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Transcendentalism in Mumford and Sons Essay

The era of transcendentalism is filled with a new way of thinking. A way that provokes a man’s inner thoughts and encourages them to be set free, and expressed to those around him. A step further from the previous movement of Romanticism, Transcendentalist writers expresses this sense of individuality in their works, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as many more. Emerson’s literature lives to inspire individuals to transcend- to rise above, to pass beyond limits. Though there is no direct relation between Marcus Mumford, writer of the song “Sigh No More”, and Emerson, the song clearly reflects this, a common thought of transcendentalist thinkers.

A good portion of what Transcendentalist thinkers were trying to get across is that you don’t have to be afraid of what’s going to happen if you speak out, or go against the flow of society, all you really need to worry about is being who you are, because without that, you will never truly know what you were put on this earth to be. Marcus Mumford says in his song , “Love; it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free, be more like the man you were made to be.”

If you don’t go out into the world wearing your heart on your sleeve, your life is pointless, and you can never know why you think the way you think, or why you are whom you are, and more importantly, you can never amount to anything significant. Ralph Waldo Emerson says in ‘Self Reliance’, “The power which resides in man is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried” (533). This line is nearly a direct translation to Mumford’s line, in the way that, both artists are trying to get one common point across to the audience, and that is that you need to be yourself to fully experience the things around you, nothing is holding you back but yourself.

Mankind, in both transcendentalist thinking and the song, is portrayed as a happy, joyful, deeply suggestible, highly emotional thing that is created to connect with other people of similar interests. When Mumford says in his song, “But man is a giddy thing”, its almost as if he’s trying to remind the audience that man was not made to live everyday with the boring flow that society has created, but to put some enjoyment back into their life. Emerson says in ‘Self-Reliance’, “What must I do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness (536). Emerson is reasoning that listening to others is not going to make you happy, for that is a trait that only you yourself will ever posses.

In essence, the song really is just talking about the more you love, the more of a man you will be. Man was created. We are made to be and exist. But what is one thing every man has in common? We all have the ability to love and be loved, true, selfless, pure, and sacrificial love. The more we love, not just in an emotional way like in a relationship, in the little ways in life, the more human and alive we are. It helps us fulfill our potential as a person because it was what we were made to do. That’s essentially what Emerson was talking about in ‘Self- Reliance’, that man was made to stand out, and love, and be different, so anything less would be a disgrace to the God who made us.

In the first line of “Sigh No More” Mumford says “Serve God, love thee and men.” While transcendentalism shies away from the idea of God being the center of all lives, it still realizes that He is an important figure, and many, like in the song, believe He is still one that man should love and look to in times of need. Emerson says, “It needs a divine man to exhibit anything divine” (Self-Reliance, 533). This means that man needs God in their life to do anything truly great, and that with His help, anything is possible. While avoiding going back to full-on Puritan beliefs, Emerson finds a way to make it clear to the audience that a Godly figure is important in everyone’s life.

Works Cited
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self Reliance.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter 7th ed. Ed. Baym, Nina. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 2008. 532-550. Print. Mumford and Sons. “Sigh No More.” Sigh No More. Island, Glassnote. 2009


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