Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fuckin' A, Paul Simon - Rock 'n' Roll Literary Devices

No other way to describe it. AM has defined the literary genius of Dylan and Leonard Cohen and ashamedly glossed over Paul Simon. Sincerest apologies. Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a Rock" kicks off with three consecutive splashes of alliteration, the use of consecutive initial consonants.  These repetitions establish a gloomy setting in "a deep and dark December" and "on a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow,"  conjuring up a sense of imagery not unlike Phantasmagoria, 19th Century theatrical trickery using a "magic lantern" to cast frightening images of ghosts and skeletons. The lines serve to spice up what would be an otherwise boring stanza; there's not a lot of action going on here in that the function is to simply lay the scene. Amplification is also utilized when our narrator says "I've built walls," then goes on to continue the idea, comparing those walls to "a fortress deep and mighty." Metonymy, substituting a common phrase to sum up a scenario (i.e. calling the whole of government "The White House") is used when the poet references his hardened resolve as "armor." Fuckin' A, Paul Simon. 

The epitome of creative analogies is the transferred epithet, which uses an entirely unrelated word not typically used to describe an idea or concept. For instance, Simon uses the word "shroud" to describe snow, which is odd because a shroud is a piece of clothing, and usually wouldn't describe weather-related phenomena. The same can be said about "hiding in my room, safe within my womb." If the analogy is taken literally, the protagonist has found an actual womb to seclude himself within; the listener, however, is clever enough to know that Simon uses the protective nature of a mother's womb and transfers that idea to his secluded room. 

Procatalepsis is when the speaker anticipates an objection from some unknown person and responds to it. The narrator suddenly exclaims, "Don’t talk of love." The listener doesn't know who he's talking to, though the song seems an intimate conversation focused on the trials and hard-learned lessons of a nasty love affair, or simply the stressors of life. 

And if there's a sure way to convince oneself of anything, it's through repetition.  Constantly Simon restates that he is a rock and an island, and always at the end of his stanzas. This literary device is known as epistrophe, where words are repeated at the end of phrases, not unlike the refrain. "I am a rock, I am an island" is also an example of the song's most prominent metaphors. Indeed, the song is dripping with them. In fact, the entire poem is an extended metaphor ornamented with smaller metaphors, like stacking Russian dolls (sorry, that's a simile). Personification, too, runs rampant.  Love does not literally sleep, feelings cannot slumber, nor can they die.  If books and poetry had actual protective qualities, I'm sure they would be more intimate in the lives of today's youth, and no one would Pokehunting. The concluding couplet states that rocks and islands don't feel pain nor do they cry. Here, Simon attributes human capabilities to inanimate objects. We are to assume that the rock cannot feel pain, but it can experience other emotions and sensations. The island doesn't cry, but is capable of other emotions. That's as complex as personification gets. Fuckin' A, Paul Simon.