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Alternative folk music has made a comeback in the past few years, adding many new bands and artists to the music scene. With the addition of this genre to stations playing the more popular Top 40 hits, the tone of radio stations has changed, adding a diversity of messages that is much more personal. Mumford & Son’s song “I Will Wait” is an example of this. By adding this band to radio stations and helping expand the music base from those with generic Top 40 tastes, they create a larger activity system of listeners and music consumers.
Originating in England, this band brings an emotional, banjo-Folk flare to their alternative style, adding a depth to their music that is absent in a majority of other bands. Knowing that this band does have Christian beliefs led me to wonder if this song contained references to Christianity and the act of prayer. While searching for rhetorical devices and the function they may have had within this song, I found my initial idea to be true. “I Will Wait” is, in its true form, a prayer. Several metaphors are used referencing Christianity, God, and Jesus. As a whole, this song is one big allusion to the act of prayer. Though the word is never specifically mentioned, the story that unfolds through this song represents the journey many Christians face in building a relationship with God—which prayer plays an integral role in.
Because the song is mainstream at this point (due to the success of the musical group), the references I have noticed and chosen to discuss are up for interpretation. The activity systems this song functions within allows for other explanations to take hold. One great quality unique to Mumford & Son’s is their ability to write lyrics with emotions that are universal and that serve each of their listeners individually, yet make their listening experience divinely personal. Stemming from my own Christian beliefs, I have chosen to explain the way Christianity functions within this song and how they lyrics create a context that other believers can relate to and experience as well.
One of the first rhetorical devices used is the apostrophe. When the words “These days of dust” are used, they are referencing the hard times of struggle people may be facing in today’s world. Instead of outwardly referencing struggles and hardships, they use “dust,” which has the ability to collect and cause bigger issues later on. This is a great representation of how many small struggles are capable of causing much larger problems. Many times, a person will turn to Christianity because of the struggles they face—showing how, like dust, the accumulation of turmoil can lead to a rebirth, such as the one prayer and Christianity can lead to.
The next phrase “Which we’ve known / Will blow away with this new sun” references the forgiveness accompanied by the “new sun,” which in this context, represents Jesus Christ. The backbone of the Christian faith is the forgiveness of sins associated with believing in this new “sun,” as Jesus’s function within Christianity is the Savior, the one who saves all human beings.
And I'll kneel down” which represents prayer and reliance on God, needing His comfort and strength. The repetition of this phrase also references prayer, as it is common for a person to kneel when they are praying.
The phrase beginning with “So break my step / And relent / You forgave and I won’t forget” contains anaphora. The word “so” is used at the beginning of multiple phrases and emphasizes the result of something, which in the case of the song, may be the struggles associated with being a Christian. In the context of this song the possible function of the word is emphasizing that the speaker is in need of a Savior, is in need of the forgiveness given freely by Jesus. For many Christians, the process of finding and growing faith really does change the life a person is living, which may mean turning away from things that have caused past pain. By bringing God into a life, stopping these habits will “break” their step and allow them to be forgiven by Jesus. Since forgiveness is such an important part of the Christian faith, remembering this promise is essential.
As a whole, the first half of this song (verses one and two) establishes the desire to be Christians and walk with God, to have forgiveness of sins. The second half of this song, beginning at line 23, appears to be the result of that decision—as if they are stating how this decision has impacted their lives. This idea comes through because of their use of metabasis, which is stating what has been said or what will follow, the latter being what I believe to be taking place. When they say “So I’ll be bold / As well as strong / And use my head alongside my heart” the speaker is telling how they plan to live their life, how their newfound faith has altered their being. The story is progressing and as they continue to use these rhetorical devices, they open up new degrees of storytelling. The song becomes much more personal as they invite their listeners into the faith they experience. Because Christians sometimes face adversity as a result of their beliefs, the degree of strength one must have is very real and relevant for discussion in this song.
Continuing the discussion of the second half of the song, the phrase “And use my head alongside my heart” is a metaphor for the change of heart associated with being Christian. Though this is not true of all non-believers, many people in today’s world do not always think with their heart, but only their minds—they choose logic over faith. Many new Christians will experience a change of heart and perspective, which will often lead to an adjustment in thinking. Things that were once important to them may not be, which is why this line is a pivotal part of this song. It’s as if the speaker recognizes that if they are to stay true to their faith, they must use their heart to direct them and follow Gods will instead of using only their head as a means of decisiveness.
The rest of this verse also discusses the struggle of the Christian journey and is a prayer for remaining on the journey and being steadfast in belief. “So tame my flesh / And fix my eyes / That tethered mind free from the lies” represents breaking away from the worldly desires and ideas that may have once overcome their lives. Christians are bound to, at some point during their faith journey, question their beliefs and wonder if this path is right for them. They use the word “tethered” because it emphasizes a strong connection to their faith, to making it a stronghold of their lives.
The lines following this verse directly allude to the idea of prayer, as it states:
“But I’ll kneel down / Wait for Now / I’ll kneel down / Know my ground / Raise my hands / Paint my spirit gold / And bow my head / Keep my heart slow.” Without using the word prayer specifically, they paint their listeners a picture that they, without any similar belief system, would be able to recognize and relate to.
In general, the repetitive nature of the chorus, using the phrase “I will wait,” emphasizes the deep need and desire for saving. The repetition shows the importance these words have and their willingness to be patient and wait for the comfort they so yearn for to rest upon them. The lyrics “I will wait” may also reference the second coming of Christ because many Christians see this day as something to look forward to, as it is a representation of entering Heaven—the pinnacle of salvation.
Though each individual’s journey within this world is different, many human beings can relate to the desire for an understanding or comfort of a being higher than themselves. Not everyone will turn to Christianity for that, but the idea of receiving comfort from another person is a fairly universal desire. Though I believe this song touches on the specific act of prayer, Mumford & Son’s lyrics resonate well with music-lovers because they speak of innate human needs, such as love and comfort. It is not necessary for a person to have Christian beliefs in order to appreciate the message of the song.
The rhetorical devices used in this song play a very significant role in how the lyrics of this song are represented to the listener. One of the reason’s Mumford & Son’s has created a strong following is because of the story component their music brings. Though there is not necessarily an obvious sacred connection to their music, those who share a similar system of belief are able to appreciate the meaning it endures. Those who may not have the same beliefs, but still enjoy Mumford & Son’s music, do so because of the honesty that shines through in the lyrics and tone Mumford & Son’s allows.