy Collins’s poem “Silence.” The speaker primarily uses the literary device of anaphora , which is a particular type of repetition. In Collins’s use, similar though not identical phrases about “silence” appear at the beginning of every stanza in...
The lines quoted appear in the last two stanzas of Billy Collins’s poem “Silence.” The speaker primarily uses the literary device of anaphora, which is a particular type of repetition. In Collins’s use, similar though not identical phrases about “silence” appear at the beginning of every stanza in the poem. The effects of anaphora may be to unify a poetic composition and to arouse emotion, as well as create rhythm and flow within the work.
In this poem, in four stanzas, the speaker establishes many different kinds of silence. Some of them are associated with stillness and quiet, and occur in nature: for example, “the silence of the orchid” and “the silence of the moon.” Others strongly evoke the temporary calm that comes before an action, including a human, violent act: A crowd falls silent at a game when they think a player is injured. A different silence comes before a loud sound is heard.
The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the ﬂoor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.
The first three stanzas serve to evoke a range of emotions, but they are detached observations, not apparently related to the speaker. This mood changes in the fourth stanza, when the speaker introduces self-reference through first- and second-person points of view:
The silence when I hold you to my chest,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.
The line about “this morning” comes directly after the observation about the other person turning away, and the end of the stanza mentions the “silence that had piled up all night,” followed by a simile about “snow falling in the darkness.”
As the poem takes a personal turn, the idea that the speaker has “broken” the silence indicates their difficulty in writing after a difficult emotional experience. In strong contrast to the anonymous “crowd” in the poem’s first line, the ending is intensely personal.
The poet has also built up to the word “broken”—which may imply that the speaker and the addressee are a couple that is breaking up—by using “striking” in relation to the floor and the child in stanza 2. The “poorer silence” may be both that of the strain within their relationship and that of a negative evaluation of of writing in comparison to lived experience.