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…
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.
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.
In 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.
Verse 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
of 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:
- Tompkins Square Park
- The Wolf
- Wilder Mind
- Just Smoke
- Snake Eyes
- Broad-Shouldered Beasts
- Cold Arms
- Only Love
- Hot Gates