The Boxer: analysis (2)



Konstantin Somov: The Boxer (1930)


“The Boxer” is a character study: a young man disappointed with the world  leaves home while still a child, and tries not to draw much attention to himself, because he knows he will be accepted or at least ignored if he stays among “strangers” This song is about a melancholy adventure through life. The entire song is a metaphor about how life is a boxing match against not only the people fighting against us  but also ourselves.
All the cuts and marks the boxer carries are symbolic of all the times that life has tried to get him down, and even though he sometimes feels like giving up, he never will because he’s a fighter.


Verse 1

I am just a poor boy
though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jests,
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest

The poem starts as an introduction of the character:  a young man seeking out his dreams in the big city, after leaving the comfort of his home and family to venture out into the world.
He finds it hard to resist tempting promises, even if he knows they are often transitory or false (a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises). He doesn’t want to believe what he has heard about about NYC., but prefers to hear only the good things and he dreams of a new life there.
He is a  hopeless  man ,  who is  not getting what he wanted out of life. He seems to present his story as something no one wants to hear, that doesn’t inspire anyone although it is   the brutal reality of many people ”
The metaphor: “ I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises” shows that someone traded all his fights only for promises, but nothing concrete

Verse 2

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know

The second verse paints a vivid image of the narrator as a lost, timid boy, whose only companionship derives from “the company of strangers” he has surrounded himself with.
The lines “Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters /where the ragged people go/looking for the places only they would know” contain alliteration and a lot of imagery.
The phrase “quiet of the railway station” sounds strange, since such places are usually bustling with human and vehicular traffic. So it may mean that he goes there after the crowds have left, perhaps to pick up some leftovers


Lie-la-lie …

The use of percussion in  the chorus wants to produce a more vivid image of a “Boxer”, suggesting the sound of  the punch of a glove, from boxer to boxer
The chorus is wordless and Simon stated that this was originally intended only as a placeholder, but then it became part of the finished song.
Lie la lie : this  refrain contains both repetition and alliteration.
It was suggested the lyrics were meant as an attack on Bob Dylan, identified by his experience as an amateur boxer, and his lying about his musical intentions. but Paul Simon has stated that the lyrics are largely autobiographical, written at a time when he felt unfairly criticised

Verse 3

Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there


Simon said he had found inspiration for this song in the Bible, which he sometimes used to read in hotels. The phrases “Workman’s wages” and “Seeking out the poorer quarters” come from it
He’s looking for a job, he is old and strong enough to be a “workman,”  but he only finds opportunities to spend money, on the Seventh Avenue, He feels  so bad he turns to the whores. Previously he  found  a sort of  community among “the ragged people” before, he now finds himself only attractive to “whores.” So he turns to them for consolation. (prostitutes were sometimes called ‘comfort women’)
The words “workman’s wages” are another example of alliteration.

Verse 4

Now the years are rolling by me
they are rockin’ evenly
I am older than I once was
and younger than I’ll be and that’s not unusual.
No it isn’t strange
after changes upon changes
we are more or less the same
after changes we are more or less the same


The original song included this verse that’s missing from the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, where the verse was replaced by a musical bridge, purely for aesthetic reasons. This verse is often sung in concert performances of the song and highlights the passage of time and how we’re affected by it
The repetition of “we are more or less the same” suggests that new things, good and bad, will happen, but essentially he will not be different

Verse 5

Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
and wishing I was gone
going home
where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me,
bleeding me, going home

He is “laying out [his] winter clothes.” to prepare, presumably, for the winter but he longs for the milder winters of the place of his boyhood. He wants to go home to a safe environment. But despite the fact that he wants to go home, maybe to escape the poverty he has to endure, he remains in the city that continues to exploit him. This  “bleeding me, ” me part highlights the torture the city is inflicting on him, making him decide “I am leaving, I am leaving” which shows that he has finally decided  to leave.
The syntax, here, breaks down,  to show that the speaker is trying to assemble his thoughts

Verse 6

In the clearing stands a boxer
and a fighter by his trade
and he carries the reminders
of every glove that laid him down
or cut him till he cried out
in his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
but the fighter still remains
still remains


In the final verse, the narration changes to third person and the boxer is a metaphor for each of us , when we try to make a better life for ourselves, full of scars, both physical and emotional.
This section might represent a vision, and the shifting from first person to third may indicate that some sort of change has happened, some modification of mental state or perspective. There is no “clearing” in New York City. A “clearing” is a place in a forest, so it may mean the boxer has finally gone home, to a rural place.
The metaphor “And he carries the reminders/ of ev’ry glove that laid him down” describes the reminders that we all have of everything we have failed at
The boxer who “cries out” that he’s leaving while the fighter remains may also mean that despite losing the battle, his spirit and drive to win will remain and never be defeated.
While in verse 1 ” a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…” here the boxer may not leave the ring (”I am leaving, the fighter still remains”). In spite of our instinct to survive, sometimes we are unable to leave a very bad situation.  Even after some of us have given up, we still have the fighting spirit that can re-emerge another day.
Although the Boxer may be the symbol of perseverance, the last line, “the fighter still remains” suggests his sad resignation: he will continue to fight and be beaten by life,  and the  drums symbolize all the blows he takes.
The boy has become a fighter, and although he is not a winner, he is not loser either, simply because he endures and “remains.”. Therefore the story is of survival, and this is his triumph: he “stands,” despite it all


6 thoughts on “The Boxer: analysis (2)

  1. Well analysed but I have different thoughts on the final verse. As I see it the boxer is still in New York, he still remains..
    Indeed there is a change of person from first to third. We become the audience that witnesses the end up of our previously presented boxer. The clearing is an imaginary place serving as a scene for all of us witnesses to see. It also is a euphemism for the ring where the boxer still returns to.. So he is standing there inside this “ring” with all the reminders of his failures but still coming back and trying because that’s who he is. A fighter by his trade. That’s what defines him as a person.
    By the way I particularly like the phrase “in his anger and his shame.” It would sound just as nice and logical if it were to say pain instead of shame but that’s the beauty of it. Just as in life it’s not the physical distress rather than the psychological one that may lead us to quit..
    Anyway that’s just my point of view.. thanks for the analysis!!

    Liked by 1 person

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