Friday, December 7, 2012

British Brilliance: The Hidden Art of Mumford & Sons

With their overflowing harmonies, signature clawhammer banjo, and emotionally gripping lyrics, British indie folk-rock band Mumford & Sons have established themselves as a quartet of multi-million selling troubadours, burgeoning to platinum success with their 2010 debut album, Sigh No More. Inspired by William Shakespeare’s romantic play Much Ado about Nothing, the album is rich with profound messages of love, loss, and of the hope and faith that persist within; with this, the album’s second song, “The Cave,” explores such emotions through a series of lyrics laden with layered meanings—hidden beneath a surface of beautiful voices and sound. Though the song seems to explore some sort of broken relationship and internal struggle from the individual, looking to its rhetorical devices allows us to reveal the true profundity of the words and discover how the song works within certain contexts. For the scope of this article, I will be focusing on how the language within “The Cave” serves as a sort of a philosophical testament to the hope and faith that endure through Christian and theological beliefs—and how such language functions within the context of listeners with similar values.

With this focus, it is interesting to first note the overarching philosophical and theological inspirations the song carries through its rich language and imagery. The song’s title, “The Cave,” may hold philosophical relevance by referencing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which a group of lifelong prisoners—bound to the walls of a cave—gaze at shadows projected on the cave wall, with the aid of a fire; these cast shadows were the prisoners’ closest view of reality. The allegory, then, is an attempt to explain how the philosopher, the perceptive individual, must be freed from the cave—must “come out of your cave,” as seen in the ninth verse—in order to perceive not the shadow forms, but the true form of reality. With this inspiration, the language within key verses of the song serves to work within these philosophical and theological contexts.

To delve into the rhetorical devices used to perpetuate these Christian tones, let’s look at the sixth verse in the song:
"So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears”
This verse is filled with several significant rhetorical devices, all of which serve greater Biblical meaning; first, note the amount of parallelism, as in “tie me to a post and block my ears,” and “widows and orphans.” Apostrophe is used as well, as the individual addresses someone and asks to be “tied to a post” and have his or her ears blocked. The repetition of “despite” within the phrase also perpetuates a persistent and motivated tone, as well as the mostly consistent end-rhyme. Further, there is a considerable amount of alliteration with “t” sounds in “tie” and “tears” as well as the forceful “f” sounds in “faults” and “fears” to acknowledge the individual’s sins, all which heighten the profound emotion of the verse.

In addition to the verse’s purposeful rhetorical devices, note how the verse serves as an extended metaphor and an allusion, holding deeper Biblical meaning. Look first to the lines: “I can see widows and orphans through my tears” and “I know my call despite my faults.” These lines heighten the individual’s struggle with a relationship (romantic or biblical) by making an allusion to the book of James, a servant of God; it references a verse on the meaning of true religion, for caring for the “widow and the fatherless” is an overarching theme in the Old Testament. The phrase “tie me to a post” also refers to Jesus being tied and nailed to the cross. In relation to this verse, let’s look to the tenth verse in the song, which continues the metaphor and allusion:
“So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say”
In terms of rhetorical devices, the colloquial language continues in brilliant form, and functions within the context of listeners with similar philosophical and theological beliefs. Alliteration persists, with the use of ‘s’ sounds in “so,” “siren’s,” and “sing” as well as ‘h’ sounds with “hear” and “have” to further the persistent tone. The structure of each line is also very succinct and determined, as with the use of apostrophe in the first line; the individual is almost demanding things from the other voice.

With these devices, we can explore their extended meanings and contexts the language works in. As addressed above, the line: “So tie me to a post and block my ears,” as well as the above verse, is an allusion to Homer’s Greek epic poem, Odyssey. The piece describes the experience Odysseus and his sailors held when they approached the land of the Sirens—creatures portrayed as seductresses who lured sailors to crash their boats with their enchanting music and voices. The poem also says how the men on the boat blocked their ears with wax to avoid such poisonous sound. Perfectly fitting to the song, the individual remains hopeful and faithful, demanding to “block [his] ears” and refusing to answer to their call. In a greater sense, then, the individual refrains from succumbing to evil by using hope and faith to persist through pain.

These hidden, underlying meanings are seen through most every line in this song, with each thoughtful verse functioning in the context of listeners with an affinity for philosophical, theological, or Christian beliefs. With these specific undertones, though, the song achieves more universal meaning—this is precisely why the band resonates with a vast range of listeners. With the addressed phrases, though, it is important to note that creative styles are subjective. Will each listener, Christian or otherwise, come to different conclusions on the lyrics? Sure. Though the lyrics hold religious undertones, there are greater philosophical meanings that rise as well; with this, activity systems outside of listeners with religious values are made possible, and each listener can apply their experiences with those in the song. Through the stunning layered language in the song, “The Cave” proves to be far more than music.

By: Jessica Haugen

To view a performance of “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons, click here. 

No comments:

Post a Comment