Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” is a contrarian love song, similar to Shakespeare’s “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Where another poet might compare his love’s voice to heavenly music or birdsong, Dylan says:
My love speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence.
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful,
Yet she’s true – like ice, like fire.
Silence speaks louder than words when the talk is blather. As when lovers promise eternal devotion. Or revolutionists parse the fine points of manifestos. Silence is never false. It is real like the cold from ice or the heat from fire.
Note that Dylan does not say she is silent. Her speech is LIKE silence.
Ordinarily, we think of ideals as good and violence as bad. What they have in common is the intent to change “what is” (the real) into something else. Ideals are a construction of “what should be.” Violence is destruction of “what should not be.” For Dylan, both are kinds of untruth.
Paul Simon takes a different tack in “The Sound of Silence.” He sees hordes of people talking without saying anything, and being deluged with words they don’t bother to think about. The “silence” is the vacuity of meaning in all that noise. In contrast to Dylan, Simon seems to believe more words ARE the answer – if they create genuine understanding.
“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…”
You can decide for yourself whether he was singing these lyrics “in character,” playing the role of yet another prophet who thought he had the answer, berating the masses as “Fools!”
Back to top