Under All Silences Analysis
Gordon credits her youthful audience with having the maturity to experience love through the beauty of other people’s words. The gentle affection that is portrayed in the early poems soon warms to passion and intimacy that only a lover can know. Such a lover, however, may be one who has loved in the flesh or in the heart—and these poems assure readers of both the difference and the sameness. Gordon prefaces her book with a comment about being struck dumb by strong emotions, the ones felt in all stages of love. She lets the reader know that she has chosen these poems so that feelings can find release, expressing the love that is under all the silences.
In exploring these poems, readers will notice several themes. Composed as a popular song and made popular by Roberta Flack, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” begins the book with the rapture of initial love—the experience of love at first sight. Next, folksinger Joan Baez offers a gentle love song: She does not want to be told of eternal love; she simply wants to know of passionate strangers, of a selfishness in wanting but not giving. Then, a Hebrew poem allows the reader to compare the love of a woman to the beauty of an apple.
Several short, sweet Japanese poems reveal deeper meanings than the few phrases representing their thoughts. A seventh century Greek poem wonders at a lover’s presence and laments her absence. A series of poems speaks of the bliss of two being together and of the memories of nights of lovemaking. Another poem peeks at one lover in wakefulness, thoughts spinning through his mind as his mate sleeps. Intense feelings of lament, fear, and joy are carried through a series of poems describing the power of a lover, particularly when distance separates.
Love among married couples is celebrated in a Chinese poem that describes two mates as sharing the clay that molds their figures; the clay of each is broken into small pieces and mixed together, reformed to make the individual who now carries parts of the other. Poet John Holmes describes his wife as “Quick-tempered as fire crackers, scornful, clean;/ A spiritual materialist, Eve with clothes on.” Then a Persian poet, Rumi, tells of the next step after being in love—responsibility. He advises his readers to be lovers in a way that they will know their beloved and to be faithful in order to learn of faith. He writes, “Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,/ They’re in each other all along.” Another poet, Rika Lesser, speaks of simple lives, not extraordinary ones, that harbor the silence of their union: “Our silence seals/ a deeper silence.”
Gordon expects poetry to be learned, but she contends that it cannot be taught. Her blend of poems, her choice of poets, and her careful assembly of these love poems all express her ideals. Generations separate these poems, which clarifies the universal appeal of poetry and love. E. E. Cummings abstractly addresses love and relationships. The Persian poets seem to dwell more on the physical, while the Japanese poems express tangibility. Emily Dickinson’s soft touch but deep meaning may create tension in some readers, while Ewan MacCall lets his thoughts hum through his readers’ minds.