Cold Arms is a song of pain and sorrow, which isn’t anything new to Wilder Mind but this song asks a tough question and shows what may be the difficult-to-live-with wrong answer. Marcus Mumford and the band play this song slowly and mournfully, a strummed electric guitar ringing out just enough melody to highlight the sadness of what is being said. “Cold Arms” goes beyond the other songs on the album in its attempt to be truly honest and vulnerable with its audience.
An interesting aspect of “Cold Arms” is the ease with which one can sing along with it, and doing so, oddly enough, feels confessional and cleansing. The lyrics are about a man who told a woman he loved her without meaning it. His words have brought them together, but the words were empty, so the two end the song together in a bad situation, not really loving each other and simply keeping up a ruse they both know is false.

“The Meaning”

The song’s story begins in the midst of chaos. Mumford sings, “Weekend wreckers take the strains / With abandon in their eyes.” This seems to be a reference to wild partying happening in the streets below Mumford and his lover, perhaps on a Friday, while those two are “in [their] bedroom.” They’re “bloodshot and beat,” suggesting either that they retired from the partying themselves or that they’ve been drinking alcohol or crying. The word “beat” could refer to them having had sex or having argued-both highly emotional activities. Whatever the activity, it’s left them feeling “alive,” a liveliness likely brought about by pain.

Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Album CoverMumford begins his confession in the chorus, a confession that suggests the feeling of being alive may not be enough for him to feel love for her. He sings, “And I know what’s on your mind / God knows I put it there.” Mumford doesn’t make clear what this thing is, and the meaning of the song seems to revolve around it. A likely guess is that he told the woman that he loved her.

Whatever he said, he didn’t completely mean it or now, at least, wishes to take it back. He sings, “But if I took it back / Well you’d be nowhere / You’d be nowhere again.” Apparently, he can take it back, so what he said either wasn’t true or wasn’t completely accurate. Unfortunately, he’s afraid of changing it because doing so will leave this girl “nowhere again,” and he doesn’t want to hurt her. Perhaps when he told her that he loved her, he took her away somewhere and pulled her up out of a bad situation, whether emotional or physical in nature. And a refutation of love may be something that she’s experienced before and been hurt by.

In the second verse, he sings, “Now look at you all torn up / I left you waiting to bleed.” She’s already damaged and vulnerable. She’s been here before and knows what he’s about to say because she’s had it said to her before. But Mumford changes his mind: “I guess the truth works two ways.” He knows the truth can set a person free and it can also hurt a person, or, in this case, send the girl back to the place she was. In the second line, Mumford concludes that “[m]aybe the truth’s not what we need.” He decides to suppress the truth.

They stay together that night, her lying in his “cold arms.” Their feelings of being “alive” have melted away, leaving them feeling more “dead” than anything else. She doesn’t “sleep” and her “fear beats,” and he has gone cold. But despite all of this, as Mumford sings, “In my cold arms / You stay.” No matter how terrible the situation, she wants the little comfort Mumford can provide, and he’s will to give it to avoid hurting her, leaving them both sad and alone, living under the pretenses of an imaginary love.

Marcus Mumford ScreenshotThe Progression

The story told in this song demonstrates a sharp contrast between death and life. The song begins with the two feeling “alive” amidst a world of chaos and “abandon.” But by the chorus, they’ve both become thoughtful, Mumford thinking about what he’s caused this girl to believe (or at least said to her-she doesn’t seem to believe these sorts of things anymore) and the girl thinking that she’s about to be let down again. She’s “waiting to bleed” knowing that if this relationship goes as others have, she’ll soon be cast aside.

But Mumford subverts the normal progression; he hides the truth and lets the girl stay. Because she hasn’t been told to leave, she doesn’t. She and Mumford continue spending the night together, unfulfilled and uncertain of what will happen.

Even though Mumford tries to not hurt her, she’s still not able to find rest in his arms, and she’s still afraid. Would the right decision have been to tell the truth and to let her go?

What do you think “Cold Arms” is about? Was Mumford’s decision right? And the BIG question: What do you think Mumford said to the woman??? I really do need help on this one. 

If you’d like to continue listening to “Cold Arms” or Wilder Mindyou can find them both on Amazon. And you can continue to get alerts about new posts through Twitter, through Facebook, and here on the blog. Thanks for reading!

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
  • Daniel H.

    I think Cold Arms is actually abut Mumford telling the girl the truth about some aspect of herself that she didn’t want to hear, and that truth hurt both of them, but ultimately, they are still committed to their relationship even if they have little warmth for each other at the moment. This one shows the hope in a strong relationship even at the lowest points, and the ultimate need for honesty to grow closer even if it causes pain in the short term.

    • Hmm that’s one way of looking at it. Doesn’t the last few lines feel a little pessimistic and dark for that though? Thanks for sharing too!

      • Daniel H.

        I can see it both ways really, just thought that might be another way of looking at it!

    • I think you’re right. It’s a couple which has had a fight or an emotional argument where he told her a cold, hard truth about herself or their relationship which she doesn’t want to accept yet. When you have such an argument with someone you’re both likely “bloodshot and beat” because it’s hard to go to sleep or be at peace when you’re upset and hurting. And they’re “never so alive” because it’s when you face the stark truth and stop lying to yourself and others that you are really living.

      If he took it back then they’d be back to nowhere because there would be a lie between them, because they can’t move forward until she faces this. That’s why she’s “all torn up” (emotionally, not physically, but manifesting physically in her demeanor). He left her “waiting to bleed” in that he told her this truth and possibly left to let her process it or he spoke it and then was silent so she could “bleed” verbally.

      He says “maybe the truth’s not what we need” but if he took it back they’d be nowhere, so they really do need it.

      The ending: because they are currently separated by this truth she cannot find peace or comfort (only, perhaps, “cold comfort”) in his arms at this point. Her fear is the fear of this truth, of what it means for their lives, for her. But I think there’s hope.

      • Sadly i think it speaks to how sometimes we just think the truth will solve everything for us when sometimes there’s a little bit more repercussion to deal with.

  • Karen

    The song doesn’t actually reveal that the protagonist is talking about a woman, but let’s assume anyways.

    What’s on her mind? – Fear.

    This is revealed at the end of the song, where we also learn that the woman is afraid to sleep, with fear in her heart and not able to leave.

    This might suggest that the protagonist is an abusive partner or that he has solved a conflict with violence (perhaps she wanted to leave him).

    “Weekend wreckers take the streets, with abandon in their eyes”
    He is talking of himself in the third person. He is the weekend wrecker, who’s mind goes numb.

    “But in our bedroom we’re bloodshot and beat, and never so alive”
    He is exhausted after exhorting to violence, yet he feels very much alive. She is “beat” and fearful, so also vey much “alive”.

    “And I know what’s on your mind, God knows I put it there”
    He knows she fears him, he put fear into her mind.

    “But if I took it back, we’d be nowhere, you’d be nowhere again”
    He has solved the conflict with violence, he cannot go back, because he will lose the control he has gained over her.

    “Now look at you all torn up, I left you waiting to bleed”
    Perhaps very literally speaking.

    “I guess the truth works two ways, maybe the truth’s not what we need”
    Maybe she had an affair to hurt him. At any rate whatever she has done to him, he is dealing back and ignores the issue.

    “But in my cold arms, you don’t sleep. In my cold arms, your fear beats. In my cold arms, you stay”.
    She was leaving him, but after he has filled her with fear and now has control over her and she is not going to leave him.

    • Woah, you’re super thorough. Karen, this is a pretty legit explanation. What happens if the protagonist isn’t a woman?

  • Hey there,
    I really liked your interpretation! Thank you.
    However, one note – “I left you waiting to bleed,” in my mind, may very well mean that as he left her (to go on tour?), they were concerned about her possibly being pregnant…. Just a thought!

    • Thanks for the compliment! And thanks for the tip. I can see that being the case when it comes to that line. But the rest of the song leaves me in a little bit of doubt. Of course, I think there’s a convincing argument that could be made for it. Good ear. :)

  • I think you’re completely right. I really like this song, especially the lyrics: somehow I realized, that my ex must felt like this for some reason. So it helps me somehow to get over him and actually at one point I really felt like this too, we both just couln’t tell eachother that it was over and that was more painful than anything else.

    • Very understandable. Sometimes, things just don’t work, and Mumford seems to feel terrible about that in this song. Hopefully things are going better for you now. :)

  • Anonymous

    Gr8 info worth checking out

  • M.lijn

    Though hesitant to post this reply, it has me haunted for months….

    My interpretation is that this couple has grown up from the adolescent phase to the committing/adult phase? The weekend wreckers are the (young) people that party every weekend (debutante’s balls but then modern times; generally youngsters trying to find their partner)- however the singer describes that he is in a relationship, thus beyond the weekend wreckers stage. He forms a couple (thus committed) and they are at home, in their bedroom. They have entered the next stage of their lives and the woman ( I assume this is a young heterosexual couple) has expressed the desire to start a family (hence the hint to never so alive). Usually the female biological clock ticks before the male’s… he mentions the weekend wreckers (males usually think more fondly of their time being single and dating)- she probably is more concerned with the current state ‘I left you waiting to bleed’ (if menstruation occurs (on her mind!) they will not start the so desired family and next stage of their existence), but the truth works 2 ways= maybe he is not really ready?

    • Interesting interpretation, M. Thanks for sharing! That’s a really interesting interpretation that I wouldn’t have thought of. Thanks for sharing!

  • Julie

    The passive aggressive violence aspect is definitely present in the this song in my point of view and I agree with all your ideas about this song by the way! I believe that maybe this song might be about a person who got stuck in a relation with someone who needs to show control for whatever reasons… the singer is empathetic by nature and believed that with time, he could change her (or him). With time, he realized that he’s causing more harm than good to both of them and refers to himself as the “cold one” because knows the best course of action would be to leave but prefer to keep the lie live longer for lack of self-esteem and fear. Just a feeling…

    • Thanks, Julie! You’re pretty good at this–you should sign up for my song interpreting team on the right hand sidebar. :)

  • Aaron Young

    The way you painted the imagery of them in their bedroom at night, cold, alone, and distant even though they are right next to each other really seems to parallel the end of the short story “The Dead” by James Joyce from his book The Dubliners, and after the way Mumford drew inspiration from literature for his song “The Cave” in the band’s opening album, I can’t help but wonder if it’s on purpose. “The Dead” depicts characters Gabriel and Gretta Conroy going to a party one night (parallel to this song’s opening) and describes their “relationship” as cold and distant. At the end of the story, once the couple is back at their hotel room, Gretta tells the story of her youthful love, Michael Furey, and Gabriel realizes that he has never loved Gretta the way that Furey did, nor has Gretta loved Gabriel the way she loved Furey. The story ends as they spend the cold winter night together in each other’s cold arms, both realizing that their relationship lacks love. I’m sure you can see the parallels to your explanation of this song.