The Deafening Sound of Silence

Phyllis Farias
5 min readJan 21, 2024

As part of my work as an Educational Consultant, I help in the selection of textbooks in schools. The ‘Oxford International Primary English’ are the selected text books for Standards I to IV at a couple schools that I work with. One of the poems in the Standard III Book is “The Sound Collector” by Robert Mcgough. I have read it many times over the years again and again because part of my work also involves going through lesson plans. Quite honestly I didn’t give the poem serious thought. Though I did enjoy the rhythm and the sounds of everyday life.

This year however, the poem has struck a note, probably because certain types of sounds are getting on my nerves and I wish the Sound Collector would put them in his bag and carry them away.

Sorry, I am getting ahead of myself …..

Let me share 4 verses out of the 7 of this poem and if you are interested in reading the whole poem, please google it.

A stranger called this morning

Dressed all in black and grey

Put every sound into a bag

And carried it away.

The whistling of the kettle

The turning of the lock

The purring of the kitten

The ticking of the clock

The crying of the baby

The squeaking of the chair

The swishing of the curtain

The creaking of the stair

A stranger called this morning

He didn’t leave his name

Left us only silence

Life will never be the same.

The first and last verse got me in the gut — What sounds have I collected from infancy?

So very very very many.

Our sense of hearing is probably one of the most essential senses in our day to day lives. Sounds put joy and meaning into every moment to give us a better life — at least, that’s what they should be doing!!

Please, Mr. Sound Collector:

Feel free to take away the sounds of all types of violence, the shouting, nagging voices, the slaps and beating of physical abuse or any other kind of abuse. The wale of pain, the sobs of fear.

Please carry away the sounds of war, the gun shots, bombing, the cries of the wounded, the rumbling of tanks, the thunder of war planes, the running feet — away, away from the madness.

The sounds that generate fear, letting me hear my own thudding heart. A couple of them that I have collected from childhood — the distant barking of dogs in the still of the night, the rhythmic beat of a Java or could be a Royal Enfield motor cycle — And if you ask me why? I will have to answer I don’t know why?

Please, Mr. Sound Collector:

Don’t take away the sound of the first cry of a baby — my baby. The laughter of children, the sounds of happy chatter, and soul stirring music. The sounds of nature — the calls of birds, the rustling of leaves, the pitter patter of raindrops, the crashing of waves upon the shore.

The comforting sounds coming from the kitchen of cooking, ensuring that there will be food on the table. The early morning call for prayer coming from the neighbouring mosques, the chants of the poojari, the ringing of the church bells — all reminding us that God and prayer should be a part of our lives.

These and all the sounds that add meaning to our lives — please don’t take them away.

Tell me, Mr. Sound Collector :

Why have you dressed in black and grey? How big is your bag? Who are you? Why didn’t you leave your name?

How can you hear me if you have collected the sound of my voice? Speaking of voices — you have over the centuries taken away the voices of the weak, the timid, the poor and rendered them voiceless.

Have you not already collected the sounds of millions of children and people around the world by taking away their ability to hear?

For many years now, I have been the Chairperson of the Advisory Board of the Sheila Kothawala School for the Deaf. Theirs is a world of silence — neither can those children speak or hear. One of the schools where you will not hear the busy hum of children and teachers at work.

Can you imagine a world where the volume is muted?

And because we can’t imagine a world of silence, a so called ‘normal school’ would bring busloads of their school children to gaze and gape at the children as if they are animals in a zoo. All in the name of ‘creating empathy’ in so called normal children for the “disabled”. Whose need, may I ask?

The ‘normal’ school authorities did nothing to reciprocate, not even an inter-school ‘Throw ball’ match which was asked for.

This quote from Helen Keller will put the difficulties of the hearing impaired into perspective:

“I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

Let me give you a few interesting facts about the ear and hearing.

  • Without out ears, we would lose balance.
  • Our ears keep growing with age
  • Ears are self-cleaning
  • Our ears don’t stop hearing when we sleep; the brain chooses to ignore the sounds.
  • The roar that we hear when we place a sea shell next to our ear is not the sound of the ocean but rather the sound of blood surging through the veins in the ear.
  • Ears have the smallest bones in the body. These bones are designed to aid with sound transmittal; the bones capture the sound from the air and then relay them back to the brain — An amazing system.
  • The №1 cause of hearing loss is exposure to excessively loud sounds — 85 decibels or higher.
  • Exposure to sounds at 120 decibels can potentially damage hearing within 7.5 minutes.
  • Listening to music with headphones or earphones on a smart phone at high volume over time can cause permanent hearing damage.
  • The ears have hair cells which are the sensory receptors of the auditory system and without them; one wouldn’t be able to hear. These cells can be damaged or destroyed by the aging process, excessive noise exposure, lack of adequate blood supply — all of which result in hearing loss. These cells do not grow back. Interesting that we hear with hair.

With all these facts especially about hearing and hearing loss, I wonder whether you have begun to realize as I have, who our Sound Collector is?

This world that we live in is loud and is only getting louder all the time. Just stand at a ‘road crossing’ and the sounds are deafening. Often I can hear the loud sounds of crackers almost like gun shots, without any known reason.

Socializing at a wedding reception and other events is almost impossible with the blaring loud music. One can go on and on!

I believe the Sound Collector is you, me, everyone who does not do what is necessary to protect our hearing and ears — and we are slowing slipping into a world of silence. What a tragedy that would be!!

In conclusion, let me share with you something that I recall reading.

When the two ears are put side by side it forms the shape of the heart. The word ‘ear’ sits right in the middle of the word ‘heart’. The ear is the way to the heart.

Listening counts.

Happy 2024 — May the year be fulfilling and fruitful for each one of us.



Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology