Why “Wild Roses” is a Song of Positivity and Empathy

My submission to the songs of positivity and empathy playlist was “Wild Roses,” from Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men’s third album Fever Dream. I personally loved this album, even as it departed somewhat from the band’s style in their first two albums, which you probably knew if you read my review of it in the Trapeze last semester. “Wild Roses” happens to be my favorite song on that album. However, it’s not an obviously cheery song like some of the other songs on the playlist, and so I’d like to explain why I picked it, other than just liking it. And maybe do a little bit of line-by-line music poetry analysis, too. The song’s exact meaning is a little vague, but I’ll be talking about the general sense I get from it.

(Go listen to the song before you read if you’re at all interested.)

Wild roses on a bed of leaves in the month of May

I think I wrote my own pain

Oh, don’t you?

This line is an interesting way to open the song. “Wild roses” are an important metaphorical symbol in the song, perhaps representing sweetness or peace in a natural sense, but they’re also not, which is important. The word “wild” here is definitely somehow relevant, and I think it is referring to the speaker; they may appear nice, but there’s an edge, a neurosis that’s eating them up somehow, perhaps? I’ll get back to roses. “I think I wrote my own pain” suggests that the speaker is suffering and brought it upon themselves somehow, which isn’t exactly a message of positivity, although I’m sure we all can empathize with that.

Down by the creek, I couldn’t sleep so I followed a feelin’

Sounds like the vines, they are breathing

Even though the speaker is tormented, nature is at peace elsewhere, and this gives them some solace. This is part of why I consider this song to be one of positivity: not unbridled light, but light within darkness. But it’s a little too early in the song for me to be generalizing a theme.

And I’ve seen the way the seasons change when I just give it time

But I feel out of my mind all the time

Things do get better and the world does go on if we give it time, but it isn’t easy to do that. The speaker feels trapped in their neuroses and struggles, like it’s never going to get better.

In the night I am wild-eyed, and you got me now

This line is the first time we’ve heard of someone other than the speaker, as well as the reuse of the word “wild.” The speaker is evidently going through a dark time, which the night may be a symbol for, but there is someone here to help.

Oh, roses, they don’t mean a thing, you don’t understand

But why don’t we full on pretend?

Oh, won’t you?

“That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.” So goes the famous line from Romeo and Juliet, and I think there’s definitely a loose connection there. Much like Juliet questioned the utility or necessity of the word “rose,” the speaker questions their utility as a metaphorical concept. Roses don’t mean anything. They’re just flowers. We assign symbolic purpose to them as heralds of beauty and romance, but there’s nothing that really makes a rose romantic beyond smelling nice. Mentioning how roses don’t really mean anything is a bold choice in a not otherwise especially deconstructive song named after roses, but it’s the next line that intrigues me. “But why don’t we full on pretend?” Sure, roses don’t mean anything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend they do. Ultimately, the speaker just wants someone to engage in this pretending with them.

Before I closed my eyes I saw a moth in the sky

And I wish I could fly that high

Oh, don’t you?

Humans can’t actually fly above the clouds like insects and birds can. Not without heavy equipment or vehicles, anyway. Flying is the quintessential fantastical dream of humankind, and like the previous lines imply, the speaker wants to make-believe, to wish for better things even in their dark state.

A serpent on a bed of leaves in the month of May

What do you want me to say?

Rather than wild roses, the speaker now refers to themselves as a serpent, often associated with evil or sin in many different religious and cultural traditions (which is totally unfair; snakes are cool, y’all). “What do you want me to say?” implies that they are acknowledging their perceived “evil”; the speaker is filled with some amount of self-loathing, and has no good response to it.

You keep me still when all I feel is an aimless direction
When I think I’m losin’ connection
I see you

Despite the alienation and despair the speaker may be feeling, however, the person they are speaking to is still there for them, no matter what.

In the night I am wild-eyed, and you got me now

Dim the lights, we are wild-eyed, and you got me now

The pre-chorus repeats here, but with a change: “we are wild-eyed.” Not only is the speaker’s friend still here for them, no matter what, the song also acknowledges that both of them are wild-eyed. Both people have their own struggles, but the important thing is that they’re there for each other.

Repeat chorus and pre-chorus.

So, what was the point of that little sojourn? I suppose my point was that “Wild Roses” is not a simply happy song, but it is an optimistic one, and ultimately kind of existential in its message. Nothing has inherent meaning, and we all struggle in a world beyond our abilities, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be there for each other, acknowledge each other’s plights, and “pretend” — assign our own meanings, try to fly anyway. That’s the best we can do in an existential world, and there’s a certain optimism and beauty in that.

One thought on “Why “Wild Roses” is a Song of Positivity and Empathy

  1. Finn, this is a full-on explication — a great walkthrough the song/poem. You pull out the dimensions of the metaphors and allusions incredibly well.

    Listening to the song on repeat as I read your post and make this comment. I’m not a huge fan of Of Monsters and Men — although I’ve liked a few of their songs here and there. Your reading of this one, though, definitely elevates it. I’m hearing the poetry.

    Like

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