Meaning of The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel

In the music press, this composition by the American band Simon and Garfunkel was dubbed the pinnacle of the work of the legendary folk-rock duo. The statement, admittedly, is very controversial, and many fans of the team will probably not agree with such a statement. However, one cannot but agree that this is a really great song, which, undoubtedly, can be considered one of the best works of Paul Simon.

The Story behind The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel

The author barely remembered how he had the idea to write “The Boxer”, but emphasized that the idea was born thanks to the Bible:

I only remember flying in an airplane. In some hotel, I took a Bible with me, leafed through it, and I came across, it seems, the phrase “workman’s wages” [«…He who labors is worthy of his reward” 1st Timothy, 5:18]. That’s all I remember about the song.

SongTalk, 1990

I think around that time I was reading the Bible. I think that’s where phrases like “workman’s wages” and “seeking out the poorer quarters” come from. It’s biblical.

Playboy 1984

According to Simon’s memoirs, the composition was written easily and naturally:

The words of the first verse… came along with the melody. They flowed smoothly, making them easy to sing. In the end, I found myself starting a song about a poor boy who got exhausted trying to fight off empty talk. I tried to keep the rest of the text as natural as possible.

“Simon and Garfunkel. The Definitive Biography, Victoria Kingston, 1996.

Meaning of The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel

It is widely believed that the song is an attack on Bob Dylan. However, the author refutes it and claims that the composition is rather autobiographical:

Probably the song was about me: I see cruelty towards myself everywhere, and, really, if this does not stop, I will leave. That was the first time we faced criticism. The first years were only praise. It took people two or three years to realize that we weren’t some weird creature from England, but just a couple of guys from Queens who sang rock and roll. And, perhaps, we sang not folk at all! Maybe we weren’t even hippies!

Playboy 1984

You can say that it is autobiographical, although it surprised me myself. When we were recording, they told me: “Listen, this is a song about you.” I replied: “No, not about me. It’s about a guy who…” While saying this, I thought: wait, what am I saying? This is really a song about me, and I don’t even allow such a thought.

“Paul Simon: Now and Then”, Spencer Leigh

It is worth dwelling in more detail on the passage without words, about which Simon spoke as follows:

… I thought “lie la lie” was my failure as a songwriter. I just couldn’t find the words! People then said that they meant “lie” (“lie”), but I did not plan anything like that, about lies. However, this is not a complete failure, because people like it, and they put enough sense into it. Yes, and the rest of the song seems to me energetic and emotional enough to consider it successful, so everything is in order. But still, every time I sing these lines… I get a little embarrassed.

SongTalk, 1990.

Recording and release

The composition was recorded in several locations: the main tracks in Nashville, the vocals and strings at Columbia Studios in New York, and the wind instruments and voices that sound in the final part at St. Paul’s Church in New York.

Bob Johnson said that it took at least a hundred hours of work in the studio to mix the song. Simon denied this claim, although he admitted that he had to work hard on the sound. In the absence of a sixteen-track machine, two synchronized eight-lane machines had to be used, which caused a lot of difficulties.

In March 1969, the song was released as the first single from Bridge over Troubled Water. She climbed to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100.

Rolling Stone ranked the composition 106th on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The composition was performed by various musicians, but the most famous cover belongs to Bob Dylan. He included his version of “The Boxer” on the Self Portrait album. Paul Simon had this to say about her:

She is original. Like everything Dylan does. It has a flair. He sang it differently, and I don’t think anyone could sing it like that. Dylan’s version makes me smile.

Interesting Facts

  • There is an extra verse of the song that is not on the album version. The author sometimes performs it during concert performances.

The Boxer Lyrics by Simon & Garfunkel

I am just a poor boy
Thought my story’s seldom told,
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
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 scary,
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 come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the girls
On Seventh Avenue
I do declare
There were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there

Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Going home
Where the New York City winters
Aren’t bleeding me
leading me
Going home

in the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry 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

Lyrics of The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel Alternate

I’m just a poor guy
Rarely talk about me
I’ve wasted my tenacity
To all sorts of chatter – these are the promises
Only lies and ridicule
But a person hears only what he wants to hear,
And don’t care about the rest

When I left home and family
I was still a boy
In the company of strangers
In the silence of the station
I ran away scared
He was humiliated, he looked for poorer housing,
Where the rogues roamed
who were looking for
Only places they know

I was looking for a job
Asking for a reward for your work
But I couldn’t find anything
Except the inviting looks of prostitutes
On Seventh Avenue
No really
Sometimes I’ve been so lonely
And only there he found consolation

I wore out my winter clothes
And I wanted to get out of here
Leave home
Where are the New York winters
Won’t beat me
And they will send

In front of everyone is a boxer
And a fighter by nature
On his body are reminders
About every glove that knocked him down
Or wounded so that he screamed
In anger or shame:
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving”
But the fighter remains the same

Song Quotes

Yes, it’s probably one of the best songs I’ve written at the time.

Paul Simon, Graceland, 1986

“The Boxer” is one of those songs that you can listen to over and over again, constantly finding details in the web of sounds that you haven’t noticed before. Together with the best works of The Beatles, it can be considered the pinnacle of the creative and technical revolution of the 60s, which gave rise to the “golden age” of popular music.

John Swanson

I only heard the whole record when it was on the radio… I thought, “This is the greatest record I’ve ever heard in my life…”

Fred Carter, Fretboard Journal

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