‘A Time to Keep Silence’

A Time to Keep SilenceA Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shh-h-h-h.

[Pause.]

Recommended, to his fans. Again.

“Silence” is a pleasing, and brief, dissertation on meditative meaning and monastic history, with all the usual Fermor qualities.

Try not to be distracted by the incredibly, and unnecessarily, distracting introduction in which Fermor tries to skirt his own personal disbelief in elegant and opaque fashion. “I was hindered by several disabilities,” he begins, tantalizingly, “from sharing to the utmost all the advantages a stranger may gain from monastic sojourns.”

I confess that, had I had a medical textbook handy, I might have consulted it for some hint of what Fermor was on about. But as he writes in the very next sentence, “Hints they must remain as they touch on perplexities that have little bearing on the main drift of this book…” (’Nuff said, Paddy.)

Little hint of these perplexities are discernible in the words that follow. Fermor’s agile mind is ideally suited for contemplative settings.

My own, however, tends to wander. As when Fermor described a ghastly piece of art at the Grande Trappe depicting a skeleton, with an hour-glass, scythe and the legend, “Tonight, perhaps?” Thankfully, Fermor steadied my nerves immediately: “It is scarcely marvelous that the most liberal-minded laymen have detected in such disturbing symbolism, in the perpetual silence, the ghostly costume and the pervading melancholy of a Trappist abbey, no message but one of despair and a morose delectation of Death.”

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