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Sound of Silence

Sound of Silence

Allan Tasman, MD | Editor in Chief

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 . . .
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
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 . . .
    —Sound of Silence, Paul Simon1,2

In the song Sound of Silence, written when he was 21, Paul Simon reveals a complex view of silence. The first stanza with the first line, “Hello darkness, my old friend,” seems to express the value of being in a meditative or reflective state. Alternatively, my psychoanalytic self sees in those lines an allusion to the work done by the unconscious during sleep and dreaming. Later, though, he describes the isolation, sense of emptiness, the anomie, when alone and unheard, looking for a moral compass in a harsh society. Clearly, as with any well-written poem, there are many layers of meaning if we silently reflect on Simon’s words.

The world, and especially our country, has been so much noisier in the last few months than I can remember since the 1960s, and it’s often been hard to think, much less reflect. Too much of the current public speech and noise, as was often the case in the 60s, seems to reverberate more within an echo chamber than between people or groups, and there sure doesn’t seem to be a lot of listening or reflecting going on in some important quarters. As a person and as a psychiatrist as well, I, like many others, bemoan this state of affairs. And I also, as a psychotherapist, know the value of silence in helping one to reflect and understand.

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