I’m the word geek here at That Green Hen, sometimes more focused on lyrics than the music. My favorite songwriters weave literature references into their songs, and knowing their references increases my appreciation of their work. From time to time, the English major in me will work her way out and decide to analyze a song or two on the blog. Please feel free to share you insights.
Today let’s talk about Mumford and Sons. The best example of literary allusion, to my mind, is their song “The Cave.”
The title references Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which describes the non-thinking society as people in a cave, looking at the shadows on the wall and not realizing a world outside their experience makes those shadows. Plato invited his readers to challenge assumptions and look at the “real life” around them. (Gary Greg has an excellent article on this song.) Lyrics such as “So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the maker’s hand” invite the listener to break out of unchallenged thinking and follow the writer’s choice “To live my life as it’s meant to be.” They also work in a Homeric reference to the Sirens, those sea nymphs who lured unsuspecting sailors to death with their lovely song in The Odyssey (quick side factoid–the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” is also based on the Odyssey). In order to pass through their territory, Odysseus had his crew stop their ears with wax and chain him to the ship’s mast so the ship could not be compelled to head into the Sirens’ grasp. In the song, the lyrics express being true to your personal calling rather than following the temptations of other people’s plans for you.
These are the two most obvious literary references in the song–did I miss any?