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.”

Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Website II
Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Website II

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.

Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Album Cover
Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Album Cover

“The Meaning”

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:

  1. Tompkins Square Park
  2. Believe
  3. The Wolf
  4. Wilder Mind
  5. Just Smoke
  6. Monster
  7. Snake Eyes
  8. Broad-Shouldered Beasts
  9. Cold Arms
  10. Ditmas
  11. Only Love
  12. Hot Gates
  • Kevin

    I think it’s about infidelity. The Wolf is the other man. He is talking to his lover who was weighed and wanting because he could not give her what she needed. She got involved with a bad person. He told her everything would be ok but she was still wanting. She let him slip from her mind. He’s telling her to leave those wanting ways behind and hold his gaze and move forward. They’ll get through it.

    • Woah, that works too. What do you think of the religious symbolism?

      • Kevin

        Pul lWhile Mumford is certainly known for religious allusions and symbolism, I’m not certain that’s what is going on here. I say this because of the perspective taken by the speaker. Consider the chorus: “Been wondering for days / How you felt me slip your mind / Leave behind your wanton ways / I want to learn to love in kind.” I can see how the first two lines would be from the perspective of Jesus who presumably misses this lost person and knows he has slipped from their mind. However, the last line, “I want to learn to love in kind” hardly seems like something Jesus could think. After all, if Jesus is love, then it seems to follow that Jesus would not need to learn to love in kind. I’m not saying the song is completely devoid of religious allegory, but I’m not certain how one could reconcile this apparent contradiction with how most people understand Jesus to exist.

        • Kevin, I totally agree that that’s not something Jesus would say; I think it’s Mumford. I thought the song sounded more like it was coming from a friend who was maybe trying to pull the subject of the song back to faith. I think we both agree. Thoughts?

      • Steve

        When I heard this song I immediately felt one way…because I’ve been through it before. This song is about addiction and love. Or more specifically loving someone with an addiction. To me it’s Marcus’s plea to someone he loves to leave the addiction behind. The wolf IS the addiction and because of it has made the person lose their way. Marcus loves this person…most likely a girl and wants to be with her but only if she can get rid of her addiction. That’s what the bridge is all about…that she shouldn’t fear the wolf cause he’s right by her side to hold her in the night. And that even though they broke up or lost touch because of the addiction that he still wants her once it’s gone…that she was all he ever longed for. It’s the subtle things he says like I wanna look you in the eye and how the person is left wanting and he says to leave behind you’re wanton ways which can also pertain to addiction. Plus he says wide eyed and eyes follow like tracers and when people are on drugs you can tell by their eyes. Also the hold you in part can also pertain to smoking something and holding it in…maybe a play on words that instead of the girl smoking drugs and holding it in that when she’s clean that he will hold her in. And I’ve been down the path of addiction and the description of the wolf is very accurate. Better keep the wolf back from you’re door…how he waits…begging for blood…maybe the blood from a needle perhaps…or maybe just a symbol for how frightening and scary an addiction really can be. I read you’re stuff about how you think it’s religious…and that’s possible but the learn to love in kind part doesn’t make sense to that…and I don’t think he’d write a song from the point of God do you? But the first time I heard the song I thought it was a definite plea to someone he loved very much and for me that person has an addiction and he loves and wants to be with that person but can’t unless the addiction is gone. And that he’s waiting for her to get clean so they can be together…that he’s there for her and she shouldn’t fear the unknown because she was…all I ever longed forrrrrrrrrrrrr.

        • No, I think it’s about Mumford wanting to save his friend from a lack of faith. I think you could easily interpret some of the above stuff through a drug-focused lens, but it still doesn’t account for some of the explicit religious imagery. Thoughts?

  • Adam

    I think it’s definitely about a relationship. The way I see it, the person he’s singing to is an ex who’s in a bad relationship and who he still loves. He told her life would be okay while they were still dating but now that they’re apart she’s let him slip out of her mind. This is his attempt to save her from that bad relationship and reconcile their previous love.

    • What do you think of the biblical imagery though like the being weighed and found wanting part?

      • Anonymous

        I think he’s using this biblical reference to make us understand that this woman has been found guilty of fin, or rather that Mumford has found her guilty. In addition, if they are in a relationship, what would be the worst sin she could commit? Probably, infidelity.

      • Anonymous

        I think since Mumford has caught her but is willing to forgive her, then she is trying not to fall into temptation once again. The wolf is the other man, or a personification of infidelity, and she tries to hide from him. Since Mumford promises her ‘everything will be fine’, meaning he wants to make it work, she’s fighting to not make the same mistake again. As for the “shelter”, it may very well be faith or her relationship with Mumford even. Really, this song can be interpreted in numerous ways, all of which can be considered correct.

        • Your comments seem to grow in interestingness and discussion possibility each time. You believe that all interpretations can be considered correct? I approached this song from an authorial intent POV–so what the author means is the truth, but I do allow for reader response or the idea (hope I’m not oversimplifying or anything like that) that what the reader gets from a story is true. I think there’s a little bit of truth to each. That’s why I always put quotation marks around “The Meaning” at the beginning of each explanation. Which camp do you fall under more?

      • terwin94

        Late to the party but I feel like it is worth mentioning that not every song that has religious symbolism is actually about religion. It is a very convenient tool that can be used to evoke an idea.

        • Well said (and sorry for the late response: honeymoon). Any ideas about another way this could go?

  • Anonymous

    I think approaching the song from the author’s POV is the more natural choice. Howerver, Marcus is known for never reavealing any personal meaning to his lyrics. I believe his intent is always to let the audience adapt the song to their own experiences and for everyone to find their own meaning. This song signifies something to him but i think ultimately his goal is for us to find our own significance. Btw thank you for your compliment, it’s great to hear from such an annalitical person.

    • Hmmm, well said. Yeah, I haven’t seen him do any big reveals or anything like that, so that fits fairly well with what you’re saying. And I believe his intent is to let the audience adapt it to their own experiences as well. But the question I’d have is if he wants them to find the meaning of the song that he meant and adapt that or whether he wants to let people read the lyrics differently and take that… Does he want people to get something completely different out of it like in option two or does he want people to use the band’s song to relate to that specific experience and have different feelings based on the person? I think it’s a question only Marcus and the band can fully answer and I’d rather go with option 1, but what do you think?

  • H.

    I agree with you, everything I’ve stated about the song has been an attemp to understand Marcus’ POV, I just think they really don’t care if you get what they’re trying to say or not. They just want us to feel the songs. After all, poems are first felt and later understood, haha.

    • Yeah, well said. I like that. Is that a quote from somewhere? It sounds pretty wise. Yeah, and if an artist really cares about their audience, for them it shouldn’t be about getting a story across–more about getting some encouragement, sympathy, or love across.

  • H.

    Don’t really know why that came to me, I looked it up but didn’t see where the quote comes from. I know I must have heard it somewhere so it’s just paraphrasing, but if you think about it, it couldn’t be more true. Especially, in music.

    • I agree. Though, I think there are some poorly written poems that are meant to be understood first and not felt at all; often I don’t think their authors really understand poetry all that well.

  • H.

    Hey Clifford, i forgot to mention this the other day, but maybe you can find some inspiration for an article on this instagram page: @venezuelalucha . It’s in spanish so maybe get someone to translate, and I know it isn’t your kind of subject but at least so you’re informed about this if you aren’t already. Just take a look and let me know what you think via my email harold.pietri@gmail.com. Thanks in advance.
    PS: I live in Venezuela and we are trying to make the world realize what’s happening here.

  • Sarah

    I think its about a drug addicted girlfriend that he is trying to save.

  • Listening to this song, I googled the meaning/lyrics of it after it sent chills. I being of faith (possibly biased) agree with your interpretation. The line of stare down at the wonder of it all reminds me of holding the gaze with our creator, and the safety we have in that beyond what temptations might be lurking (the wolf). In any case, Christian or not, it makes people think – and has warmth all over it. -E

    • You’re so right. I know what you mean. And I think that’s part of the beauty of Mumford & Sons. Even if they’re not Christians, what they write is so often very true and beautiful.

  • M

    Hi, I like the religious connection. Seems to be a prevalent theme of love, loss and helplessness throughout this album. It’s beautiful.

    I thought the wondering was simply thinking about how that when you love someone so much you wonder how can they do what they do to you. How on earth could you slip their mind. The wolf is a metaphor for all that is bad. Perhaps a bad person in the context to this sounding like someone very close to them even a relationship perhaps.

    He’s judged them some time ago, he knows what they’re about now. Despite it all he longs for them. He’d like them to see the bad out there from a selfless point of view. To know what’s good for them, as they’re too good for the way they’ve chosen.

    He wants to let it go, as he says. All the bumps in the road, the persons wanton ways. He wants to love in kind, it wasn’t in kind before because of these wanton ways.

    Stare down at the wonder of it all, could be let’s see what we’ve got and appreciate it. His love and what they have should be a catalyst to change for the better.

    It’s a mega song. Think the other songs serve as a sequel to this also.

    • Interesting. I think overall I disagree with you though we have a few suggested themes in common. I’m mostly interested in what you mean by “mega song.” What is that?

  • Steph

    i think it can be seen at least a couple ways, but the one i relate to the most is the idea of Christ as Lover (e.g.: the bridegroom). So often we forget that Christ is the lover of our souls. Or take it for granted. I literally just broke up with my boyfriend today and this song came on the radio on my way home and the meaning (for me) has never been clearer. I look to the love of men (people), feeling so adored and complete and wanted when they choose me, love me, etc. But why do I not experience that in my relationship with Christ. It’s no coincidence that the bible tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church – with reckless abandon, sacrifice, longing, patience. Why oh why do we (I) not let Christ love me that way, or experience it that way?! For me, this song helps me to see that He really does love me that way. It reminds me of the story of Hosea and Gomer (as some have referenced here the sinful, wayward spouse), and the Prodigal Son. I hear it as Christ singing the words to His love – You and me. As for me, I have been prodigal lately, which makes it all the more powerful. But then again, we all are at one point or another. And yet Christ chases after us, seeks us out, longs for us, like the true Lover of our hearts that He is. “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” (Song of Solomon, which many also think is an allegory of Christ’s love and the Bridegroom.) Admittedly, the only part that doesn’t jive with this interpretation is the “I want to learn to love in kind.” But….i’m gonna chalk that up to wordsmithing. or something!

    • Steph, that’s a very powerful comment, and I appreciate you sharing so much of your personal life. I can fully imagine how helpful it would be to hear this song after such an experience as you had. I’m sending up a quick prayer for you.

      While I think the “learn to love in kind” line does keep me from fully converting to your interpretation, I think what you say here touches on the similarities that an individual human’s experience has with God’s experience. The only difference (in some respects) is that we have to learn to love, and God doesn’t–a powerful and comforting idea. I don’t know. I feel like this song could be a launching point for some really great philosophical and theological discussion.

  • sheena

    This song has a lot of the same lyrics as “Everlong” by the too fighters in which Dave Grohl wrote about his divorce with his then wife and never believing he will find love again…..till he meets his new wife. The song is absolutely about a relationship.

    • sheena

      Foo fighters i meant

      • I’ve put out blog posts too early or incorrectly accidentally too many times to not sympathize with you.

    • I’ve heard that the word “You” is capitalized in the lyrics. That seems to point to a relationship with God. Thoughts?

  • I don’t usually read these and now I see why, everything u wrote was crap. You skip hella verses trying to continue your totally wrong point. The song is about a girl, love. I will break it down for you. Wide eyed full of fright eyes like tracers in the night….He met her fell for her eyes. The tight rope she has walked to get close to him, she’s been weighted found wanting by him. Yes its has a relious under tone but he uses it in the same context it fits. Shelter/ed u better keep the wolf out..He says now that I’ve let u in my life and my home u better not let anything negative/evil in through you to harm us. The Wolf a metaphor for all things that seek to harm harmony. Keep the negative from seeping in through you he promises a fine life. He wants to look in her eyes he feels drawn to her but that scares him he doesn’t want to be in love he wants to let go and party like a rock star but he can’t because she is all he ever longed for all he ever needed to feel complete she is the one on one condition, help keep the wolf out. That is the songs meaning not what you said. Sorry. I actually dont blog but you were making no sense, like at all.

    • I commented on both verses; you are incorrect there. I mean, your interpretation sort of makes sense but doesn’t hold water all the way through. You admit there’s a religious undertone but you totally discount it–trust me, it does mean something. And then a lot of your connections aren’t strong or well supported: you don’t have a shred of evidence to support the idea that he fell for her eyes.

      And my idea of the wolf is far better supported by the text than yours as well: how do you know what it means? My idea is better supported because it fits with the blatant religious overtures. And how do you come to the conclusion that he wants to party like a rock star? First off, Marcus Mumford is nothing like that–have you seen what he wears on stage? Second, this other person is the one with wanton ways–not him–something the lyrics specifically say.

      In addition, Nicole, please don’t be so rude, especially with so weak an argument. I’m happy to discuss things with anyone, but I don’t like insults.

      • Clifford,
        I think it’s a mistake to take up what you’ve written above as an ‘argument’ whose conclusions are to be defended. I don’t mean that dismissively; it just simply isn’t possible to be decisively correct about things like this. Overall, I think what you’ve said is interesting, but (as many have already noticed), it reads like an exercise in raging against the obvious.

        “I want to learn to love in kind
        ‘Cause you were all I ever longed for”

        It’s not the subtlest of poetic turns of phrase. Though the bits you’ve picked out that echo scriptural language almost certainly do so intentionally, many artists do that, and towards many different ends. When Bob Dylan does it, it’s a whole different game than from the one Jay Z plays when he does it, and so on and so on for pretty much anybody who taps such language for poetic effect. Mumford is no exception.

        Thinking about it now, this is an odd song to pick apart because it doesn’t seem to quite succeed at making itself clear. A lot of it rides, I’m inclined to think, on the delivery, which is pretty spectacular, and on that earnest longing thing Mumford is so good at evoking. What I mean about the not-quite-successful thing (I know that sounds rather harsh) is that there’s a little gang of words that don’t sound a lot like Mumford that don’t really link up with another cluster that really do have that theatrical Mumford thing going on: fright, wondering, wanton, begging, blood, slip, wonder. Words like ‘tracers,’ ‘tightrope,’ ‘mind,’ they feel different. More technological, less pastoral. And though it injects a really cool pang of pathos at the end, there’s even more uneasiness in ‘We will stare… / I will hold you in it,” which is, as you know, where the song really blows its top. A familiar, literary, Mumford-y musing does something faster, more assertive, and it makes little in the way of an attempt to explain itself. It’s just a typhoon with a fleeting glint of an ego at the center of it—and it’s a familiar ego, it’s that Mumford voice from earlier records, and it’s intact, but it’s also harder to connect to it surrounded by such energy, so much bluster.

        To offer a little something in the way of constructive rejoinder to the religious angle you’ve presented: isn’t it weird that the ‘you’ construction is set up in such a way that the ‘you’ is kept at such a distance? Were I trying to get a statement about faith, I’d shoot for something closer to ecstatic union, or intimate closeness in relation to a universal divinity, etc. etc. This keeps ‘you,’ so pined after and so desired, sort of faceless, sort of opaque. Pick it apart:

        Your eyes follow… (past tense, fact)
        You have been weighed, you have been found… (this ‘how’ you is, it fills in you with nothing very human)
        … you better keep the wolf back (hm. a command.)
        I promised you everything… (a bit much, no?)
        … Leave behind your wanton ways… (another command)
        Hold my gaze love… (and another—more like a plea, but a plea is just a command one isn’t really expecting to be obeyed)

        Of course, there’s an exception, one place where it feels different:

        “Been wondering for days
        How you felt me slip your mind”

        A strange turn of phrase. Yes, the easiest thing is to say that it can be transliterated painlessly into ‘how did it feel to forget me, how did it feel to not have me on your mind?’ (This is, by the way, a classic Bob Dylan question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zHmc2xqwFI) But it doesn’t say that. It’s a little weirder: it asks how ‘you’ felt ‘me’ slip away, escape, withdraw—there are plenty of synonymous verbs. But I’m pointing to the way that the words keep ‘I’ at the center, it’s a moment of wondering about how ‘you’ felt about what ‘I’ did, inclusive of the possibility that ‘you’ didn’t notice that ‘I’ had done anything. ‘You’ actually doesn’t do anything except when it gets bundled into a ‘we,’ only once, and only prospectively, in a future that might well not come to pass: “We will stare down at the wonder of it all.”

        All of this is pretty obviously undergird with a few religious images, but I think it’s mostly beyond that. I think, on the basis of how this sounds more than any word-noodling, that it’s quite a powerful—if strange—portrait of a universal and timeless gut feeling familiar to most. I mean… earnestly wanting to connect to those around you, a desire that runs parallel to a fear that that very desire is what makes such connection impossible. Religion is very good at frankly assessing and dealing with that feeling. But one doesn’t need religion to do that.

        • First off, TTP, I would never have expected anyone to respond at this depth or level. Do you have a background in literary analysis? Perhaps a bachelors of arts in English? My respect to you.

          Here are my responses in favor of my argument:
          1. What I have written is definitely an argument, the conclusions of which SHOULD be argued. That’s what the literary field is all about: arguments. And an argument isn’t worth making if everyone already agrees. Perhaps that’s a difference we have as far definitions and first assumptions go, but that’s where I’m coming from.
          2. Raging against the obvious is a pastime of mine, but not what I’m doing here. 😉 (Pardon any snark that sounds offensive. I’m a nice person usually, but in a bit of a rush right now. :P)
          3. You agree that religious symbolism is echoed but leave it at that. Mumford and his band (It was, I think, written mainly by the band members and not Mumford, a common happening with Wilder Mind) are very intentional, so the question raises as to why they would put those symbols in there? I believe it hints at a religious message.
          4. What you say about the “you” is VERY true and exactly why I believe it’s about God: they feel that God is absent and distant, and so they wish for Him to come closer. I think that’s where the longing that you mention comes in.
          5. My question to you is this: if it’s not about God, then who? I don’t think it’s about a woman. Your last paragraph interests me more than any other. I think we begin with different assumptions about what religion is for, and perhaps you haven’t heard that Mumford has been the news for his Christian faith, another hint that this wondering and searching could find its answer in faith. This article may be interesting to you: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/marcus-mumford-lead-singer-of-mumford–sons-i-wouldnt-call-myself-a-christian_n_3009777.html
          Thoughts about these? To summarize, I think you’re right that there is a desire for connection. The religious symbolism, the distant “you,” the desire for connection, and Mumford’s strong history of being a deep thinker about Christianity all suggest to me that this song is sung to God.
          Looking forward to your reply!
          Cliff

  • I hadn’t expected to be responding at quite so abstractly, but here goes:
    1) For one thing, your points 3 and 5 undermine one another. If Mumford has been a matter of discussion on Christian message boards, then it doesn’t matter much, and it matters all the less if he didn’t pen these lyrics (or arrange this music) himself.
    2) Regarding your first point, literary criticism does have, you are correct, an obligation to make arguments and to defend the conclusions of the arguments it makes. But it is also important, so long as criticism has a soul of its own, to respect poetics. Poems do not brook crystalline enclosure, and any attempt to defend an argument about the ‘true meaning’ of verse will always burn through whatever argument is made about whatever purported meaning of whatever verse. Criticism isn’t needed to set up a pyre on which the kind of claim you’re making will inevitably find itself—the words do it themselves by not saying what you say that they say.
    3) If point 2 didn’t have an emoji in it, I might have taken it seriously.
    4) Now I’m more serious: if the point you’re attempting to make is true, I think the implications are sort of tremendous in a way that what you’ve written hasn’t made very explicit. I’m glad that you like what I’ve said about the ‘you’ construction, but if you are right about it being a song to God, the only comparable poem to which it would them correspond is something like the Sufi ghazal, where you find expressions of erotic desire for communion with the divine. There really is no getting around the obvious romantic human language of what the song says, and an effort to transpose the meaning out of human-romantic into divine-ecstatic would be—if I were of a religious bent—obviously heretical.

    Just sayin’.

    • Thanks for the response:
      1. They don’t cancel each other out. They merely answer your argument from all sides. If Mumford’s band wrote it, the religious symbolism is still heavy, and you haven’t responded to why it’s there. If Mumford wrote it, then attention to religious symbolism is warranted even more strongly because of his history. Which leave 4 & 5 untouched as of yet.
      2. A respect for poetics, the study of what makes literature beautiful, would be a respect for the creative process of writing, which I do have–the primary reason I try to find what Mumford meant when he said what he did. Admittedly, the rest of your point suggests you favor Reader Response while I tend to be a Historical Formalist with enormous respect for the existence of Reader Response. However, while I do appreciate Reader Response and the fluidity of interpretations, I am serving an audience who Googles “what does x song by x artist mean.” Perhaps we can agree that what I do may be more neatly summarized as explaining “what x artist meant by x song”–but it’s a distinction that my audience usually doesn’t recognize or care since they already know what it means to them.
      3. I take it you probably don’t take the ancient Egyptians seriously either. Perhaps this could engender a discussion on semiotics or structuralist theory applied to emoticons…?
      4. But this is exactly what makes my argument work. The Christian conception of marriage and love are based heavily on the romantic–in Christian theology they are meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. In many verses, Jesus is called the bridegroom and the Church the bride (Ephesians 5:25-30). And it’s a romance recognized heavily by popular Christianity (so Mumford would be exposed to it); the most notable support could be the reference to a “sloppy wet kiss” when Heaven and Earth meet in Jon Marc McMillan’s overplayed worship song “How He Loves”–not literal but a reminding Christians of the love and longing (as mentioned in “The Wolf”) in relationships between God and people. In “The Wolf,” I see longing for communion, but not for eroticism. I haven’t studied sexuality in theology, but off the bat I’d say that it’s a particular gift meant to bless the marital union and a way to create children–we can long for communion with God without longing for those things.
      Looking forward to your thoughts. 🙂

  • Anastasia Grace

    OK here is my take…..I feel the song is about an (adulterous) relationship that should not be happening because one or both people are already involved or married. Realizing it is wrong, one (or maybe its mutual) has chosen to end the (adulterous) relationship, “leav(ing) behind your wanton ways” and return to their significant other(s). One seems to do this with less of a struggle, leaving the other to wonder “how you felt me slip your mind.” The wolf is the urge to sin, to continue with adultery, and it is a strong force that is ever present. And although he knows it is wrong, he is still left desiring her “cause you were all I ever longed for” although he wants to “learn to love in kind.” He wants to be faithful to his wife or significant other but can’t stop thinking of the other woman. The promise that everything would be fine was their plan to be together, to start a new life together. But that is not the right thing to do because they are both already committed and have realized the selfishness in their acts. And although he feels a strong connection with the second woman, he knows he is obligated to the first woman in the eyes of God. The tightrope they are walking is the line between their desires and their obligations. Just my thoughts on it! =)

    • That’s a strong argument, and I really get more confused by this song rather than less as I discuss the meaning with more people. It sounds religious to me, but this explanation you’ve given is pretty water tight. The “all I’ve ever wanted for” and the other Scriptural imagery seem to suggest a religious meaning, but I really don’t know…

  • Kay

    I’ve read everyone else’s ideas, and they all make a lot of sense. This is a very personal song, and I read things into that no one else would. For me, it’s a reminder song about the dangers of depression/mental illness and having suicidal thoughts. I am singing this song to myself – when “you” is mentioned, it’s me talking to myself and analyzing myself. These ideas are fluid and may not make perfect sense.

    [Wide eyed, with a heart made full of fright
    Your eyes follow like tracers in the night
    And the tightrope, that you wander every time
    You have been weighed you have been found wanting]

    This is the fight/flight feeling of a deer caught in headlights – tracers in the night – eyes of the deer running away from the headlights. Symbolizing panic attacks. The tightrope is a balance of this mental illness when it is unbalanced – wandering away from health. You have been weighed – asks the question: are you ok? And the answer is no: Found wanting – wanting peace of mind because we should “want nothing,” meaning be perfectly content in our lives. So to be found wanting means to be in need of something.

    [You’ve been wandering for days
    How you felt me slip your mind
    Leave behind your wanton ways
    I want to learn to love in kind
    Cause you were all I ever longed for]

    Keeping myself mentally healthy takes a daily effort – wandering from my health path, slipping my mind, forgetting to take good care of myself. Wanton ways – indulging in alcohol or unhealthy relationships that slip me backward. I want to learn to love my life “in kind” because living a happy life is all I ever longed for.

    [Shelter, you better keep the wolf back from the door
    He wanders ever closer every night
    And how he waits, baying for blood
    I promised you everything would be fine]

    The wolf is depression and suicidal thoughts. Shelter is everything I do on a daily basis to “shelter” myself from self-harm. Self-protection. The wolf is always there, “how he waits”. Sometimes closer, sometimes farther. Blood is of course is symbolism for death. As long as we keep in the shelter, everything will be fine.

    [Hold my gaze love, you know I want to let it go
    We will stare down at the wonder of it all
    And I will hold you in
    And I will hold you in]

    Holding a gaze is a human connection, and these connections validate our existence. I see you, you’re real, you’re worthy of love. Letting go is letting go of unhappiness and the wonder of it all is the excitement of living. I will hold you in is an eternal embrace of self-love that keeps me here on earth.

    • Kay, this is a great interpretation. I can see how it would work overall and can’t immediately find any hole in it except for “have been weighed, been found wanting.” I think maybe in your theory a better way to explain that would be to say that we are imperfect people and maybe depression (or the state of his thoughts currently) makes him feel the weight of that imperfection even more.
      What do you think?

  • Denzel

    I think the wolf is addiction, but religion might be the shelter from addiction. AA and NA are religious, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.. Etc

    • Of the many types of evil I think the wolf could represent, I’d say addiction is one, so we at least agree that much. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jenn

    I’m a little late to the conversation. This feels like Mumford is God talking to His people. Wanting to rekindle the relationship with a wayward soul.