Tuesday, 20 July 2021

An Exhibition of Superlative Books: The Quietest Book in the World


The quiet book is unopened in front of you.

The world around you can recede for a while to its place of residence.

If you open the book, as you do with a swing of your glasses, language begins.

The past meets you halfway, in a silence of complicity.

The mood may settle, like the muscles in your neck.

Or soon pace down and up and down towards some unexplained expectation.

It could be the Middle Ages, or just middle age.

It could be the Renaissance.

The truck in the street has already turned the corner and gone.

The quietest book, here in front of you, trials the notion of a quiet library.

Sometime you have visited a library yourself.

Footnotes lead to citations for the fallacy of the quiet librarian.  

You read how this notion is demolished once you attend a library conference. The boisterous library, the outspoken library, the talkative library.

These are not common expressions; their librarians can be all these things.

So many words exchanged when the quiet book is banned.

A sing-song of superlatives when the quietest book is reviewed.

Discussion gets deep about the very nature of the quiet book.

Confronted silently by the language of the past, you get to like it.

This language was created just for you.

Though someone was in mind, only who and why?

This language was created just for you, not.

Certain chapters are held together by some silent pact.

After you have turned off the reading lamp, certain sentences keep you awake.

Tomorrow you must return to them.

The quietest book in the world addresses tomorrow head-on.

By then, the voice is being assimilated in your mind.

The sentences are more than just gut feeling.

You find the quietest book in the world is like no other.

You push aside the thought that it is like all the others.

You accept that all books are quiet.

Some are quiet as a dormouse, others quiet as outer space.

Your hearing mechanisms are not tuned to such frequencies.

Reading doesn’t always help.

The literature has not proven that some books are quieter than others.

Hence, you read sipping a cup of tea, their very mystery.

When you enter a library, bookshop, or any booklined space, there is quiet.

They are not anechoic chambers and yet you hear the silence.

Lines of books speak to the future that is you.

Tomorrow is another day, reads the epigraph.

And here you are.

The quietest book in the world stands in for the voices of the generations.

The quietest book may not be labelled thus for sale purposes.

Only the other week you were reading one of your quietest nearby books.

Storms uprooted forests, floods swept homes downstream.

The affable diarist spends hours in coffee houses with voluble friends.

The new music is so loud, conversation at the opera must be curtailed.

The war on the continent is reaching a crescendo.

The plague could put an end to it all.

You could not put it down, even forgot to turn out the reading lamp.

The quietest book was picked up again next morning.

His library grew while increasing blindness hindered full appreciation.

The stone caused groans but his vocal visitors, vociferous opinions.

The city almost burnt to the ground; we are grateful for his account.

One book you will not have read contains the following poem.

It is translated from an Oriental language, from another century.

The forest is here but this morning no sounds may be heard.

Truly no language can speak the silence of fog.

Surely the owls are warm where they dwell.

But cold is everywhere, in the air and the bones.

Thought wishes to share such peaceful solitude

Where soundless immensity traps occasional mist water.

Inside the room the bed is warm and sleeps some more.

Table, fruit bowls, teacups - every object is quiet

But quietest of all on a window ledge is a book

Closed for some time, now in the light again,

The quietest book in the world.

You might enjoy everything I have put into this book.

Descriptions of travel before the pandemic arrived.

Conversations with our friends, some lost for good.

Cartoons of our hopeless politicians, even old Lunkhead.

Drawings that took hours, of the abiding seasons.

Cuttings of thought-provoking facts from the capital’s news sheets.

My efforts at interpretation of poems and scripture verses.

The abiding seasons, that supply pressed flowers and herbs.

You might; or might prefer most times your own window view.

Fog shows by example how to quieten down.

Until a bird song or cracking ice means fog is lifting, with blue hints. 

 Notes for the Poem:

Pictured are two of the quietest books in the world alluded to in the poem: ‘The Diary of Samuel Pepys’ and ‘The Poetry and Career of Li Po, 701-762 A.D.’, biography and translations by Arthur Waley.

A useful introduction to anechoic chambers is found here:


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