El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

Simon & Garfunkel


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Hello English learners and music lovers. Welcome to Explained in English. My name is Ki and today I'm going to explain the song El Condor Pasa by Simon & Garfunkel.

El Condor Pasa is a Spanish title which means the condor passes, or even, the condor flies by. A condor is a very large type of bird which is commonly seen in the Andes region of South America.

The title of the song is in Spanish because the music was written by Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913 and he was a Peruvian. However, the lyrics were written by Paul Simon. One of the lines that you hear very often in the song is "If I could...", which is often used as another title for this song. So, "El Condor Pasa", or "If I Could". The phrase, "if I could..." expresses possibility. "If I could" means if I were capable, if it were possible for me. It's like a kind of potential. It's like saying, if I had the capacity to do this then I would.

In all of the verses of the song we hear the phrase "I'd rather..." For example, in the first line it says:

[*Click the lyrics or music icons to jump to particular sections*]

[Verse 1]
I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
Yes I would
If I could
I surely would

[Verse 2]
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
Yes I would
If I could
I surely would

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 its saddest sound
Its saddest sound

[Verse 3]
I'd rather be a forest than a street
Yes I would
If I could
I surely would

[Verse 4]
I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet
Yes I would
If I could
I surely would

It seems to me that there are a few things that the writer, Paul Simon, is really valuing. He's valuing movement. Not being stuck. He doesn't want to be tied to one place and to not have the freedom to move around and make changes in his life. He's saying, if I could, I would rather have a life of change, of evolution, of growth.

The sparrow represents this freedom. He can fly fast and high above everything else, unlike the snail which is stuck on the ground, moving slowly.

The hammer is symbolic of being involved in many different pursuits and also being the one causing the action, making the changes.

And just like the swan, he wants his life to be beautiful. He wants the freedom to be here and to leave. The person who doesn't have this life is like that man who gets tied up to the ground. That man gives the world a sad sound, the saddest sound. This would be the opposite of what he wants for his life.

What else would he really like? He would like to be a forest rather than a street. He wants to be in touch with nature, in touch with the universe and life.

Taking all the lyrics together, I think it's partly a critique of our society, pointing out how many of us have lost our way and gotten distracted in life. It also expresses this primal and deep desire to live lives that are not only meaningful but also beautiful.

While this song had a lot of success in 1970 when it was released, it has had a sort of revival due to the movie Wild. You can hear this song playing all throughout that movie.

Okay! Now's the time for you to listen to El Condor Pasa (If I Could). If you like learning English with songs, I have a whole album of explanations for 70s songs as well as the other decades available at explainedinenglish.com. Each explanation has extra pronunciation practice and a full PDF transcript, so you never miss a word.

Conversational English Lessons
I also offer conversational lessons to anyone interested in talking about a song and improving their spoken English. You'll find the contact form, decades albums, and more at explainedinenglish.com. Thanks for listening and I'll see you in the next explanation. Bye bye!



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