Friday, March 25, 2011

Why You Must Listen to Mumford & Sons #8

Reason #8 - Timshel

Complete with an allusion to Steinbeck's East of Eden, Timshel revisits the themes first introduced in the title track Sigh No More and the full narrative of the album which is unveiled in The Cave.

Many of the tracks use metaphors and allusions to speak broadly about life. In contrast, Timshel is about a women in a very specific situation. We will get to that shortly.
To understand the meaning of Timshel, you must first read the following excerpt from John Steinbeck's East of Eden:
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation [of the Bible] orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.
Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.
This understanding of Timshel provides an excellent lens to understand the womans situation, which is brought to light in the second verse:
And you are the mother,
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
We see a mother is in the midst of a significant Sigh of Life. The coldness and loss of innocence gives context to her desperate and painful situation. She is confronted with the choice to have an abortion (or possibly to put her child up for adoption). This is a Timshel moment, a life choice of paramount proportions.

As we in East of Eden, choices in life are not a legalistic "Do thou", or a predetermined "Thou Shalt", rather the glorious "Thou mayest". The choice to choose Love, Truth, and the way of the Maker.

But the allusion to East of Eden goes even deeper. In regard to these life choices, the end of the second verse ("And these are what make man great; His ladder to the stars") are the thinly veiled words of Steinbeck himself ("Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods").

The refrain brings us back to one of the major hopeful themes of the album - the fellowship of brotherly love first seen in the refrain of The Cave (But I will hold on hope; And I won't let you choke; On the noose around your neck). She would be choking on the weight of her circumstances, but she is not alone. She is in community with those who love her - the only way we can hope to weather the Sighs of Life.

by Mumford and Sons

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

But I will tell the night
And Whisper, "Lose your sight"
But I can't move the mountains for you

Don't forget to check out all the reasons to listen to Mumford & Sons:

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...

What do you make of the last three lines?

DK said...

I think the last 3 lines are getting back to the Timshel idea, that even with the support of those around us, it only goes so far because one ultimately owns their own choices.

The whisper to the night might be something analogous to a prayer. Not so sure about the "lose your sight" bit. Maybe something relating to faith? That would make sense because the idea of faith is a pretty strong connotation to moving mountains. Any thoughts?

Anna said...

The lose your sight bit doesn't make any sense to me. I agree that the last line reaffirms the individuality of choice, as it were.

DK said...

If faith is believing without seeing than "losing your sight" could be similar to gaining your faith; in this case faith to trust the Maker's plan and not abort the child.

Anna said...

seems like quite a stretch, but it's not like i have some other feel for it.

Kelvin said...

Can I just say that I've been reading all your explanations of the lyrics of this album and I think you're simply great.What if he was talking about Adam and Eve here? The first verse could have been to Adam, then the second to Even just after they were sent out of the garden. Cold is the water and it freezes your already cold mind. Adam finds he now has to rely on natural water of the earth, his mind is already cold because of the pain of leaving Eden. Death is at your doorstep(if you eat of that tree you shall surely die). It will steal your innocence but not your substance(You're still something, still made in the image of God). Then to Eve, the angels said You're the mother of your baby child(maybe the child is sin-she gave it life-or maybe it could be her physical children sometime after the fall).You have your choices, what make man great(The angels themselves don't have choices, they were created to obey). The choices are also their ladder back to the stars from whence they came. The last three line then are the angels assuring them that they'll try hard to keep the darkness of the night from finding them but also that the couple have to hold on to faith in God to move mountains.