Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence

A poem, like all other works of art, may appear as an inter-subjective truth, an intricate thread of images, a surreal yet realistic expression, and as a “creative fact” according to Virginia Woolf. In canon literature, a good poem is usually that which has fine structure, imagery, meaning and relevance; an art, which has sprung out not only of personal necessities but out of socio-cultural quagmires. Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence transcends the mediocre. It creates a bombarding mood that runs through the whole text, thus, transforming the readers to a reality it is presenting.

The poem starts with the use of a device called apostrophe (a figure of speech where one talks to or addresses an inanimate object). Here the “I” persona talks to his “old friend.”

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, still remains

Within the Sound of Silence

Apparently, this is not the first time that the speaker talks with his “old friend,” darkness. He had had “talks” with it since a time unspecified, suggesting a perpetual moments of seclusion by the speaker. Talking with silence would mean solitude, loneliness if not ennui. The reason for this resort to solitude was a vision that keeps on bothering him. He was looking for solace which he found being alone; no one seems to understand Him. Here we can see him regressinga defensive reaction of the human psyche to flounce away, by retreating to earlier stages of life, a threatening stimuli, which in this case is the vision. The “seeds” that was bequeathed to him while unaware symbolize a burgeoning message that will soon sprout in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Nevertheless, it was still imprisoned “within the sound of silence.”

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestones

Beneath a 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.

The speaker dreams of escape from this listless weariness brought about by the creeping vision. He walked the “narrow streets of cobblestones,” symbolizing oppression as was suggested by the narrowness of a street made up of cobblestones, indicative of it’s ancientness, or the “old ways.” The walking part is more of an implied expression of a desire to escape from unconsciousness.

Under the “halo of a street lamp” he turned from “the cold and damp.” This is now the boundary between the old and the new streets of society. A mild and soothing light was surrounding him before he turned, only to be “stabbed by the flash of a neon light.” Light was, in literary sense, a symbol of clarity and reality. Neon, unnatural colors that are produced from the combination of primary to secondary colors, is a symbol, then, of artificiality and of breaking away from the traditional. Neon lights are, therefore, a corruption of that reality.

The flash almost blinded him as his eyes “were stabbed” by this artificiality, the dehumanizing effects of modernism. It touched the realms of his prison cell,’ and it almost crushed its walls and released him.

And in the naked night I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more.

People talking without speaking,

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

No one dared disturb the Sound of Silence

This is a common affliction of a city lifepeople lose individuality instead of honing them. In the “naked night” he saw all those people who profess knowledge in talking but has nothing to say, really; people who claims wisdom but are incapable of understanding; and those that write songs, or poems, but has no meaning as no voice shares with it, no language to use. A lack of the freedom of movement. The depth of tension presented may mean that many people are so busy doing their own walks of life’ yet they hardly live after all. No one even dared break away from that silent and quiet desperation in life. None of the probably more than ten thousand people has the courage to disturb the Sound of Silence, to stop for a while and try to interrupt the prison that invites every one to enter into.

“Fools,” said I, “you do not know

Silence like a cancer grow

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you.”

But my words like silent raindrop fell,

Echoed in the wells of Silence.

The seed-message now has been sent. He was talking here to the ten thousand people maybe more, as if they were the “foolish ones.” They don’t know how rapidly silence spreads and pretty soon will make the entire society silent, too. He was more than willing to help them come out from this dilemma. He wanted to teach them; he wanted to reach them. Unfortunately, his words were not accepted, nor heeded. Rather, like a raindrop dropping in a well, his warnings only echoed to no one. Just like a prophet in olden times when he finally speaks out the message, no one listens, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house” (Mat. 13:37).

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon gods they made.

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming.

And the signs said the words of the prophets

Are written on the subway halls, and tenement halls

And whispered in the Sound of Silence.

The people are, instead of turning back away from artificiality brought about by modernism, worshipping their creationsinstead of worshipping their Creator (Ex. 20:8-11; Rev. 14:7). They worship their “neon gods,” symbolizing technology and/or modern thinking that is too bright and pierces the eyesperception, thus, blurring the individual from reality and clarity. Now the warning was given, as if after every message from the Lord through the prophets, a warning was given.

It was written in places most accessible to the people, subway walls and tenement halls. A graffiti. It was just there, all there is to do is to look at it and read, then heed the warning that modernity, like the neon lights, would eventually split the night and prevail. Only by listening to the Sound of Silence can one be able to resolve this intrinsic issue. The Sound of Silence gives an opportunity to contemplate on one’s moral and sociological imagination in life, which is understandably an issue during the time that this song was written, the era of sexual revolution and prevalence of drug use. Unfortunately, the echo fades into a whisper. Nothing happened.

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