I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,
And the silence of a man and a maid,
And the silence of the sick
When their eyes roam about the room.
And I ask: For the depths,
Of what use is language?
A beast of the field moans a few times
When death takes its young.
And we are voiceless in the presence of realities —
We cannot speak.

A curious boy asks an old soldier
Sitting in front of the grocery store,
“How did you lose your leg?”
And the old soldier is struck with silence,
Or his mind flies away
Because he cannot concentrate it on Gettysburg.
It comes back jocosely
And he says, “A bear bit it off.”
And the boy wonders, while the old soldier
Dumbly, feebly lives over
The flashes of guns, the thunder of cannon,
The shrieks of the slain,
And himself lying on the ground,
And the hospital surgeons, the knives,
And the long days in bed.
But if he could describe it all
He would be an artist.
But if he were an artist there would be deeper wounds
Which he could not describe.

There is the silence of a great hatred,
And the silence of a great love,
And the silence of an embittered friendship.
There is the silence of a spiritual crisis,
Through which your soul, exquisitely tortured,
Comes with visions not to be uttered
Into a realm of higher life.
There is the silence of defeat.
There is the silence of those unjustly punished;
And the silence of the dying whose hand
Suddenly grips yours.
There is the silence between father and son,
When the father cannot explain his life,
Even though he be misunderstood for it.

There is the silence that comes between husband and wife.
There is the silence of those who have failed;
And the vast silence that covers
Broken nations and vanquished leaders.
There is the silence of Lincoln,
Thinking of the poverty of his youth.
And the silence of Napoleon
After Waterloo.
And the silence of Jeanne d’Arc
Saying amid the flames, “Blessed Jesus” —
Revealing in two words all sorrows, all hope.
And there is the silence of age,
Too full of wisdom for the tongue to utter it
In words intelligible to those who have not lived
The great range of life.

And there is the silence of the dead.
If we who are in life cannot speak
Of profound experiences,
Why do you marvel that the dead
Do not tell you of death?
Their silence shall be interpreted
As we approach them.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Edgar Lee Masters's poem Silence


  1. Lisa Moore says:

    I read this poem in high school. I was on the forensics team and read this in the poetry division. I won many awards for my presentation of Silence…Now, at 47, I can still recite it in the same prose as I did back then. It still has meaning in my life..and will always be a favorite.

  2. G. Hunter says:

    I first read this poem years ago in an English Lit. textbook. I remembered the 1st stanza, but could not for the life of me remember who wrote it. It’s a beautiful poem, full of meaning and I’m glad that I found it again.

  3. Kristal L Rosebrook says:

    Very pretty poem

  4. senina says:

    the poem silence is one of a kind. it shows and tells different ideas from our mind. it reminds us that true silence is found when there is peace and love.

    ” eye is an open door to one’s soul and inner self. ”

  5. eireen says:

    This poem entitled “Silence” is one of the best poem I’ve ever read. In this poem I learned that in silence we can show our love, sadness, happiness, or any emotions that we can feel inside. Though we don’t usually say what’s inside our minds and hearts, the only one who can see the true feelings in our naked eye are the ones who love us like our friends and family.
    So, eventhough you try to hide something there will always be one who can read your secrets….through your eye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Edgar Lee Masters better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.