“The Sounds of Silence”
Simon & Garfunkel
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know –
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s duo, Simon & Garfunkel, is one of the most beloved duos of all time. Their music has inspired generations, and they influenced the lives of millions. Paul Simon wrote this song in the aftermath of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. This song’s success propelled them to popularity beyond their wildest dreams. Simon was the primary writer for the duo, and at the peak of their success in 1970, they split. Tensions were always high between the two. Their split makes you wonder how much more they could have done if they had stayed together. Simon went on to have a successful solo career, and he pulled in 12 Grammy’s. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he was selected as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World” by Time Magazine.
Hyperbole: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.
The use of hyperbole in this song is not as pronounced, but it leaves an effect of gravity. The line “ten thousand people, maybe more” is an example of hyperbole. Simon uses a grand amount of people to display his point that so many people are “hearing without listening,” or “talking without speaking.” This amount of people paints the picture for the reality of ignorance in the world.
“The Sounds of Silence” is a melody that is unparalleled. It is the epitome of poetry put to song. It tells a story that is neither too long nor too short.
The third verse is among the most important in regards to the meaning of the poem. Simon criticizes the interactions of the “ten thousand people, maybe more” as meaningless, shown by the lines “people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening”. This suggests their conversations as passing and weightless; by “talking without speaking” they could not convey any meaning or emotion. By “hearing without listening”, the “people” are unable to interpret or view conversations with any significance or understanding, and treat their interactions as mere routine. The third line concludes this idea with “people writing songs that voices never shared.” This can be viewed as ideas that are never conveyed or supported by peers, and therefore no longer have any meaning.
The final two lines describe an unspoken authority or doctrine that prevents people from breaking the endless chain of empty communication. The word “dared” seems to suggest that the people are in fact aware of their meaningless interaction, but choose instead to remain ignorant in fears of upsetting the status quo. The title and recurring line of the song: “sounds of silence,” is also finally explained by these two lines. The sounds of silence can be interpreted to be the author’s acknowledgement of the people’s lack of communication. Although silence suggests void and emptiness, Simon uses an oxymoron to emphasize its crucial quality.
The next verse shows Simon reprimanding the people, saying their silence grows like cancer. This idea is particularly powerful, as it conveys much of the theme and message of the song. Silence can grow and spread much like a virus. If it isn’t stopped early on, it can take over.
The final verse conveys the author’s helplessness and grief. The transition of tone from the previous verse to the final is one of tutelage to disappointment and hopelessness. The author adopts a melancholy tone, choosing to resign himself to watching the people fall to their doom. The verse suggests he has come to terms with and accepted the people’s perdition, and has given up on them. Almost every line begins with “and,” suggest a nonchalant tone, making it seem like a casual observation. He narrates that the “people bowed and prayed”, suggesting an image of total submission and dependency. The following line tells of them promising their allegiance to “the neon god”. The “neon” description was used before in verse two, at the beginning of the author’s “dream.” The author reveals the connection between his initial encounter with the people, and that which they now worship. The use of the word “made” suggests mockery and irony, as the people are worshiping that which they created, resulting in a paradoxical cycle. It’s almost blasphemous.
The third and fourth line seem to suggest a prolonging and delaying of the narration, with two whole lines dedicated to describing the “warning” being displayed on the “sign”. The “sign” could refer to the “neon god” mentioned in the previous line, with the use of the word “flashed” suggesting glowing lights. The fifth line seems to be the most powerful and moving in the song. The line reveals the result of the prolonged narration performed in the previous two lines, where the “sign” tells of the “words of the prophets” being “written on the subway walls.” This first appears particularly puzzling, as no “prophets,” nor their “words,” are mentioned in any of the previous verses. The “prophets” can perhaps be interpreted as ancestors or previous leaders of the people being described in the song. These “prophets” were perhaps trying to convey the very message the author is desperately trying to tell the people. It can be imagined that the people refused to listen, forcing the prophets to document their “words” or teachings on the ideal representation of the urbanization that the people crave, hence the “subway walls”.
Unlike the previous two lines that suggest the “words” being “written,” the final line narrates the “words” being “whispered,” conveying secrecy and the ubiquity of the “words of the prophets.” This idea suggests that the people are able to hear if they only take the effort to listen. The line concludes with the phrase: “in the sounds of silence.” This not only brings the subject back to the title of the song, but also signifies how the prophets’ teachings seem to resonate within the people. It can further be inferred that the people are aware of this message, but blithely choose to ignore it.
The song ends with a drop in dynamics and a dragging of the last syllables- signs of finality and conclusion. This could be interpreted as the death of any hope left, an acceptance of the perdition and decadence that has engulfed the people, a resignation to leave them to drown in their own artificial and engineered way of living.
This song was written during a time of mourning, and it would be dangerous to reach out to help others. This action would disrupt the sound of silence, which was all that could be handled at the time.
This is one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen. So many meanings can be drawn. I like to think that the young man is sitting atop this cliff, overwhelmed by the purity around him. The “sound of silence.” That itself is an oxymoron. This “sound” is so silent, so unperturbed, so lonely. The first verse makes this silence about the ignorance of people, and how we do not dare disturb it, for change is too scary. We do not dare disturb the “sound of silence.” This visual shows a young men reveling in silence, but in a more positive way. This silence is natural, and holds no bias. The enormity of this place could serve as the “vision” planted in his brain. It could be a metaphor for the only place where one can really observe the sounds of silence.