Mumford and Sons just released the next installment from their soon-to-come album, Wilder Mind. The song is called “The Wolf,” and it’s a departure from their earlier music. Gone are the days of hipster alternative blends of folk instruments and crooning, soulful harmonies. “The Wolf” retains some of the familiar harmonizing, but everything is more intense. While his voice stays recognizable, the music surrounding Marcus Mumford’s vocals is much grittier and much more rockin’ & rollin’.
[Update: New music video released.]
What does “The Wolf” mean?
After a quick listen to and read of the lyrics, I was confused. There’s a lot going on, and there are few specific details to give us context. So, let’s go with what we do know.
1. Marcus is singing to someone going through a difficult time. This person is “[w]ide eyed” and has “been weighed” but “found wanting.”
2. This person is searching for something or someone. Marcus sings, “You’ve been wandering for days,” and remembers “[h]ow you felt me slip your mind.” This person seems to have been a friend of Marcus’s but left and now has tried to make his/her own path, forgetting Marcus, but not being able to succeed in what he/she set out to do.
3. Marcus loves (or feels very strong brotherly affection) towards this person. He sings, “[Y]ou were all I ever longed for.”
4. Marcus is trying to protect his person. The titular wolf is trying to get into a shelter where Marcus and this person wait, hoping to survive. Marcus promises his friend that everything will “be fine.”
The questions we are left with:
Who/what is the shelter?
What is Mumford’s relationship with this other person?
Why did the other person leave?
What does the wolf represent?
Why does Mumford want this person so badly?
And, honestly, I’m not completely sure how to answer all of these. Mumford gives away few details. That being said, I do have a strong guess, and if you disagree with my interpretation, you can let me know, and we’ll talk about it.
Mumford’s been pretty popular in Christian blog circles over the years because of clear (but not preachy) references to his faith and faith in general in his lyrics. A lot of his songs contain clever allusions to Christianity. And “The Wolf” is no exception; I count at least three blatant references that give this song a distinctly religious feel.
In the first verse of “The Wolf,” he alludes to Daniel 5:27, where God’s hand appears before the king of Babylon to tell him that he has “been weighed” and “found wanting.” This early allusion may support an overall religious interpretation of the song.
And if so, then the wolf could be an allusion to sin, the devil, or dangers in life. John 10:12 alludes to a wolf who “scatters the sheep.” Jesus is the “good shepherd” in Christian theology, so perhaps the devil is the wolf that attempts to destroy Jesus’ flock.
The shelter that Mumford refers to in verse 2 could be Christ. Psalms 31:20 (and many others) refer to God’s sheltering of his people. Psalms 46:1 and others refer to God as a refuge (basically a shelter).
If this other person has “been weighed” and “found wanting,” he/she is sinful and they’ve left Mumford when he tries to bring him/her to Christ. This person is now vulnerable to wolf’s attacks and requires protection. The “tightrope that you wander every time” is this person trying to live life without faith.
In verse 2, when Mumford is telling the shelter to keep the wolf out, he seems to be praying and wishing that he could telling his friend that taking refuge in Christ will keep death from devouring him/her.
In the bridge, Mumford talks about how if his friend would come back, then they together could “stand out at the wonder of it all,” which could be a reference to the peace felt when living in the way of Jesus and the Bible. Mumford repeats, “And I will hold you in.” He longs for the satisfaction of knowing that his friend is safe from the wolf and from his/her wanderings.
In total, this song is about Mumford wishing that he could save his friend who has wandered away from him and from faith and is in danger of being devoured by the devil or death and sin. Mumford longs to bring his friend back with a passion that could break listeners’ hearts and brings to mind James 5:19-20, which references the fact that brining a person back to Christ “covers over a multitude of sins.”
If you hear the song differently or want to continue the conversation, please comment below or contact me personally. And don’t forget to follow me on the right side of this site or through my weekly mailing list or on Twitter!
P.S. Does anyone think this was actually about a romantic relationship?
P.P.S. You can buy The Wolf on Amazon if you want to continue listening.
Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind: