The Silence of the Stars
When Laurens van der Post one night
In the Kalahari Desert told the Bushmen
He couldn't hear the stars
Singing, they didn't believe him. They looked at him.
Half-smiling. They examined his face
To see whether he was joking
Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
Who plant nothing, who have almost
Nothing to hunt, who live
On almost nothing, and with no one
But themselves, led him away
From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
And stood with him under the night sky
And listened. One of them whispered,
Do you not hear them now?
And van der Post listened, not wanting
To disbelieve, but had to answer,
No. They walked him slowly
Like a sick man to the small dim
Circle of firelight and told him
They were terribly sorry,
And he felt even sorrier
For himself and blamed his ancestors
For their strange loss of hearing,
Which was his loss now. On some clear nights
When nearby houses have turned off their televisions,
When the traffic dwindles, when through streets
Are between sirens and the jets overhead
Are between crossings, when the wind
Is hanging fire in the fir trees,
And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove
Between calls is regarding his own darkness,
I look at the stars again as I first did
To school myself in the names of constellations
And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,
I can still hear what I thought
At the edge of silence where the inside jokes
Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,
The C above high C of my inner ear, myself
Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:
My fair share of the music of the spheres
And clusters of ripening stars,
Of the songs from the throats of the old gods
Still tending even tone-deaf creatures
Through their exiles in the desert.
Reading the poem closely, we are moved by the Bushmen's deep sorrow for the truncated spiritual life of van der Post. He cannot hear the music of the stars which, to them, is the great symphony of their being, their connection with the Divine Spirit that sounds throughout the universe, evoking wonder, awe, and a reconciling Presence, which unites all human beings -- all sentient beings -- indeed all creation.
You and I might think it folly, that these quite simple people in the remote region of southern Africa actually believe they are hearing the stars singing. On the other hand, perhaps they would believe that the silence of the stars we experience is folly, driving us to fill that emptiness with the 10,000 distractions of modern civilization. Yet again, it may well be that the music of the singing stars is the music within the human soul, a music evoked by a worshipful epiphany when gazing at the star-lit sky, away from the deafening cacophony of our planes, lawn mowers, blasting radios, and televisions, and automobiles racing down the ligaments of our collective life in neighborhoods of ever-glaring light and raucous noise.
In some sense, we know like the Bushmen that the stars pull us upward toward a wondrous envelopment of what, for the moment, we might call a sense of Mystical Being. We lack the scientific knowledge to fully understand this phenomenon. But as we grow older into the wisdom of older age, the reality becomes clearer as distractions fade away, making life grander, life more precious, and the later years of approaching death a catastrophe were it not for this deeper knowing and the inner hearing the music of the stars.
Carl Jung in a personal letter written in 1950 put it this way:
"The spectacle of old age would be unendurable
did we not know that our psyche reaches into a region
held captive neither by change in time nor by limitation of place.
In that form of being our birth is a death; and our death a birth.
The scales of the whole hang balanced."