… And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made …
The oxymoron (=combination of words having opposite or very different meanings) in the title gives a good idea of incommunicability among people
The poem ‘The Sound of Silence’ consists of five irregular stanzas in which the poet describes the conflict between spiritual and material values in our modern world.
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
The poem begins with an address to darkness. The narrator says that he has come to talk to it because a certain vision has planted its seeds in his brain while he was sleeping. The vision still remains there in the sound of silence.
The singer seems to realise what we are in essence – lonely people, living in the darkness, in the void. Maybe we are aware we are familiar with the darkness , but he has had a “vision softly creeping” , a sort of inspiring dream that has triggered a sort of self-awareness, of enlightenment
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
Now the poet describes his restless dream, in which he seems alone, walking in a dark world of nothingness. This might mean that the more enlightened we are , the lonelier we become. It is dark, cold and wet, and he “Turned my collar to the cold and damp” to highlight that we everybody seems obliged to accept bad conditions. Suddenly the “neon light” hit his eyes, i.e. something arrived to distract him (he is still alone) from his lonely feelings. . This refers to the deceitful nature of life that may prevent us from realising the emptiness or alienation of our lives.
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
Now the sharp light allows him to see a lot people are talking without speaking and hearing without listening. Some of them are even writing songs that will never be sung.
Our meaningless existence applies to everyone else, we fail to communicate, to enter into relationships with others.
The complete impersonality of a crowd is portrayed : not only are we lonely when we are alone, but we are also alone even when we are surrounded by other people.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t really pay attention to the content of what we hear or say. It is an image painted in the 1960s but it anticipates what is happening in our present society: people next to each other seem to say things (on the phone or the social media) to everybody except the ones immediately surrounding them.
“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
The narrator calls them fool, because silence has an abnormal unhealthy growth, like cancer. He asks them to hear his words and to hold his hand. He tries to warn the people in his dream, he invites them we try to rebel against the system, but they just turn their heads and look the other way. It’s just easier to swim with the tide than against it.
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 sounds of silence”
All those people don’t want to listen to his warnings, are not touched by his his words . They are giving all their attention to the neon God they created and are worshipping all what it says without using a voice.
When they are without religion, people try to find a meaning to life elsewhere, they may look for it in their belongings, without realizing they want to find meaning when there is none.
The last phrase is strange and it may suggest that only when people are not completely conditioned, maybe in the poorest environments, there may be able to understand the revelation of the approaching doom