Freedom Flies By

Simon & Garfunkel were a successful folk-rock duo back in the 1960s who had many popular singles and albums. Their song “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” is the second song on their final studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water, which was released in January 1970. Paul Simon originally heard this song in Paris when the Peruvian group Los Incas performed it and he could include it in his album with English lyrics. The words “El Condor Pasa” translates to “the condor goes by,” which hints to the song’s focus on freedom and control.

I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail

Yes I would

If I could

I surely would

In the first verse of the song, they contrast a sparrow and a snail. A sparrow is free to spend its time on both group and in the sky, having no limit on where they can travel. Additionally, a sparrow is a swiftly moving predator that does not have worry about being hunted. Meanwhile, a snail is bound to living on the ground and is an animal of prey, constantly fearing for its life. It is important to note that sparrows eat snails, which adds to the argument that the speaker wants power and to be able to control their own life. This comparison emphasizes the speaker’s wish to live without fear and be able to take risks.

Away, I’d rather sail away

Like a swan that’s here and gone

A man gets tied up to the ground

He gives the world

The saddest sound

The saddest sound

Again, the song emphasizes the speaker’s wish to not be held back from freedom. The simile in the line “Away, I’d rather sail/ Like a swan that’s here and gone” articulates that the speaker wants to be free to go on their own adventures and like a swan, not be bound to one place. A swan is the image of total freedom; they can be in one place or moment and experience it and then move on to the next with no restrictions. The next lines focus on the reality of world. There is a much higher probability that a person will be stuck in one place and sucked into the painful monotony of life. As nice as it is to think about achieving true freedom, it is very unlikely.

I’d rather be a forest than a street

I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet

The imagery of nature in both of these lines highlights the speaker’s wish to retreat from the society humans have constructed. The speak would rather be a forest, something that grows and expresses itself freely, than a street, which is trampled on daily by people. Additionally, in order for streets to be created, they had to destroy some forest and change nature. This point in strengthened by the speaker’s wish to feel earth on their feet. This line shows how the speaker wants to reconnect with a more simple time or place where there people had less responsibilities and were free to truly have full control over their lives.

Lastly, the repetition of the line “If I could” throughout this song adds a bit of reality to the tone. This whole song has a very wishful and dreamy tone to it. However, the repetition of this line makes the audience realize that all of the “I’d rather’s” are just hopes and not true. It is this break into reality that brings the audience a sense of sadness as they realize that the speaker is just reflecting on their life and the lack of freedom and control that they actually have.

Although this song does not contain many lyrics, I think that each line contains endless possibilities of interpretations. In fact, I think this speaks to how well this song conveys a deeper meaning with what may be seen as simple lyrics.

2 thoughts on “Freedom Flies By

  1. Tim M

    I agree with your interpretation of your song; this seems to be an almost regretful lamentation of the possibilities that the narrator has lost (or perhaps never had to begin with). The parallels between freedom and nature are particularly interesting — the narrator seems to desire both freedom and nature, possibly implying that they are intrinsically connected. While I certainly see the value in both freedom and nature, I would argue that they are not actually intrinsically connected, and one can happen without the other. For instance, streets are innately un-natural (as you explained in your analysis), but streets also allow for much more freedom and greater ease of access to many things for people.

    Separately from this, I wonder what this song said in its original form, before it was translated to English; I didn’t see any mention of the condor, but I can imagine the symbolism must be really fascinating, particularly considering historical context as Wikipedia says that the condor is the national symbol of many South American states and represents the sun god and is considered a “symbol of power and health.”

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  2. LILY MANNING

    I love Simon and Garfunkel because of how meaningful their music is lyrically and musically. I haven’t listened to this song as much as the others, but I love your interpretation. I never thought about the lyrics this deeply when I was listening as a kid, and this reminded me that their music is so much more powerful than just the surface-level meaning.

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