Poetry Mix Tape #4: All Lies and Jest

Every four weeks, something a little different will hit the mix tape: actual song lyrics. As a teenager, the first poetry I wrote was in the form of song lyrics, using my lame guitar-playing skills and my fairly solid vocal ones to create anthems to unrequited love and other such teenage subjects.  Song lyrics are the first poems many of us learn as children – and for some people, lyrics ARE the poetry of their lives.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Simon and Garfunkel by my father at an early age, and you cannot find songwriters much better than Paul Simon.  One of my earliest favorite Paul Simon lyrics is for the song “The Boxer.” I have taken the liberty of relining the lyrics below:

I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told.

I have squandered my resistance

 for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises.

All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants

 to hear and disregards 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 low, seeking

out the poorer quarters where the ragged

 people go, looking for the places

only they would know


Asking only workman’s wages, I go looking

for a job, but I get no offers-just a come-on

from the whores on Seventh Avenue. I do declare,

 there were times when I was so lonesome,

I took some comfort there.


Now I’m laying out my winter clothes

and wishing I was gone – going home

where the New York City winters aren’t

bleeding me, bleeding me – going home


In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter

by his trade, and he carries the reminders

of every blow that laid him down or cut him

‘til he cried out in his anger and his shame

 “I am leaving, I am leaving”

but the fighter still remains.


This is definitely a poem, if for nothing else but the brilliant line “a pocket full of mumbles such are promises.” Though some may say that the story of the downtrodden boy who moves to the big city is overdone, the metaphor of the boxer makes it more than that, and the rhythmic participial phrases in the second verse (all those wonderful –ing words), the subtle alliteration (“workman’s wages”, “winter clothes and wishing”), and the different depictions of longing in each stanza (especially the fourth) also make it a lovely piece of writing that stands on its own without the harmonies and the haunting li la li chorus.

If You Want to Write:

Try taking some of your favorite song lyrics and relining them as poems – to see if you find poetic elements in them when they are stripped of their music. Or use a favorite line of song lyric as a title or a first line for a new poem.



4 thoughts on “Poetry Mix Tape #4: All Lies and Jest

  1. I was also introduced to Simon & Garfunkel by my dad at an early age, and particularly love this song. Agree that Paul Simon is a poet/songwriter. Thanks for the jumping-off-point into new work.

  2. Pingback: Prompts Scrum: Friday Freeforall « Margo Roby: Wordgathering

  3. I love Simon and Garfunkel…thanks. The lyrics are wonderful to read and speak.

    When I was young, I couldn’t figure out how everyone but me knew the lyrics to songs…there were magazines with lyrics for top songs in the fifties that helped me for the top songs. Later, I realized I had a hearing loss, but didn’t put two and two together.
    Now I am close to 70 and closed caption is my best friend. I can’t remember when they started putting closed caption on song lyrics, but all of a sudden i realized what wonderful lyrics some of the most obnoxious music had… or even the rappers, some of them had wonderful lyrics that was, for me, mumbled and

    Try putting closed caption on sometime when a favorite artist may be singing your favorite song.
    This applies to any genre…including gospel, hymns, rap, rock n roll, any decade…just find the right artist and it is poetry to one’s ears in my experience.

    This is a wonderful prompt. Thank you.

    Siggi in Downeast Maine

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