NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
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“The Sound of Silence”

BY SIMON AND 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

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 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 subway walls

And tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence”

“The Sound of Silence” (originally Sounds) may portray a vision or dream of Paul Simon “Because a vision softly creeping /Left its seeds while I was sleeping.” or he may have used this image to get a point across. The message of this song may lie in the contents of his dream.

Simon may be saying ignorance taints the minds of so many people. “Silence” refers to submission. He reveals how people so foolishly follow rulers without actually knowing a ruler’s true intentions and background. “People hearing without listening” reveals a people’s willingness to take heed to the commands spoken by a leader without fully realizing the consequences of this obedience.

Simon warns conformists in the lines “’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 his warning is swallowed in the abyss of submission: “But my words like silent raindrops fell,/And echoed/In the wells of silence.”

This song may refer to a particular nation or people, but most likely it refers to people in general who submit themselves too freely. The song continues to describe the people’s capitulation in several lines, “And the people bowed and prayed/To the neon god they made.”

An alternative interpretation is one of the neon sign in the dream being the Television medium personified (or deity-fied. This would explain the ‘people talking without speaking’ and ‘hearing without listening’ lyrics – as one who is observing people watching television as an unnatural phenomenon would have a hard time reconciling the observed conversation without any active participation by the viewer.

Finally the ‘words of the prophet are written on the subway walls and tenement halls..” There is a saying that a “prophet is not recognized in his own house.” This lyric implies that the true prophets are living in Subways and Tenements. There is also a hint of the ‘read the writing on the wall’ saying which is generally a call to face reality, which either way you view the lyric the “neon god” defers truth and possibly power to the words on the walls and halls. Graffiti-esque literature is what you indeed find on those specific walls and halls. Ironically or not those without a ‘voice’ in society are the ones who use this dissemination of information for self-expression, i.e. “crack is wack” murals. Look to the people with no voice (or ‘silenced’?) to hear the truth/prophecy. As we recall the dreamer or Simon was him/herself one of those people without a voice silenced by the crowd.

A holistic universal meaning to the song may be one that we are searching for (truth, guidance) and it is already right under our noses. We walk by the truth (on subway walls and tenement halls) everyday and take no note but rather we construct elaborate gods and complicated idols to interpret a reality we are, by definition, already in tune with. The title of the song itself seems to reflect that paradox.

Consider that, in an NPR interview, Simon admitted there was no profoundly deep meaning to the lyrics when he wrote them. He said he was possibly expressing teenage angst and frustration as to how they are largely ignored by society.

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