Simon & Garfunkel: The Sound of Silence Meaning
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Song Released: 1965
Covered By: Bananarama (2009), Disturbed (2015)
The Sound of Silence Lyrics
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.
1TOP RATED#1 top rated interpretation:
Yet another interpretation...
“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
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.
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 and establishment, yet he still ignores it (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”
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 that nor they act upon that. Although, they think about the problems, oppression, and injustice around them (People writing songs that voices never share) all they do is a small talk, an empty conversation (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 loose 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.")
The song was written 1962 maybe '61, contrary to sources stating that it was written in '63, '64.
Paul Simon was born 1941, and in an interview he says:”'The Sound Of Silence', which I wrote when I was 21, I never would have wrote it were it not for Bob Dylan. “ (https://www.songfacts.com/facts/simon-garfunkel/the-sound-of-silence)
At that time, a years of McCarthyism were still fresh, and red scare was still very alive. Communist, anarchist, socialist, union organizers, and their sympathizers were blacklisted, and under surveillance of FBI, as well as civil rights activist.
2TOP RATED#2 top rated interpretation:anonymous Mar 16th 2011 report
This may be coming from a generation to far into the distant future to understand the feelings of the time, but here it goes:
The first stanza Simon refers to darkness as being his "old friend" that he came to talk with because he was awoken in the middle of the night, of a nightmare that still lingers in his head, that gives his a considerable amount of distress. So bad that the awful visions were still flashing before his eyes as he is awake.
Second stanza begins setting the scene in which the dream took place: at night, him walking along the cobblestone road where he stops below the light of a streetlight. The cold chill runs up his back, so he lifts his collar to the "cold and damp." Just then, a blight neon sign lit up, showing that he, in fact, was not alone. But there were "ten thousand maybe more" all gathered in the cold night. The people who are talking, not speaking, are politicians, who are using false words to sway the population to vote for them, never revealing true intentions. The people therefore are hearing are not listening.
They are taking these words that are spoken to them in plain value, not examining or putting into depth anything that is said. Because of this, as referred to later, these politicians have formed a government that the people in fact voted for and supported until it began to act as a dictatorship. This seems that Simon is making an inditement to a large government that has taken away the freedoms of its people. A future for America it seemed with the rise of government in world affairs as in entered Vietnam. This "future America" has given Americans everything, and has the power the take it all away, hence the people "bow and pray to the neon god they made."
The Silence that is referred to is the silence of the people, afraid to say anything against the government for fear of death or worse. Simon, or whoever has had this dream, tries to bring people to speak out. Saying "Fools, you do not know, Silence like a cancer grows" that as more are afraid to speak, the more control the government takes and the less anyone will stand up to the new government.
As all hope is about to be given up, someone steps up and says to the crowd that the future they will hold has been written on the walls of subways and tenement halls. This is because this form of protest can be done anonymously, therefore no one can get in trouble for it. This begins the whispering in the silence of the people, and starts the beginning of a revolt.
-I hope you enjoyed a younger perspective on this classic song. USMCRIFLEMAN2006
3TOP RATED#3 top rated interpretation:anonymous Oct 11th 2016 report
Ok here it goes. Art Garfunkle in an interview clearly stated it was about the inability of people to communicate, not in terms of plain languge, or international issues, but rather spiritualy and emotionaly. The result being, an inability to love one another. Paul Simon on the other hand literaly said, I dont actualy know. I wrote my parts on several occassions, while sitting in the dark, in the bathroom of my parents house, while playing my guitar. So it seems to me that while Paul was speaking in one type of medaphore, art clearly took it to another level. As to it being about politicians lying, and people speaking hollow words, that would indeed fit into the notion that while we can speak the same language, our spoken words amount to no worthwhile communication at all. Regarding our false idols, this is easy enough to interperate, as humans have done this for centuries. Now adays rather than a golden lamb, it is more likely to be pro athletes, movie stars, music stars, etc. So in a nutshell, while paul may not have originaly intended this to be such an altruistic message, art managed to turn it into one that will ring true for a long time to come. We are like sheep allowing our government to control us and remove our liberties, and we follow them to the slaughter. We are also like sheep in that few of us practice critical thinking, and as a result most fall prey not only to poloticians, but the corporate whores who sell us all the debauchery we can consume., and consume we do. With that in mind, this song is every bit as powerful and purposful today as when it was first released, if not more so.
anonymous Mar 29th report
Paul and Art were NYC boys, grew up in the Big Apple and could see what was happening in the over-crowded mega-city. A vision of things to come. Where are we today? People talking without speaking - sounds a lot like iPhones, Insta-grams, Twitter - no direct verbal communication. People hearing without listening - seems like everyone is going to the Internet, no verbal communication again. See what happens to those who attempt to go against the neon god they made - you see it everywhere as that neon god tries to cancel them and erase them from existence. As a high school student I first visited NYC in 1965 and could see exactly what they were talking about. Someone could pass out right next to someone else and nobody would help. Just kept walking past each other without even seeing the crowds that surrounded them. Passionate discussions were being forced into the gutter and only the neon god sign, today's mega media, was allowed to say anything without repercussions because the people were bowing and praying to that neon god. Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the television, regretted his invention and told his son people were wasting their time watching it and there was nothing worth watching on it. His vision was a device where people could learn and communicate productively. A dramatic difference from what we see today from that neon god people bow and pray to.
anonymous Feb 22nd 2020 report
I had no real in depth understanding of the meaning explained, I appreciate the description and have a great respect for this song, I always appreciated the song and now I will take this and look further into the meaning which the writters are expressing Thank You for taking the time to say what this really means
anonymous Feb 17th 2020 report
This song is about anomie and the spiritual isolation we experience in an individualistic society.
Darkness is more of a friend to the author than are other people. Speaking to darkness within the sound of silence, as bleak as that may seem, is more like a friendship than relationships with those who talk without speaking and hear without listening. The author turns to darkness for comfort and understanding yet again in a world that is obsessed with self-consciousness and not with empathy and mutual respect. It is easier to talk with darkness and silence, with which we expect no response than to talk with others who should be able to understand but are disinterested, apathetic, or too self-absorbed to really listen.
The vision that was softly creeping happened not in an actual dream, but is the result of becoming slowly socialized to a society that alienates and ostracizes people from one another. “Sleeping” is a metaphor for living through life in this semi-consciousness without really relating to others on anything more than a superficial level.
This is why the vision that still remains in times of being awake or self-conscious is planted in the brain: reality cannot be escaped. We each experience life within the sound of our own silence.
Even his dreams are restless as he walks alone in them as well as in real life. Narrow streets of cobblestone depict an enclosed rather than expansive world, where we feel hemmed in by a humanly fabricated existence that keeps us from experiencing the rest of the world; that keeps our focus on what is close at hand rather than reaching out and expanding our horizons.
In such a world, the only goodness is the halo of street lamps that shine in our lives of darkness. Compassion, caring, emotional sharing, and deep communication are all drowned out within the sound of silence. He turns his collar to the cold and damp under that halo; symbolizing that he both is distancing himself from the cold and damp anomie of society (thus contributing to the sense of alienation others feel from him), and yet not letting himself to become an automaton that simply complies with such a society.
The flash of the neon light that splits the night is a short-lived, and ultimately impotent revelation about the state of the human condition. While he sees what is going on with this society, he finds no way to communicate this truth to others. They hear without listening, and so they either neither come to understand their situation, or like the author, seem incapable of doing anything to change it.
The revelation splits the night only in a flash, and the darkness returns. And yet, in the naked light of the truth of that revelation, it left an image that remains planted in his brain. In this way it touches the sound of his silence; i.e., it affects him for good, perhaps comforting him in at least being able to understand his reality and to be self-reflective about it.
Yes, society is filled with those who talk without speaking and hear without listening. Yes, even when someone writes songs to cut through the darkness like a flashing neon light, people will not sing them. Out of fear of real intimacy and relationship, they dare not disturb the sound of their own silence. Nevertheless, there are still those who write the songs and prophecies on the subway walls that try to be light to a people living in darkness, that try to be truth that penetrates the sound of each other's silence.
The author is a writer of these songs. He tries to help people see the foolishness of refusing to connect with one another, and encourages others to break out of their darkness and silence. While we may feel safe in our protected sound of silence, that silence is like a cancer that grows and takes away our humanity.
The author pleads to people to listen to his words that could teach them, and to accept his arms of embrace that might reach and touch their souls. He yearns for connection, and offers it to others. Yet, his words and his caring embrace were not transformative for others. Like silent raindrops, his words fell on deaf ears. Their only echo were within the wells of silence – a symbol of how we each have created our own self-serving reality that is as enclosed as a well.
Rather than worship a God that would bind them together as one people, they have created their own neon god that gives them limited truth within the sound of their own silence.
Even still, their neon god flashes out a warning that they refuse to read – apparently dazzled more by the bright color than the content of the words on the sign. The words tell them that the words of the prophets, the ones who are telling them to change their ways, are written on the subway walls and tenement halls. These are the places where the oppressed write graffiti, and express their disillusionment with life and society as it is. They are the places where people try to reach the hearts and souls of others with artwork and words of wisdom and resistance, so as to get people to unite together as one.
The sign, however, goes on to say that the words of the prophets are also whispered within the sounds (notice it has become plural) of silence – indicating that we all have a prophet within us that helps try to show our way out of our darkness and silence. We each are to be the artists of our own lives, but recognizing that it makes little difference within our own solipsistic sound of silence and instead needs to be communicated to others so that we might teach and reach one another.
- Bret S. Myers, 2/17/2020
anonymous Sep 30th 2019 report
I know that I might have a totally different understanding than others do.
I live in the beautiful State of Oregon. In the country near Crater Lake National Park, not in a city like Portland.
When I was in the Navy or living in any other State than Oregon, I missed true darkness, true silence and the stars. In a city you can't see the stars the same. You can't hear nature the same. The city, though full of people can be a very lonely place.
Darkness my old friend.
People go about their days hearing people speak but not really listening. People speak without saying anything.
And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made. Have you ever seen how we are around TV? Our smart phones? Our computers? Around those huge billboards in New York.
I believe the song is about every day modern life and technology driving out the sound of silence and true human contact. Replacing it all with meaningless words and fake relationships. Replacing darkness with man made neon lights.
anonymous Aug 30th 2019 report
You know my life. I know yours. We share a common life. 3:12 am central standard time USA.
anonymous Jun 23rd 2019 report
There were not cell phones, text or anything of the sort when this song was written. I believe it is about finding yourself, Hello Darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again. I relate that to feeling alone or just wanting to have silence. I believe it talks about how we don’t really listen to others or communicate. I think it’s referring to being around people, but feeling alone. It’s about how we make idols referring to the neon God. Hello silence my old friend is his escape. We don’t pay attention. We are lead. Yes, I think this song might be more applicable today.
anonymous May 10th 2019 report
The song was written years before cell phones, PC’s, computers with operating systems, or general awareness of the state-of-the-art in technology existed. Those that attach the lyrics to the bit-and-byte era need history lessons.
anonymous Dec 29th 2018 report
I am a senior of the era when this song came out. We can interpret the words in any way we want but I feel that this song is more applicable today to how people communicate via computers, ipones, texting; facebook, etc. Social media has replaced personal communication. I see individual sitting together in restaurants, social venues, etc., and not a word is being spoken, but they are looking at their LED screens (substitute for NEON lights), texting (not speaking), searching (not listen), etc. For me personally, maybe this was a vision (dream) about the future, which is now. By the way, this is what I am doing right now…..
anonymous Dec 24th 2018 report
I am with the person who like I, lived and grew up through this time and was of an age when you were strongly influenced. To me, it is as simple as knowing that through that period our generations music was trying to be silence by all that were not us. Being a musician for over 50 years there is nothing worse than having your music silenced by people who have no idea of its value. The begining verse simply tells you of how the song was written and why. If you know the fact that Simon often wrote in his dark, tiled (because of the accostics), bathroom with the water running, this was the hello darkness part. The why is because of the dream of a world without music. The rest of the verses tells you what happens in this world. If you know and understand
the song 2112 by Rush, it's telling you same thing. Neil Peart based his lyrics on the sounds of silence and used some of simons words in other rush songs. ie: the words of the prophets are written on the studios walls,concert halls. You need to look and the surface of something before you go to deep.
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