Eavesdropping on Cid Corman’s Silence: Discovering Mysterious Worlds

by Gerald Schwartz

Silence has always been essential to poetry; it deepens the experience of leaving the world to come upon something more, something further. Those that write a pure language draw inward to a more subtle consciousness, perhaps an altered state of awareness. We have learned that in silence, brain waves distribute themselves differently over the neocortex, to process a wider input from the body, as if the ranges of awareness were no longer turned outward in defense but inward towards the body’s whispers and replies, memory and wisdom. Some of the most significant poetry from the past to the present, from the East to the West (and back again), has been tuning in to a similar silence to record those voices heard by the mind at rest, and the results have enlarged our sense of what is conscious and reduced our measure of what is “unconscious.”

Reading the poetry of Cid Corman—with its brief lines, measured by strict syllabic count—with its interplay of tones and accents, turning as it does on points of acute perception—we may consider ourselves as eavesdroppers on a silence to discover a hidden world within the conscious, where more than one voice can be heard affirming and elucidating on a plane mostly unknown, unknown because there are no beliefs—and also—no doubts.


          Nothing I
          say or can
          can put off
          the nothing

          each breath takes
          and gives back
          nothing to. (1.)

and in its conflict, balance and compression you can feel a combination of forces inducing great changes in perception; rhythms of the body and the blood conduce us to take up a thinking, leading us away from self to outer worlds, and there,  to experience what is liberated from the ego’s seemingly endless food-chain. Such selflessness comes from the poem’s steady meter and from the poet’s mind wandering in a silent state, a state of mystery of simply seeing, a state expressing a listening—to silence. This is the condition for a poet to truly aid a reader to leap out of the world of common sense, to face a mysterium tremendum, a vastness of all.

Corman’s poetry gives us a truth of silence that is not a turning away from others but a deeper turning toward the world. And, like a night-blooming cereus, the reader’s mind goes blank and then opens again.

Seeming to wall out the world and an inner space that nurtures, deepens, and transforms silence into meditation, this is a poetry of enclosure.

          ... the music of
          breathing lifting
          beyond silence... (p. 82)

There—a poem, a round inner sanctum where, along with the poet, we retreat back to a place where we might convene with ancestors or gods or perhaps we are just given the opportunity to simply empty the mind—these suggestive verses are designed to spur the greatest of feelings of intimacy, of subjectivity, of nearing the thresholds of the oblivious. Here is opportunity, a kind of metaphor of the self, or of “mind” as a sanctuary, full of echoes, memories, and perhaps a few cues to focus reflection, with certain thin separations from the outside world. In the grandest sense this is a tracing of memory linking back into time, a regression toward a source, a point of origin where the thinker becomes so absorbed in the reading to an opening outward, an epiphany, an expansion.

When we take a moment with:

          No one to take me
          by the hand—no one
          to be there with me

          and yet all await
          all. All... To speak of
          snow as the snow falls. (p. 84)

we are exploring the depths of nature (our own included) being ultimately transformed by a figurative return to a “place” of darkness and negation, whether on a low, rolling hill speaking of the falling snow or at the bottom of the sea or on a polar ice-cap. Corman’s metaphor of direction—of journey—conveys return, the descent into a realm of collective consciousness. All at once we move into awe, peace, fear, joy, love, wonder, reverence and humility—and perhaps further still. This momentary sense of a mysterium tremendum bears a haiku’s existential lucidity, and it bears the same aspects of a via negativa, that path stripping one’s self of self awareness, opening the mind to strange wonders. As we are overwhelmed by a nothingness in contrast to that which is beyond all creatures, a wakefulness of the infinitesimal in the face of that which is other than all creatures, it’s here that we are opened to our creature emotions.


          Old pine—
          roots crushed
          by concrete—

          cut down—
          removed. Who

          the absence
          of a
          shadow? (p. 99.)

and our minds can be filled with blank wonder and astonishment, a moment with the commonplace which is quite outside the sphere of the usual, the intelligible, and the accustomed. This is the mysterium, a gift, a face to face with wonder to the point of stupor, an astonishment that strikes us dumb, amazement absolute. Although softly, the poem expresses an urgency or energy, a tremendum, and so, we are met with a vitality, passion, will, force and impetus. All at once we draw back—almost in retreat—yet, at the same time we are drawn forward.

Yes, in eavesdropping on Cid Corman’s silence we find in that listening—hand cupped to ear—a resonant mystery because as silent readers we are bells with the ability to see in the eternally present moment, a moment allowing us to be occasionally lifted, and struck.


Cid Corman, And The Word: Poems by Cid Corman, (Coffee House Press: Minneapolis, 1987) 81, 82, 84, 99.