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A Poem on the Underground Wall -- Paul Simon

Last week's theme spills over into a 4th poem...
(Poem #119) A Poem on the Underground Wall
The last train is nearly due,
The underground is closing soon,
And in the dark deserted station,
Restless in anticipation,
A man waits in the shadows.

His restless eyes leap and snatch,
At all that they can touch or catch,
And hidden deep within his pocket,
Safe within its silent socket,
He holds a coloured crayon.

Now from the tunnel's stony womb,
The carriage rides to meet the groom,
And opens wide the welcome doors,
But he hesitates, then withdraws
Deeper in the shadows.

    And the train is gone suddenly.
    On wheels clicking silently
    Like a gently tapping litany,
    And he holds his crayon rosary
    Tighter in his hand.

Now from his pocket quick he flashes,
The crayon on the wall he slashes,
Deep upon the advertising,
A single-worded poem comprising
Four letters.

And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding,
The poem across the tracks resounding,
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night.
-- Paul Simon
I can't believe I left Paul Simon out of last week's theme poets...

Brilliant though he is as a tunesmith and musician [1], I can't help
feeling that Paul Simon's true claim to fame lies in his songwriting
skills. No other popular musician [2] has managed to consistently
combine such exquisite melodies with such intelligent, subtle lyrics;
while his musical contemporaries were cranking up their amps in the
early days of arena rock, Simon was exploring the sonic textures of
minimalism and freeform jazz, combining them with the folk influences of
his S&G days to create his own elegant sound; when electronica
threatened to take over the world in the late 80s, Simon carried the
torch of the new  'world music', layering African rhythms and harmonies
into his own catchy refrains; now that both jazz-pop and ethnic music is
commonplace, Simon has begun exploring the blues and gospel roots of
American tradition...

[1] two distinctions neither Dylan nor Cohen can lay claim to
[2] except, of course, that genius from Liverpool,

Through it all runs the strength and poetry of his lyrics. Simon's words
were never as overtly activist as Dylan's (though he knew how to hit
home; check out the lyrics to 'America', or the concept behind '7
O'Clock News/Silent Night') (and his devastating parody of his own
genre, folk-rock - 'A Simple Desultory Phillipic, or how I was Robert
MacNamara'd into submission'); his confessions were never as
gutwrenchingly personal as Cohen's (though again, check out the
poignancy of 'Wednesday Morning 3 AM'), but they were always insightful,
always touching. Again, he often indulged in bouts of whimsy, ('Feelin
Groovy', or 'Punky's Dilemma') which made critics take him less
seriously than they ought to have.

Simon has been described as 'the poet of Central Park', and indeed, he
finds beauty in the faceless urban landscapes which so many modern poets
cannot stomach. Another defining characteristic of his work is a warmth
and depth of feeling for his fellow man; Simon is less self-centred,
more open than either Dylan or Cohen. Both these qualities are evident
in today's poem; a simple (and oft-reviled) act is exalted, made almost
heroic, while the perpetrator's feelings are brilliantly exposed... at
the end of the song, we are left, not just with a description of a
graffiti artist, but with an _understanding_ of his actions. And that's
what lifts this song (and all of Simon's work) above the level of pure
entertainment and into the realm of poetry.

Needless to say, the accompanying music is perfect, while Art
Garfunkel's soaring schoolboy tenor adds a touch of magic to it all.


36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Yesudas Jayson said...

It is true that without the poetry of Paul Simon, S&Garfunkel's songs
wouldnt have been rich and memorable. He is one of the best tunesmiths/poets
I've come across. couple of lines from "Homeward Bound"

Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me


terri ennis said...

re: Paul Simon's Poem on an underground wall....these lyrics have haunted me for years...but I do believe, at the end, he left the station in "peripatetic" flight.....thanks....tee

Boyd A. Berrett said...

I'm not sure what the 'change not' already specified in the subject line alludes to, but I have a slightly different recollection of the lyrics. I used to sing in a two-man band and the tunes/poems of S&G were our mainstay. Thanks, by the way, for making this site available. I was just reminiscing with my guitar and couldn't remember enough of the lyrics to get through the song, but, having searched-out your site, it came back to me quite quickly.

In the interest of accuracy, and not knowing the source from which you derived the lyrics, I would like to humbly suggest the following:

1. I don't believe line 3 begins with 'and'. Musically speaking, at least, it's better with a semi-colon after soon (line 2) and "In the dark, deserted station".

2. I believe line 4 should be "breathless in anticipation" as opposed to 'restless'.

3. I also believe that line 6 should end with 'scratch' as opposed to 'snatch'.

4. In the second line of the chorus I am almost certain that the proper lyric is "wheels spinning silently" as opposed to "wheels clicking silently".

5. The 4th line of the penultimate verse should read, "a single-word poem comprised of".

6. I believe that the final word in the 2nd line of the final verse is "redounding", as oppsed to "resounding".

Take it for what it's worth. I don't have a copy of the "Simon-authorized" lyrics in front of me, but this is how I remember them (with your help in the first place!).

Boyd A. Berrett

Anonymous said...

What word does he write?

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Cerebral said...

A four letter word is a curse.

Cerebral said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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