For the Love of Mumford: Reflections on Love in the Music of Mumford & Sons

What is the nature of true love? It’s not a simple question to answer. We all think we know what love is. We talk about it, write about, sing about it, watch movies and television shows about it. But more often than not the nature of love is muddled in these mediations. Just think about the ways we use the word “love”. We love our moms, our cats, and that pizza joint down on 2nd street. Or we talk about how we “used to be in love,” or how we “fell out of love.” The language does not often represent the truth of love. Most music does us this disservice too, painting love as purely physical and attractional. The British folk group Mumford & Sons, however, has done a much better job. Mumford & Sons comes closer than many to depicting the truth about love.

For the quartet, love is clearly something transcendent. In Sigh No More Marcus Mumford sings, “There is a design, an alignment to cry of my heart to see, the beauty of love as it was made to be.” There is a design, something inherent to the nature of love that goes beyond the ways we use it and beyond how we feel. And what is the nature of love? Mumford & Sons sing it out. “And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears. And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears” (After the Storm). They say love frees you to be what you were “made to be.”

Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be (Sigh No More)

Love, too, is about purity and proper boundaries. That’s certainly what they imply in White Blank Page, where again Mumford sings, “And can you kneel before the king and say I’m clean, I’m clean.” It’s not enough just to be able to give her your heart, your body, and confess your love. You must be a “white blank page”. You must be able to confess your love in a way that keeps you from sin. And that’s an important word in the music of Mumford & Sons.

The quartet sing often of sin and folly, of the wickedness and impurity of the human heart. Despite the transcendent reality of love, our best efforts at it fall short of the ideal. Little Lion Man is clearly a song about the failure of one lover to another. “It was not your fault but mine,” they sing. In their 2012 release Babel there is ample confession. In Whispers in the Dark they make the plea “spare my sins for the ark.” In Lover of the Light we find Marcus confessing “I have done wrong” and singing:

I know I tried, I was not stable, and flawed by pride. I miss my sanguine eyes.

In the chorus of Lover’s Eyes he prays, “Lord forget all my sins.” And in Broken Crown he prays again, “But oh my heart, was flawed I knew my weakness. So hold my hand consign me not to darkness.” And the reality of the sinful heart, the flawed and weak heart, makes the experience of love painful.

They sing often of the danger of love. In fact Mumford acknowledges “How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes” (Awake My Soul). He is concerned about what he loves. He says, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. And where you invest your love, you invest your life.” That’s a heavy burden, and one that comes with the accompanying reality that you must answer for how you live your life. He calls out the warning, “Awake my soul. For you were made to meet your maker.” Don’t be fooled by your heart.

In Winter Winds he admits that he sometimes can’t tell why he is drawn to certain loves. Is it purely physical? Are there emotional and spiritual elements to it. “Was it love or fear of the cold that led us through the night?” There’s a battle he must constantly wage between his emotions and his brain. He must be careful how he loves. He writes:

And my head told my heart
“Let love grow”
But my heart told my head
“This time no
This time no”

Mumford & Sons knows the reality of the saying “love is blind.” You must be careful and thoughtful. Lovers can’t simply give into the flesh, they must be prudent. In their hit single from Babel they sing:

Now I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
A tethered mind freed from the lies (I Will Wait)

It’s important to use the head alongside the heart, to tame the flesh. That “white blank page” is still a priority in their love life.

There’s ample material to interact with in Mumford & Sons. It’s clear to this fan that they believe in a transcendent love that sets the standards. Of course it’s also clear that because of the weakness of the human heart love doesn’t always achieve the ideal, and therefore we must be careful how we love. This is a far more honest perspective than most “love songs” these days. It’s yet one more reason to love Mumford & Sons.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Dunham also wrote this great article on one of my favorite bands, Mumford & Sons. Share this:EmailMorePrintDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  2. […] of people were asking the familiar question: does the band have Christian influences? I wrote a piece reflecting on the new album too, but this old post still received the most […]

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