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Not talking

October 30, 2011

Mother Teresa and Philip Larkin on the big questions

Rarely, if ever, have these two appeared in the same headline, but … .

Here’s Larkin’s poem “Talking In Bed”.

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Our first reaction is sadness.  Sadness at two lovers no longer communicating.  No longer finding true and kind things to say, even in bed.   But consider things “not untrue and not unkind” –  loneliness and the approach, each at a “unique distance”, of the greater isolation of death.  Larkin doesn’t spell it out, but the reader can; silence is needed for that.

And Mother Teresa?  Towards the end of her life the CBS news anchor Dan Rather asked her what she said when she prayed to God.

“Oh I don’t talk much.  I just listen.”

Taken aback, Rather turned the question round.  “And what does God say?”

With a twinkle she replied.  “He doesn’t talk either.  He just listens.”

The saint and the atheist would have understood each other.

Jim Thornton

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2011 9:44 pm

    WH Auden would have understood too. Here’s a haiku from the end of his life.

    He has never seen God,
    but once or twice, he believes
    he has heard Him.

    I like the tension between “he believes” and the capital H on “Him”.

  2. franc permalink
    June 12, 2013 11:19 pm


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