Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why You Must Listen to Mumford & Sons #6

 Reason #6: I Gave You All

I'm back after a month long fast from blogging but I am still deeply committed to finishing my interpretive analysis of the album Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons.

If you haven't been following every post this far, and don't want to start at the beginning, I would recommend reading my post on The Cave to understand the central movement of how I am interpreting the album.

I Gave You All is another song I find many labeling as a "break up song". It's not, though I confess it was my initial interpretation as well.

We can't leave out lyrics that are inconsistent to our initial interpretation. I find myself applying interpretive templates to songs in order to easily make sense of, and relate to them. In this case, when we confront what appears to be inconsistencies, and allow these to redefine our simplistic assumptions, we find there is a very rich and profound meaning to this song.

First and foremost I Gave You All is a lament.

And because the narrator has not found resolution to his struggle, we are entering in to an immense amount of internal conflict. We see this conflict in the repeated contradiction between the versus and the refrain. The narrator repeatedly claims to have given his all in the refrain, all the while confessing his guilt in the versus.

We begin in a reflective state, which slowly builds to confusion and frustration.
Rip the earth in two with your mind
Seal the urge which ensues with brass wires
I never meant you any harm
But your tears feel warm as they fall on my forearm

I close my eyes for a while
And force from the world a patient smile

How can you say that your truth is better than ours?
Shoulder to shoulder, now brother, we carry no arms
The blind man sleeps in the doorway, his home
If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won

But I gave you all

I close my eyes for a while
And force from the world a patient smile

But I gave you all
He's realizing his past in guilt ridden, having unwittingly hurt those around him through his indifference. But he has deluded others, even himself, into believing he has given his all. We know he is after Truth, but now when Truth is painful he is challenging it's validity. The repeated refrain reveals his bitterness, in a sense refusing to confront his shortcomings.
And you rip it from my hands
And you swear it's all gone
And you rip out all I have
Just to say that you've won
But now it has been exposed, like a child with a piece of stolen candy in his pocket. The sham is up, he hasn't given his all. The thing he had refused to give up has been taken. Simply put, I believe this is comfort - a self centered posture in life, not allowing his heart to be vulnerable to those around him.

He is angry and bitter, as the song builds to a climax, spitefully shouting "you've won, and it hurts to be wrong!"
Well now you've won!

But I gave you all...
We saw that his guilt has been exposed from the first verse, yet in the final lines of the song we still hear him repeating his claim of ignorance. Life was easier when he was able to live in the delusion that he had given his all, while still standing back from a safe distance. But now that he has been exposed (to himself more importantly then to others) there's no going back.

If we are willing to allow the rest of the album to provide context to our interpretation of this song then the "you" that he lied about giving his all too is a providential God who's Truth, or ways, are greater then his. The narrator has been humbled by his lack of dependence and submission to God.

God asks us for our all, and how often do we sing in worship that we are giving our all. Our brokenness runs so deep, we routinely follow destructive patterns without even realizing it. As conviction of this reality runs deeper, it often means letting go of things we never knew we were holding so tightly. As one grapples with this, a frustrated lament is a natural response to the hurt of being humbled.

The end has no shiny resolution with a pretty red bow. While it seems that's hard for our culture to swallow, its okay. It's a reality many of us find ourselves in more often then we are willing to admit. This is a lament that can help us to express our frustration while working through it.

Reason #1: Sigh No More
Reason #2: The Cave
Reason #3: Winter Winds
Reason #4: Roll Away Your Stone
Reason #5: White Blank Page
Reason #6: I Gave You All
Reason #7: Little Lion Man
Reason #8: Timshel


Anna said...

I got a different sense from this song. That someone said something to him, accusing him - my guess would be along the lines of telling him he needed to be Christian. The accuser is thus setting up the world (ripping the earth) into two, Christian and not, even though the singer never meant any harm. And the singer tries to force a patient smile in response. But the anger mounts - 'how can you say your truth is better than ours' - with a sort of look at the beggars around you thought. And he *means* 'I gave you all', and he's pissed that this person will rip away the truth that he (the singer) has inside, in order to 'win', to be self-congratulatory.

I'm not sure if I'm capturing my thoughts very well, but there you go.

Anna said...

to clarify.... the singer gave the truth he had, gave it all, and the other one said it was nothing, that it was 'all gone'. 'truth' doesn't capture it quite right, i'd say it was more than just a thought or belief about what the truth was, but something a little like that.

DK said...

Great thoughts to chew on. I particularly like how you make sense of ripping the earth into two.

It also makes sense of the line "If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won". Saying if he would have cared more about the argument he could have won the argument.

Any thoughts on how it fits into the context of the rest of the album?

Anna said...

In the songs you have put up, it seems to me that there is this theme of love helping move someone from thinking of themselves as a failure, a nothing, to being the man they were made to be. Themes of love helping you be a better man, of things getting better, of recognizing the truth inside about who you really are. This song is like someone trying to rip all that revelation and betterment away. A similar theme that I see in Roll Away Your Stone.

DK said...

That is why I am rather fond of keeping everything within the context of the whole album, and not evaluating them as individual songs. Together they construct a much more solid foundation.

But I also feel like a very important theme of the album is raw honesty about the human experience. Don't we often live in moments where the revelation of love and truth is absent?

Anna said...

I'm not sure where you're going with that question. Could you put some more context on it?

DK said...

I thought you were saying that it is wrong that within the song the revelation developed in other songs is being ripped away. My response was saying it's not wrong, it's just honest.

But as I reread your comment, I'm pretty sure I was misinterpreting what you were saying. Because now I totally agree with what you said. :)

Anna said...

Ah, I was not saying that the revelation in other songs is ripped out of this song, I was saying that the revelations spoken of in other songs is what the singer in this song feels the accuser is trying to rip away from him, and so he is reacting with anger and hanging on to the revelation. Make more sense? (My sentences keep being choppy b/c typing one-handed with baby in other hand. It's a chronic condition for me. ) :)

DK said...

Ya totally. I love that perspective on this song.

That's pretty talented one handed typing. ;)

Stephanie said...

Great analysis. This is definitely one of my most recent favorites.

Anonymous said...

WOWOWOWOW. I absolutely love this. I've always loved M&S and recently I've been dissecting their lyrics. TOTALLY Christian-based. I absolutely love it. They are spreading the Truth without their listeners knowing it. Actually, an atheist reviewer noted that he can't stand M&S anymore because they worship a "fairy"... and very militant comments were left, saying how M&S should be labeled as Christian to avoid accidental listening. It's sad, really.

Anyways, I see this song as talking to an ex, who was atheist. Also, "Winter Winds" can be related to that topic as well. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

"I gave you all" is a line that refers to King Lear's response to Goneril and Regan when they betray him and try to get him to let go of all his knights in the midst of his own danger. They do this even though they know it is bad for him and even though King Lear treated them quite well. Despite this the ladies still stab him in the back and refuse to house him unless he gets rid of all his knights due to their vanity and greediness. In response he shouts to Regan "I gave you all" to which she cuts him off and snippily replies to the effect of "And it was about damn time you did too!".

That's why I think this song is more about an argument with someone the singer treated well and was dealt a low blow in return. Perhaps this argument centered around a disagreement about the binary nature of morality and social alignment (good people vs. bad people and christians vs. non-christians) as another commenter suggested. This does not necessarily go against any possibility that the musicians might be christians themselves. Rather it's frustration with bigotry no matter the source.

Anonymous said...

* I mean an argument over whether morality and good people or bad people is at all binary.