Chesterton & Mumford (& Sons)

May 30, 2012

Tonight my wife and I were listening to “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons, and I was struck by a section of the song that I hadn’t much noted before. Mumford sings:

Come out of the cave walking on your hands
See the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand

That bit about walking upside down from a cave tugged at my sleeve, and set me scrambling through the Chesterton section of the bookshelf. Sure enough, there is a passage in his book on St. Francis of Assisi in which one finds the following, in connection with a discussion of Francis’ conversion:

Francis, at the time or somewhere about the time when he disappeared into the prison or the dark cavern, underwent a reversal of a certain psychological kind; which was really like the reversal of a complete somersault, in that by coming full circle it came back, or apparently came back, to the same normal posture. It is necessary to use the grotesque simile of an acrobatic antic, because there is hardly any other figure that will make the fact clear. But in the inward sense it was a profound spiritual revolution. The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again; in that sense he was almost as different as if he were dead, as if he were a ghost or a blessed spirit. And the effects of this on his attitude towards the actual world were really as extravagant as any parallel can make them. He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands.

That is rather too close to be a coincidence. And there’s more! A few paragraphs further down one finds this:

… the symbol of inversion is true in another way. If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasise the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hung the world upon nothing.

So we have a cave, walking upside down, dependence, and the Maker, all four elements being also present in the stanza above.

As you can well imagine, I am quite pleased to have stumbled upon this connection. I would be even more pleased if I were the first to have noted it — but, alas, I am not. A little poking around online turns up others who noticed the same thing: here and here, for instance, and here.

It turns out that Marcus Mumford may be something of a Chesterton enthusiast: last year he chose The Outline of Sanity (which I have written about with striking incompetence here) for the “Mumford & Sons book club”, saying that the book changed his life.

Consider this post, then, as my unoriginal contribution to the study of Chesterton’s impact on popular culture. And listen to this song:


9 Responses to “Chesterton & Mumford (& Sons)”

  1. Grumpy Ex Pat Says:

    Very interesting connection! I couldn’t play the video – it says it is SME and not available ‘in your country’ – the USA.

  2. cburrell Says:

    Thanks for the tip, Grumpy. I’ve switched to a different video.

  3. Douglas Says:

    Interesting connection. Google Play has the album on sale for $4 if folks are interested. Your post prompted me to pick it up. Any artist that weaves Chesterton into a song is worth exploring.

  4. cburrell Says:

    Agreed! And that is certainly an attractive price. If I remember correctly, I think I bought my copy from eMusic, where it would have been about the same price.

  5. Mac Says:

    I am in a hotel where they apparently throttle video traffic, so am not able to see/hear this. But that is a pretty striking bit of information. I need to go ahead and buy this album, since it’s been so strongly recommended by you and Rob G and others, and I’ve liked what I’ve heard.

  6. cburrell Says:

    It’s a strong record; you ought to get it.

    Odd that a hotel would throttle internet traffic; maybe your fellow inmates are just hogging the bandwidth.

  7. Mac Says:

    Perhaps, but it seemed to be only videos that were slow–everything else was fine. Maybe they want people paying for movies rather than watching stuff on Netflix and YouTube etc.

  8. Mac Says:

    Good song.

  9. cburrell Says:

    Yes, it has been running through my head all day.

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