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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The primary theme expressed in “Silence” is humans’ need to fit into the natural surroundings by coming to terms with who they really are, “Something homelesslooking on the long roads,” as in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” looking for direction for their psychological and artistic quests. Being a place poet, Bly understands the influence and pull that place has upon an individual, especially one “Cradling a pen” and ready to record interpretations and reactions that the natural surroundings trigger.

Lying beneath this most obvious theme is one that could be elusive to the superficial reader. The constant movement toward the source of life and inspiration represented by “Strange muffled sounds [that] come from the sea” joins Bly, in attitude at least, to Carl Jung, whose work is concerned with the source of intellect and psychology, the collective unconscious. Bly’s narrator’s attempt to find understanding is represented as being like “a tiny box-elder bug searching for the window pane” that will allow it to glimpse the world in which it belongs, delineating the role of nature poets such as Bly.

The thematic tie among all the stanzas and levels of discussion in “Silence” is the concept that artists must create their own realities out of the world around them. As did many early and late modernist poets, Bly utilizes surrealism to present his personal reality. His “box-elder bug searching for the window pane” is reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s yellow, catlike fog in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In both instances, the poet does not rely upon mere object poetry; rather, each puts a particular spin or personal vision upon it, a right granted by the poet’s personally confronting nature.

“Silence,” like Bly’s other nature poems, investigates the human relationship with nature by delving into the poet’s contest with the deep imagery that nature brings to the forefront of his imagination. Bly’s narrators are most often perceptive individuals who move through life understanding, at least for themselves, what life is all about or at least what one must do in order to produce such an understanding.