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Bridges, from "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," a song by Simon & Garfunkel

Subthemes: Safety, Lengthy Delays and Obstacles, Suicides

Paul Simon chose as his metaphor for protection, guidance, and comfort a bridge over roiling waters, to represent a stalwart and supportive friend who carries us above the troubles of life. Like a coat gallantly spread on a puddle for a gentlewoman, a friend serves as a bridge over life’s bleak times. On the clip you can hear the song. More subthemes of Bridges come from the emotional lyrics.

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side
Oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
Oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around

[refrain and stanza omitted]

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Source: Musixmatch

Safety: Bridges provide security when times get rough, when passage without the bridge would be difficult. Many people can’t swim across a broad river, and fording one that is tumbling with water could ruin your wagon and load. Or the bridge passes over difficult terrain to cover. Above, however, the predictable solidity of the bridge will lay me down for you and will comfort you and you’re your part no matter that white water of life thunders below.

White water under a bridge White water under a bridge, from Dreamstime.

Bridges make the impassable passable; friends make the impossible possible like a span over deep gorges, rushing water, city congestion, or ocean stretchs. A devoted friend helps you traverse life’s travails.

Lengthy Delays and Obstacles: Life is long and full of difficulties. It takes constant effort to forge through successfully because our efforts can be thwarted when times get tough. Likewise, for bridges. The challenges of nature, such as earthquakes or water flow, create obstacles for bridges being built and maintained. In part because of what yawns below a bridge, which may introduce demanding design and construction problems, major bridges require years to conceive, plan and complete. Delays crop up: lawsuits, difficulties in funding, procurement hurdles, labor strife, politics, military conflict, or new regulations. As one example, it took 17 years from original sketches to its completion in 2004 to build the world’s tallest bridge, Millau Viaduct in France. Picking the site, condemning property, addressing neighborhood opposition (such as to railroad noise), and other delays bedevil large civil engineering campaigns.

Suicides: Art Garfunkel sings about profound sadness.

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard

In deep despair, hopelessness or terminal illness, a person without the bungee cord of friendship may give up. Tragically, bridges sing siren songs to desperate, depressed people and make easy their ultimate step as in a song, “The Ode to Billie Joe,” that laments how a young girl “jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Despite high fences, 24-hour call boxes, and watchful attendants, between 1937 and 2012 an estimated 1,400 bodies were recovered of people who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. Fewer than 35 have survived the approximately 220-foot plunge. The website Dangerous Roads lists many more death tolls of bridge jumpers. Heights that are easily accessible, bridges lure people who decide to leap and end their life.

 

The stability and security of a bridge conveys in this song by Simon & Garfunkel the profound support of a close friend.

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes

a friend carries you over the rough spots of life, gives advice on navigating the delays and obstacles of life, and steers you away from chucking it all for a watery suicide.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept “Bridges,” consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, “About.”

We invite you to read about other songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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