The Poetic Quality of the Lyrics of ‘The Sound of Silence’ – Written by Paul Simon

The mind of a creative writer is once again pricked by the wonderful lyrics written for a song. Since I have been reading the lyrics of songs more intensely than before, in search of inspiration to further my creative writing, I discovered the song, ‘The Sound of Silence’, by Simon and Garfunkel. I have always enjoyed the song, but I had never paid much attention to the entire lyrics, the poetic style of the lyrics, nor their seriously intended meaning. Although the real meaning of the lyrics is not overly abstract if one considers the societal trends of the 1960s and 1970s.

In the prosperous yet dark times of social discord in the United States of America, young people were seeking freedom, and the international discord with the war in Vietnam, this song was originally written in 1963. At this time, the youth culture exploded. It was the era of sex, drugs, and pop revolution, but also of the anti-war protest and inner-city riots. This era was indeed characterized by the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969 and by the anti-war uproar that prevailed in the USA. The basic message in the lyrics is for people to speak out and to stop robot-like acquiescing to what the “powers that be”, governments and United Nations decided. This says it clearly – “Fools” said I, “You do not know, Silence like a cancer grow” “.

A simple song? Well, in this case, as with many others, the melody is quite simple. It has a standard 4/4 timing, and it is not musically complicated. Originally, when Paul Simon first recorded the song, with him singing and playing an acoustic guitar, only two thousand copies were sold. But, from 1965, when Tom Wilson of Columbia Records re-recorded it with Art Garfunkel co-singing it, and with electric guitars and other rock band instruments dubbed over the original recording, it grew massively in popularity and fame. Thus, it became tagged a folk/fock song.

The simple beauty of the musical melody catches one’s attention immediately and, when one starts to memorize parts of the lyrics in among the beautiful melody and musical quality, one quickly grows to love it. These are the reasons for it being a great and famous folk/rock song that has had sales in the millions. A wonderfully detailed analysis of this song’s lyrics can be found in the following website:

As with other articles I’ve written in appreciation of song lyrics, I suggest that readers first read the lyrics as one would read a poem, and there-after read it again while listening to the song.

The Sound of Silence

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

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
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
No one dare
Disturb the sound of silence

“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 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 subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”

© 1964 Words and Music by Paul Simon

I trust you have enjoyed this lyrical experience and you will be inspired to write on.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


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