Simon is on record as saying, in interviews, that this is one of his least favorite of his own songs; the other I am aware of is "I Am a Rock."
The two share a sense of unease with the world, and a retreat into literature as a way of avoiding social contact. In "I Am a Rock," the speaker declares: "I have my books and my poetry to protect me." Here, the tone is softer, but the result is the same: "You read your Emily Dickinson/ And I my Robert Frost/ And we note our place with bookmarkers/ And measure what we've lost."
This song also shares an image with "Bleeker Street," which says, "I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand." Here, "I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand."
And again, "Sounds of Silence," in which communication is lost in "the wells of silence," in an nightmarish, abstract dreamworld. Only here, the setting is a parlor of some sort, and communication just drifts off, time and again.
There are three types of communication this time. There is silence, which is uncomfortable. Then there is the meaningless, yet high-sounding and academic "conversation" about "analysis" and "theater" and the popular poets they are reading. Both of these do happen.
But the scholarly chitchat only serves to break the silence, which itself replaces the third subject. It is that which really should be talked about, only no one wants to. And that's that this relationship is in serious trouble. That conversation is yet to get started.
"We are verses out of rhythm, couplets out of rhyme," he explains, using the metaphor of the poems they are reading instead of talking about their relationship. "I cannot feel your hand/ You're a stranger now unto me."
The silence in "Sounds of Silence" was bad enough. Now, as there, we have "people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening." But here, it is not society at large that suffers in the abstract, but two lonely people making believe to be keeping company.
Why can neither speak of the distance they feel? Partly because it would not be proper. Partly because it is easier to pretend to converse than to truly interact, in the "Honey, we need to talk" sense.
But mostly, because of their basic "indifference" to one another. They don't care enough about how little they care about each other to trouble the silence with a whole discussion about how they'd rather be with other people. Better to be together with the pretense that all is fine than rattle the coffee cups and upset the "curtain lace."
Except that, while they are reading to themselves, they "measure what we've lost." The time spent in this limbo-like relationship is time lost. The passion, the romance, is not there; they do not write poems to each other. And so the conversations start, and then trail off, leaving both of them "dangling"-- attached at only one end.
Lyrically, there is only one jarring image. Everything else in the poem follows the metaphor of things found in a living room-- bookmarks and poetry, watercolors and coffee cups. And then there is the word "couched"-- again , a living-room image-- but one followed by beach images of "shells," the "shore," and the "ocean." Pretty, but out of place.
As to the music, the sound is lush, and the orchestration seems like one of the chamber pieces this couple must enjoy. But once again, the beauty of the music belies the emotional turmoil in the lyrics...
...Just as this lovely drawing room with its polite erudition is, in reality, awash with "shadows," barricaded with "borders," and permeated with frustration and resentment.
Simon explained that he did not like this song because he felt it sounded like a college student wrote it. But it could just have easily been because it was hard to talk about, well, not talking about things.
Next song: Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall