The Sound of Silence: Analysis

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made …

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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
Still remains
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

 

62 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence: Analysis

  1. I am a big fan of this song as I played it regularly back in the day when I performed. Great poetry, as were most of their lyrics. Their best, I believe, was “America.” I used this song in college to teach imagery.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Infatti ho inserito un traduttore, ma temo non sia visibile se si visualizza il blog da uno smartphone. Infatti è un problema che incontro anch’io con i miei amici che parlano lingue che non conosco: per fortuna la maggior parte ha un traduttore che riesco a utilizzare quando accedo dal PC.
        🙂

        Like

  2. “The Sounds of Silence” was a favorite of mine when I was a girl. It speaks powerfully to the loneliness and isolation all human beings experience at times, as well as to the alienation in society.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog! The quote at the top of your article about the neon god has always stayed with me. It reminds me of a verse in the Bible where a prophet writes about how people bow down before the works of their own hands.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Simon are Garfunkel, music from the heart with a message to the head, please listen. Luisa, your profile picture definitely looks like one with the depth of knowing capable of theses wonderful post. In other words, I like your profile picture.🙏❤️😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A revolt song against establishment, injustice, and passiveness of people.
    It is a warning and a call for change, a call for revolt.
    Here is a breakdown of the song the way I see it:

    “Hello darkness, my old friend
    I’ve come to talk with you again”

    Depression. He feels alone with nobody to communicate his thoughts. Nobody who sees what he sees.

    “Because a vision softly creeping
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping”

    Not clear what kind of a vision is he talking about, but from the rest of the song we can conclude it is about oppression, injustice, manipulation, and brainwashing.
    Seeing different types of oppression, and injustice over the time, while not understanding or not even trying to understand what is behind (while I was sleeping), he does nothing about it. Slowly, from all those disconnected pixels of a world around him, he starts forming a bigger picture, a vision, when connected altogether.

    “And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains
    Within the sound of silence”

    Yet, although, he finally starts seeing the problem, and the cause, he still is not doing anything.

    “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”

    The metaphor use in this part is very heavy, so I will try first to explain some of it.
    Narrow – restricted
    Cobblestone – paving stone tightly put together, and firmly depressed into ground – oppressed people with restricted rights.
    Halo – a ring of light around or above the head of a holy person – god, power, police, establishment.
    He feels like if he is the only one who sees that mass of oppressed people, and injustice toward them created by the system, yet he still ignores it (I turned my collar to the cold and damp). [Think of homeless people you pass by. How many times do we turn our head the other way? How many times we ask ourselves why? If we know why, what did we do to change it?]

    “When my eyes were stabbed by
    The flash of a neon light
    That split the night
    And touched the sound of silence”

    The moment he completes the picture, the parts are connected and he has a clear vision, the blinds on his eyes are finally off(“When my eyes were stabbed by The flash of a neon light That split the night). He would like to scream and do something (And touched the sound of silence), but still not there yet.

    “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”

    He realizes, he is not alone who sees all that injustice, many more (Ten thousand people, maybe more) sees that, yet they never mention, or understand that, nor they act upon that. Although, they think about the problems, oppression, and injustice around them (People writing songs that voices never share) they are not ready to stand up and change the situation.
    At the other hand, mainstream media and politicians are pushing narrative that is basically meant to passivize people, and distract, push their anger towards invented enemy, minority groups, and religions. (People talking without speaking People hearing without listening).
    They have no courage to revolt against the system (And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence).
    Even though not completely content with the system, and their lives, they would rather comply, and let other people rule them, than to try to change the system afraid to lose what they have.

    “”Fools”, said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows”

    He warns people about passiveness (“Fools”, said I, “You do not know Silence like a cancer grows). If nothing gets changed, and people keep complying, slowly they will get attuned to that and it will become even worse.

    “Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”

    He is calling people to revolt.

    “But my words, like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence”

    But nobody answers the call.

    “And the people bowed and prayed
    To the neon god they made”

    People still blinded with false idols, money, and false promises, and empty dreams served by the mass media controlled by establishment and used to brainwash and control people.

    “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.””

    At the time the song was written, besides the mass media (TV, radio, and newspapers), the only way people could express their through was through graffiti (“The words of the prophets are Written on the subway walls And tenement halls), but they do not have impact on larger mass of people (And whispered in the sound of silence.”)

    Please, check The Sound of Silence video at: https://youtu.be/5oQWIjoWoZQ

    I heard S&G version so many times, but did not listen…

    Background
    The song was written 1962 and released 1964.
    Paul Simon wrote a song when he was 21 and took him over 10 months to finish it. According to Paul, parts of the lyrics came from literature he read at college at that time and incorporated into song. At that time Paul was frequently passing through the poor parts of the city on the way to college.

    Liked by 1 person

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