The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon: Summary and Critical Analysis

The speaker woke up in the dark night and wanted to tell somebody about his dream. He addressed the darkness as his old friend and started to describe it as he had done before. He said that when he was sleeping a vision left its seeds and it was deeply rooted in his brain. He could still realize the vision, but had no words to express it.

Paul Simon

In his restless dreams he walked alone in the narrow stresses under the light of a street lamp. When he turned his collar, a flash of neon light would dazzle him. The light would make the scene as if it had been in the daylight and explain the meaning of silence. In the light he would see more than ten thousand people. They were not using the voice, but they were expressing thoughts as if by words. They were not giving attention in hearing, but they were receiving sounds with the ears. They were writing songs although nobody was singing them. And no one had the courage to break the silence.

The speaker in his dream told the people fools and said that silence grows like a cancer. He asked them to hear his advice and to hold their arms, but his words were like silent raindrops and had no effect on them. Instead of listening to the speaker, the people were worshipping the neon God they made. The neon light said that they had to follow the commands of the producers, who had advertised their products by painting on the walls of the subway and large buildings. The light showed these things without using a voice.

The poem 'The Sound of Silence' consists of five irregular stanzas where the poet presents the conflict between spiritual and material value in the modern world. The poetic persona is a visionary who warns against the lack of spiritual seriousness in modern people. The poem begins with an address by the poet persona to the darkness. He says that he has come to talk with the darkness, because a certain vision planted its seeds in his brain while he was sleeping. The vision still remains there as the sound of silence.

The poet wakes in his restless dream and walks alone. He arrives at a place where more than ten thousand people are talking without speaking and hearing without listening. They are writing songs that voices never shares and no one dares to break the silence. The poetic persona tells them that silence grows like cancer. He asks them to hear his words and to hold his hand. But his words do not touch them at all. Instead, the people pray and worship the neon signs. The neon sign flashes which say that “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement hall.”

The poem can be interpreted as a bitter satire towards the materialistic tendency of the people in the modern world. People have forgotten the real meaning and value of life. They are running after material prosperity and physical luxury. They work hard and earn a lot. They accumulate a lot of wealth and things but this does not make them happy. Rather they are moving further and further away from true happiness because they have ignored the true goal of life. They debate and quarrel about worthless things. They listen to or watch meaningless things. This is what the poet probably means by talking without speaking and hearing without listening.

According to Simon, the multinational companies’ and the capitalist have taken the position of God. They guide people’s choices, necessities and goals through their commercial advertisement. The Neon signs or hoarding boards have taken the place of the Holy Scriptures. People listen to or see what these advertisements say and work accordingly. They have neither their own voice nor their own choice. They are obliged to choose among a few goals put forward by the industrialists. When such materialistic waves are dominant, the voice trying to remind people what their goal should be is always subdued (defeated). People are not willing to listen to such things, at first. Even if they listen to it they will never follow it as they are so busy in running after the material prosperity. The poem presents a frightening picture of the modern world doomed by the lack of spirituality and true meaning of life. It is the voice of a visionary asking such people to be serious towards the true meaning and goal of life.

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