The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel’s song explained
I am just a poor boy though my story’s seldom1 told
I have squandered2 my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles3, such4 are promises
All lies and jest5, still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards6 the rest,
When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station, running scared
Laying low7, seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged8 people go
Looking for the places only they would know
Asking only workman’s wages, I come looking for a job, but I get no offers
Just a come-on9 from the whores10 on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking evenly
I am older than I once was, and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual
No it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same
Then I’m laying out my winter clothes, wishing I was gone, going home
Where the New York city winters aren’t bleeding me, leading me to go home
In the clearing11 stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade12
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
till he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains
- Seldom: rarely.
- Squander: waste, lose.
- Mumbles: words spoken unclearly, difficult to hear, understand.
- Such (in this case): so.
- Jest: derision.
- Disregard: ignore.
- Lay Low: to keep a low profile, to hide.
- Ragged: dressed in worn, torn, old clothes (like vagabonds).
- Come-on: (informal) an invitation, often to desire.
- Whore: prostitute.
- Clearing: an empty piece of land, often in the country
- Trade: profession.
“The Boxer” is a folk rock ballad written by Paul Simon (writer of almost all the songs by the duo) in 1968 and first recorded by Simon and Garfunkel.
The song’s lyrics take the form of a first-person lament, as the singer describes his struggles1 to overcome2 loneliness and poverty in New York City. The final verse switches to a third-person sketch3 of a boxer who, despite4 the effects of “every glove that laid him down5 or cut him till he cried out”, perseveres.
Yet Paul Simon himself has suggested that the lyrics are largely autobiographical, written during a time when he felt he was being unfairly6 criticized:
“I think I was reading the Bible around that time. That’s where I think phrases such as ‘workman’s wages’ came from, and ‘seeking out the poorer quarters’. That was biblical. I think the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop.”
- Struggle: fight.
- Overcome: (in this case): to resolve a problem.
- Sketch: a short scene.
- Despite: contrary to.
- Lay down: knock down.
- Unfairly: incorrectly.