The internet is helpless in the face of Mumford & Sons’s latest lyrical enigma. What in the world does “Snake Eyes” from Wilder Mind mean after all? No one seems to know. The internet is a song interpretation wasteland. Thin, wavering voices call for clarity. But no one speaks…

Until now.

What do you think? Before reading my post, take a guess yourself based on the lyrics and music video. If you need a push in the right direction, remember that “snake eyes” is a gambling reference and slang for really bad luck. [Quick thanks to Co-Worker Brently for explaining that to me today!] Comment your guess and then pick back up here.

Asian-vine-snake-eyes

“The Meaning”

First of all, the title suggests either gambling or an extremely untrustworthy person. Per Wikipedia, “Because [snake eyes] is the lowest possible roll, and will often be a loser in many dice games, such as craps, the term has been employed in a more general usage as a reference to bad luck.” In games like four square, snake eyes is used also to refer to a tactic in which the server looks one way while directing the ball another way. We can conclude that Mumford was betrayed, and the consequences were devastating.

While some lines (like “Don’t leave a love divine”) hint at the supernatural, like in “Believe,” the presence of actual eyes in the line, “It’s in the eyes,” suggests that “Snake Eyes” is about a physical person. In addition, the references to “love,” “cruelty / [o]f youth,” and “tonight” all suggest that the person being sung to is a woman.

Snake Eyes DiceIn the first verse, Mumford sings, “You hold it in your hands / And let it flow, this cruelty / Of youth,” so we know that his romantic interest was cruel and young. And the “compromise of truth” could refer to her playing with Mumford’s feelings or leading him on. Her “fall,” then would be a fall in his eyes brought on by her wronging of him.

Mumford returns to the title’s imagery in the chorus with “[i]t’s in the eyes.” Now when he looks into this woman’s eyes, he sees that she “will always be danger,” something that he didn’t realize at first. He gambled on a relationship with her, but found out that her eyes had been “snake eyes” all along. While they may have been beautiful, much as an actual snake’s eyes can be, their uniqueness was not their beauty but the risk and danger they represented. He sings, “We had it tonight,” and asks, “Why do you leave it open?” Even though they seemed to have a strong relationship and it felt good at one point, she turned her back on him.

Creepy Boa Snake EyesVerse 2 reinforces the gambling imagery: “But the stakes remain too high / For this silent mind.” The risk is too great to take again. And Mumford is ready to leave what he had thought might be a good relationship: “And the shake, the lonely itch / That courses down my spine / To leave a love divine.” But another part of him reminds himself, “Don’t leave a love divine / It’s a water tight excuse.” An excuse for what, he doesn’t say (maybe life?), but part of him still wants to think that staying with this girl will be worth that excuse, making her something of a femme fatale for him.

In the next repetition of the chorus, Mumford replaces, “Why do you leave it open?” with “Why do you always seek absolution?” Absolution is a formal pardon of guilt or sin, so perhaps the girl has a history of seeking forgiveness from Mumford, or perhaps she is trying to cut all ties with him, treating the relationship as a trap that she fell into. Incidentally, this line also hurts the possibility of this song being about God. Based on Mumford’s experience with Christianity, he is unlikely to sing about God asking forgiveness.

In the third verse, Mumford asks, “How does the earth around your feet / Just slip away?” These lines suggest a supernatural quality to the woman’s beauty. The rest of the world slipping away is a common way
Brown Adder Snake Eyesof showing this in relationship-focused lyrics. (On the other hand, Fiancee April did suggest that the earth falling away could represent all the security that Mumford associated with her.) The next line is contentious with some lyric sites quoting it as “A bandit that greets you in the night” and others as “An abandon that greets you in the night.” I think “bandit” makes more sense because it reinforces the idea of Mumford and the girl being together at night while promoting the idea of him having been betrayed or stolen from. He finishes the verse, “With snake eyes, the most precious kind,” suggesting that this “bandit” is the girl he’s singing to.

Overall, the song is addressed by Mumford to a woman who has betrayed him cruelly. He risked a lot and in loving her, lost everything. Part of him wishes to have her back, but he knows that it really never would work.

What do you think the song is about? Give it your best guess or discuss my guess in the comments below. What song should we discuss next? Don’t forget that you can continue listening to Mumford & Sons’s Wilder Mind and “Snake Eyes” on Amazon. And you can get alerts of new posts by following me on Twitter, Facebook, or on this blog. Cheers!

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

My Notes on Mumford and Sons's "Snake Eyes"

  • Anonymous

    A reference to the Fall (Genesis 3) perhaps?

    • Woah. Okay, I’ll admit my mind is slightly blown by that idea. Suuh-weet. Okay, question then, how do you explain the “fall again” part since the “Fall” was the only one and what does Mumford mean by “we had it tonight”? Other than that, I could see some pretty easy parallels throughout. Nice!

      • Anonymous

        The ‘fall again’ could be original sin – once Adam and Eve ‘fell’ they sinned again and again, and so do all humans. In ‘we had it tonight’ it could be the absolution, so humans are seeking what they had (before the fall) and also can have by repentance, but they seek it in the wrong places – absolving shame/guilt through means such as drinking instead of salvation. Ties in with some of your points above. Only Marcus knows dust he truly meant!

        • True that. How I wish to interview him! Thanks for the explanation and sorry for the delay in replying. Just got back from my honeymoon. 🙂

  • Janis

    I think one of them is cheating. The fall is falling in love. That is why they seek absolution and compromise truth. The watertight excuse is that they can’t leave their mate because that is their “love divine.” The stakes remain too high to leave their primary relationship.

    • Hmmm, yes, that would explain a lot of why he feels like he lost in his “gamble” on her. But I think Mumford will leave the relationship now. Do you think they’ll keep trying?

  • JA

    This, sir, is about alcoholism, or some other substance abuse.

    • There are a few parts that I could expect to substantiate that–like the shake and lonely itch. But what about the love divine comment? I’d like to hear more.

      • JA

        You hold it, in your hands
        And let it flow, this cruelty ~~~~~ the power to resist is not physical, but mental. The addiction is a cruel mistress…
        Of youth as you fall again ~~~~~ you fail to resist, and fall again, again, and again
        Alone, In the compromise of truth ~~~~~ rationalize that it is not a problem, rather a good time, but the truth is evident if not muted from your mind.
        It’s in the eyes – perhaps a metaphor to the visual beverage of which a lonely alcoholic is staring or coming to terms with.
        I can tell, you will always be danger ~~~~~~ the underlying danger remains a splinter in the conscious. In the moments when he/she is most honest to themselves, this is the thought.
        We had it tonight, why do you leave it open?

        And the stakes remain too high
        For this silent mind
        And the shake, the lonely itch ~~~~~ the urge returns
        That courses down my spine

        To leave a love divine ~~~~~~ the drinking and happiness, the divine love, are intertwined. The back and forth.
        Don’t leave a love divine

        It’s a water tight excuse

        It’s in the eyes
        I can tell, you will always be danger
        We had it tonight, why do we always seek absolution? ~~~~~ Anger at loss of control and attempts at trying to release the guilt that is attached to the addiction.
        It’s in the eyes
        I can tell you will always be danger
        How does the earth around your feet
        Just slip away?
        And abandon, that greets you in the night ~~~~~~~ Again…
        With snake eyes, the most precious kind

        It’s in the eyes!
        I can tell, you will always be danger!
        We had it tonight! Why do we always seek absolution?
        It’s in the eyes!
        I can tell you will always be danger!

        • Interesting argument for sure! Why the “snake eyes” then? (Thanks for explaining btw. That looks like it took a while.) Fiancee April wonders if maybe the snake eyes has to do with gambling in conjunction with the alcoholism/substance abuse? Or maybe is the whole thing about gambling?

  • Lisa

    Ok I am going to put a spin on this~Not directing towards his own feelings but as to a person or a couple in an abusive relationship. Maybe? Either way its an awesome song!!!

    • That fits pretty well, but how do you explain the “love divine” part? An abusive relationship couldn’t be described like that–that’s my big question. What do you think?

  • number1spot

    WOW.. you completely missed the message of this song.

    • Well, we can’t all bat 100%. Care to argue your point, and we’ll compare notes?

  • Nathan Kellert

    ‘“How does the earth around your feet / Just slip away?” These lines suggest a supernatural quality to the woman’s beauty. The rest of the world slipping away is a common way.’

    I wanted to offer a little different perspective of this line. In many songs Marcus very much favors the idea of remaining grounded and being down to earth. This is extremely present(if not the entire point) in the song “Below My Feet”.

    The full line(if you read it like a sentence) is ” How does the earth around your feet just slip away, and abandon what greets you in the night with snake eyes? The most precious kind.”. This suggests that he is becoming delusional and mesmerized by her and beginning to equate being with her and being grounded as the same thing. “The most precious kind”(referencing her snake eyes) suggests that he now also has been deceived into thinking that her behavior and what kind of person she is, is what he wants.

    To share a personal perspective of what this whole song represents. These are all behaviors of serial monogamists, those that cannot stand being alone. They tend to get into relationships as quickly as possible regardless if that kind of person is good for them or not. When faced with the fact of a bad relationship they tend to allow themselves to become delusional and ignore the things the other person does in order to mentally constitute staying in the relationship. When they do build the courage to leave the relationship they tend to immediately question themselves and begin to put them on a pedestal so to speak about how they could have left something so wonderful. Being with that person, to them, is a whole lot better than being alone after they have left. Not saying thats 100% what this songs about, but these urges do tend to crop up in many of his songs. Id be interested in hearing if anyone else finds that to be a common trend.