The word predates 950 CE and has its roots in the Middle English lis(t)nen, the Old English hlysnan; the Middle High Germanic lüsenen, the Swedish lyssna, and possibly the Sanskrit śroṣati, all meaning "to hear" or "to give ear to". It is kin to list which also names the French liste and the Old High German leiste among its antecedents.
Listening means hearing someone or something, but it is so much more - it is to be thoughtfully intent and focused, to cultivate radiant attention and concentrate on that someone or something with all one's being. Within both words (listen and attention) are notions of observant caring, courtesy, consideration and rapt awareness. Consider is probably my favorite synonym for this week's word, and it, as described in another Friday ramble, has its origins in the Middle English consideren and Latin considerare, both meaning "with the stars" or "in the company of the stars".
A cold damp wind howls through the gutters of the little blue house in the village this morning - it goes rushing around corners, whistling a hollow resonant tune that sounds like my battered old Tibetan singing bowl. There is tinkling and crackling up by the eaves as the resident icicles protest the exuberant presence trying so hard to bring them down. When they tumble and shatter, the icicles ring like bells against the snow.
Steaming mug in hand, I shiver by the back door and listen to the day unfolding, and it seems to me that these ordinary winter morning sounds are almost symphonic in their expression, in their perfect, seemingly effortless orchestration. The intervals between the notes being played are as expressive as the notes themselves, and I find myself thinking of a handful of avant garde compositions by composers John Cage and Steve Reich in which silence is a key element.
When it snows again later today, I will be able to hear the snow coming to rest on the stones in my garden, and the evergreens out there will sway and seem to be singing softly. Taken individually, snow and evergreens are deliciously fragrant, but blended together, they're sublime and intoxicating. Such moments are some of my favorite intervals in all of life - eldritch musics indeed, and what the legendary Finn mac Cumaill called "the music of what happens". He believed there was no finer or more beautiful sound on this hallowed earth.
January 17, 2014
resting easy in friday rambles