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Napoli, chiostro di Santa Chiara: allegoria del Silenzio
There are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence. ~ Benedict of Nursia

Silence is a lack of sound or the practice of refraining from speaking.

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  • Some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.


  • There are times when silence is the best way to yell at the top of your voice.
    • O. A. Battista, from Braude's Second Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations, and Anecdotes
  • “Silence,” it has been said by one writer, “is a virtue which renders us agreeable to our fellow-creatures.”


  • Speech is of time, silence is of eternity.
  • Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.
  • Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.
  • Silence is more eloquent than words.
  • Virtutem primam esse puto, compescere linguam: proximus ille deo est qui scit ratione tacere.
  • There are haunters of the silence, ghosts that hold the heart and brain.
    • Madison Cawein, "Haunters of the Silence", in New Poems (London: Grant Richards, 1909), p. 131


Timely silence, then, is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts. ~ Diadochos of Photiki
  • Upon this wintry night it is so still, that listening to the intense silence is like looking at intense darkness.
  • Weakness invites, but silence feasts oppression.
    • John Donne, Of the Progress of the Soul, song/stanza 25
  • Silence is always beautiful, and a silent person is always more beautiful than one who talks.


  • Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
  • I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared to me so bad and unfortunate that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.
    • Albert Einstein, Address to the Chicago Decalogue Society (20 February 1954)


  • I think television has betrayed the meaning of democratic speech, adding visual chaos to the confusion of voices. What role does silence have in all this noise?
  • Silence best speaks the mind.


  • Nothing builds authority up like silence, splendor of the strong and shelter of the weak.
    • Charles de Gaulle, Le Fil de l'épée (1932)
    • Original text:
      Rien ne rehausse l'autorité mieux que le silence, splendeur des forts et refuge des faibles.


  • It was so darn quiet you could hear your hair grow.
  • Take heed of still waters, they quick pass away.
  • Perhaps it is possible to discover more in silence than in speech. Or perhaps it is only that those who are silent among us learn to listen.
  • Elected Silence, sing to me
    And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
    Pipe me to pastures still and be
    The music that I care to hear.

    Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
    It is the shut, the curfew sent
    From there where all surrenders come
    Which only makes you eloquent.


  • Silence, according to western and eastern tradition alike, is necessary for the emergence of persons. It is taken from us by machines that ape people. We could easily be made increasingly dependent on machines for speaking and for thinking, as we are already dependent on machines for moving.
    • Ivan Illich, "Silence is a Commons" (1982), as published in The CoEvolution Quarterly, Winter 1983.


  • You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use -- silence, exile, and cunning.


  • Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on
  • I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of goodwill. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
    • Martin Luther King, Jr., letter to several clergymen from the Birmingham City Jail, Birmingham (Alabama, April 16, 1963), microfilm of original typescript, p. 6. This has been widely reprinted, with occasional textual variations.
  • In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.


  • Sorrow and silence are strong, and patient endurance is godlike.
  • The surest pledge of a deathless name
    Is the silent homage of thoughts unspoken.
  • What I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence.
  • We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us. The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.


  • my silence floats towards you-/a bright and secret sign.
    • Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin translated from Yiddish by Shirley Kumove (2017)
  • The silence walked beside them like the ghost of a dead man.
  • You know
    There are moments when silence, prolong'd and unbroken,
    More expressive may be than all words ever spoken,
    It is when the heart has an instinct of what
    In the heart of another is passing.
    • Owen Meredith (Lord Lytton), Lucile (1860), Part II, Canto I, Stanza 20.
  • You have the right to remain silent when questioned.
    Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
    You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
    If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
    If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
    Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
    • Miranda Warning (Alaska State Varient) Alaska State Troopers. Season Season 2. National Geographic Channel
  •   …   There's a joy,
    To the fond votaries of fame unknown,
    To hear the still small voice of conscience speak
    In whisp'ring plaudit to the silent soul.
  • He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should either utter good words or better keep silence; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should treat his neighbour with kindness and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should show hospitality to his guest.


  • First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
  • When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
    • Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life (1974).




  • I shall halt. Truth does not always
    Gain if she displays
    Her face unflinching;
    and silence is often a man’s wisest counsel.
    • Pindar, Nemean 5, in The Odes of Pindar, translated by C. M. Bowra, published by Penguin Books (1969), p. 3
  • In the moment of silence Agnes fancied she could hear the stalactites grow.




  • All music is just performances of 4'33" in studios where another band happened to be playing at the time.
  • to him who fears only your opposition...silence is consent. And silence where life and liberty is at stake, where by a timely protest we could stay the destroyer's hand, and do not do so, is as criminal as giving actual aid to the oppressor, for it answers his purpose...
    • Ernestine Rose Speech At the Thomas Paine anniversary celebration, New York, Jan. 29, 1852
  • Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
    Live in silence.
    • Rumi, The Essential Rumi (1995), "A Community of the Spirit" in Ch. 1 : The Tavern, p. 2, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A. J. Arberry and Reynold A. Nicholson. Barks does not speak or read Persian; his 'translations' are therefore technically paraphrases and have been criticised by many scholars. Barks bases his paraphrases entirely on other English translations of Rumi which include renderings by Moyne and Nicholson.
  • Silence
    is an ocean. Speech is a river.

    When the ocean is searching for you, don't walk
    into the language-river. Listen to the ocean,
    and bring your talky business to an end

    Traditional words are just babbling
    in that presence, and babbling is a substitute
    for sight.

    • Rumi, The Essential Rumi (1995), "The Three Fish" Ch. 18 : The Three Fish, p. 196, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A. J. Arberry and Reynold A. Nicholson. Barks does not speak or read Persian; his 'translations' are therefore technically paraphrases and have been criticised by many scholars. Barks bases his paraphrases entirely on other English translations of Rumi which include renderings by Moyne and Nicholson.
    • Variant translations or adaptations:
    • Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.
      • As quoted in Teachers of Wisdom (2010) by Igor Kononenko, p. 134
    • Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river. Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.


  • When one intends to move or when one intends to speak, one should first examine one’s own mind and then act appropriately with composure. When one sees one’s mind to be attached or repulsed, then one should neither act nor speak, but remain still like a piece of wood. When my mind is haughty, sarcastic, full of conceit and arrogance, ridiculing, evasive and deceitful, when it is inclined to boast, or when it is contemptuous of others, abusive, and irritable, then I should remain still like a piece of wood. When my mind is averse to the interests of others and seeks my own self-interest, or when it wishes to speak out of a desire for an audience, then I will remain still like a piece of wood. When it is impatient, indolent, timid, impudent, garrulous, or biased in my own favor, then I will remain still like a piece of wood.
    • Santideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, V. Wallace and B. Wallace, trans. (1997), § 5.47
  • Do not too hastily conclude that silence is indifference. Indifference is not to care, not to act, not even to think or breathe. Indifference is inhuman and inhumane. Silence, on the other hand, is almost always premeditated, a willful act. Without silence there would be no sound.
  • The things you do not have to say make you rich.
    Saying the things you do not have to say weakens your talk.
    Hearing the things you do not need to hear dulls your hearing.
    And the things you know before you hear them, these are you, and this is why you are in the world.


  • As our bankrupt civilization draws to its close, and as the violence of the powerful against the weak, of the rich against the poor, of the few against the many, becomes more and more apparent, ... to refrain from mentioning it becomes more and more clearly a political act, an act of censorship or cowardice.
    • Meredith Tax, "Culture is not Neutral, Whom Does it Serve?" in Radical Perspectives in the Arts (1972), p. 16
  • Silence, beautiful voice.
  • A still tongue makes a happy life.
    • 'The Prisoner', 1967 TV series, Episode 1. Sign on wall featured at 21' 23".
  • Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.


  • I have loved quiet in a leafy glade
    Where boughs embrace above a flowering way,
    Deep amber pools at sunset where the stray
    Soft twilight colors stain the willow shade
    And woodlands where sweet silence dwells.
  • To sin by silence, when we should protest,
    Makes cowards out of men. The human race
    Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
    Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
    The inquisition yet would serve the law,
    And guillotines decide our least disputes.
    The few who dare, must speak and speak again
    To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
    No vested power in this great day and land
    Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
    Loud disapproval of existing ills;
    May criticise oppression and condemn
    The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
    That let the children and childbearers toil
    To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

    Therefore I do protest against the boast
    Of independence in this mighty land.
    Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
    Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
    Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
    Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
    Until the mother bears no burden, save
    The precious one beneath her heart, until
    God's soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
    And given back to labor, let no man
    Call this the land of freedom.
  • Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
    • Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
    • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922).

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 707-10.
  • But silence never shows itself to so great an advantage, as when it is made the reply to calumny and defamation, provided that we give no just occasion for them.
  • Alta vendetta
    D'alto silenzio è figlia.
    • Deep vengeance is the daughter of deep silence.
    • Vittorio Alfieri, La Congiura de' Pazzi, I, 1.
  • Le silence est l'esprit das sots,
    Et l'une des vertus du sage.
  • Three things are ever silent—Thought, Destiny, and the Grave.
  • There was silence deep as death;
    And the boldest held his breath,
    For a time.
  • Speech is great; but silence is greater.
  • Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.
  • Cum tacent clamant.
    • When they hold their tongues they cry out.
    • Cicero, In Catilinam, 1. 8.
  • And they three passed over the white sands, between the rocks, silent as the shadows.
  • Striving to tell his woes, words would not come;
    For light cares speak, when mighty griefs are dumb.
  • Il ne voit que la nuit, n'entend que le silence.
    • He sees only night, and hears only silence.
    • Jacques Delille, Imagination, IV.
  • Silence is the mother of Truth.
  • A horrid stillness first invades the ear,
    And in that silence we the tempest fear.
  • Stillborn silence! thou that art
    Flood-gate of the deeper heart!
  • Small griefs find tongues: full casques are ever found
    To give, if any, yet but little sound.
    Deep waters noyselesse are; and this we know,
    That chiding streams betray small depth below.
    • Robert Herrick, Hesperides, To His Mistresse Objecting to Him Neither Toying or Talking.
  • There is a silence where hath been no sound,
    There is a silence where no sound may be,
    In the cold grave—under the deep, deep sea,
    Or in wide desert where no life is found,
    Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound.
  • Est et fideli tuta silentio merces.
    • There is likewise a reward for faithful silence.
    • Horace, Carmina, III. 2. 25.
  • Not much talk—a great, sweet silence.
  • Vessels never give so great a sound as when they are empty.
    • Bishop John Jewell, Defense of the Apology for the Church of England.
  • Rarus sermo illis et magna libido tacendi.
    • Their conversation was brief, and their desire was to be silent.
    • Juvenal, Satires (early 2nd century), II. 14.
  • Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time.
  • Les gens sans bruit sont dangereux;
    Il n'en est pas ainsi des autres.
  • Some sipping punch, some sipping tea,
    But as you by their faces see
    All silent and all damned.
    • Charles Lamb, lines made up from a stanza in Wordsworth's Peter Bell.
  • Three Silences there are: the first of speech,
    The second of desire, the third of thought.
  • Where the streame runneth smoothest, the water is deepest.
  • 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 for which music alone finds the word.
  • Dixisse me, inquit, aliquando pœnituit, tacuisse nunquam.
    • He [Xenocrates] said that he had often repented speaking, but never of holding his tongue.
    • Valerius Maximus, Book VII. 2, Ext. 7.
  • Nothing is more useful than silence.
  • That silence is one of the great arts of conversation is allowed by Cicero himself, who says, there is not only an art, but even an eloquence in it.
    • Hannah More, Essays on Various Subjects, Thoughts on Conversation.
  • Silence sweeter is than speech.
  • Be silent and safe—silence never betrays you.
  • Sed taciti fecere tamen convicia vultus.
    • But still her silent looks loudly reproached me.
    • Ovid, Amorum (16 BC), I. 7. 21.
  • Sæpe tacens vocem verbaque vultus habet.
    • The silent countenance often speaks.
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoria, I. 574.
  • Exigua est virtus præstare silentia rebus;
    At contra, gravis est culpa tacenda loqui.
    • Slight is the merit of keeping silence on a matter, on the other hand serious is the guilt of talking on things whereon we should be silent.
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoria, Book II. 603.
  • Remember what Simonides said,—that he never repented that he had held his tongue, but often that he had spoken.
    • Plutarch, Morals, Volume I. Rules for the Preservation of Health.
  • Said Periander, "Hesiod might as well have kept his breath to cool his pottage."
    • Plutarch, Morals, Volume II. The Banquet of the Seven Wise Men.
  • La douleur qui se tait n'en est que plus funeste.
    • Silent anguish is the more dangerous.
    • Jean Racine, Andromaque, III. 3.
  • Silence in love bewrays more woe
    Than words, though ne'er so witty;
    A beggar that is dumb, you know,
    May challenge double pity.
  • The silente man still suffers wrong.
    • The Rock of Regard. J. P. Collier's Reprint. (1576).
  • Altissima quæque flumina minimo sono labuntur.
    • The deepest rivers flow with the least sound.
    • Quintus Curtius Rufus, De Rebus Gestis Alexandri Magni, VII, 4, 13.
  • Doch große Seelen dulden still.
  • Bekker schweigt in sieben Sprachen.
    • Bekker is silent in seven languages.
    • Schleiermacher. See letter of Zelter to Goethe (March 15, 1830).
  • Wise Men say nothing in dangerous times.
  • Tacere multis discitur vitæ malis.
  • Silence! Oh, well are Death and Sleep and Thou
    Three brethren named, the guardians gloomy-winged,
    Of one abyss, where life and truth and joy
    Are swallowed up.
  • Shallow brookes murmur moste, deepe silent slide away.
  • Macaulay is like a book in breeches * * * He has occasional flashes of silence, that make his conversation perfectly delightful.
  • Le silence du peuple est la leçon des rois.
    • The silence of the people is a lesson for kings.
    • Soanen, Bishop of Senax; also Abbé de Beauvais, funeral oration over Louis XV.
  • Woman, to women silence is the best ornament.
  • To me so deep a silence portends some dread event; a clamorous sorrow wastes itself in sound.
  • The deepest rivers make least din,
    The silent soule doth most abound in care.
  • But let me silent be:
    For silence is the speech of love,
    The music of the spheres above.
  • Of every noble work the silent part is best,
    Of all expression, that which cannot be expressed.
  • And I too talk, and lose the touch
    I talk of. Surely, after all,
    The noblest answer unto such
    Is kindly silence when they brawl.
    • Alfred Tennyson, The After Thought, in Punch (March 7, 1846); Altered in the published poems to: "Is perfect stillness when they brawl".
  • Our noisy years seem moments in the being
    Of the eternal Silence.
  • No sound is uttered,—but a deep
    And solemn harmony pervades
    The hollow vale from steep to steep,
    And penetrates the glades.
  • The silence that is in the starry sky.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • In some causes silence is dangerous; so if any know of conspiracies against their country or king, or any that might greatly prejudice their neighbor, they ought to discover it.
    • Ambrose. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.
    • Thomas Carlyle, essay on Sir Walter Scott, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, vol. 4, p. 190 (1881). Carlyle refers to this theme elsewhere, one example being: "As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprechen ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity". Carlyle, Sartor Resartus and Selected Prose, book 3, chapter 3, p. 205 (1970).
  • Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.
    • George Eliot, Impressions of Theophrastus Such, chapter 4, p. 51 (1900). First published in 1879.
  • Grosse Seelen dulden still.
    • Great souls endure in silence.
    • Friedrich Schiller, Don Carlos, act I, scene iv, Don Carlos, Mary Stuart, trans. R. D. Boylan and Joseph Mellish, p. 30 (1902). The Marquis is speaking. "Great spirits suffer patiently" is the translation in Friedrich Schiller, Plays, ed. Walter Hinderer, Don Carlos trans. A. Leslie and Jeanne R. Willson, p. 124 (1983).
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