This coming-of-age track shatters the adolescent Marling's illusions about her idols. The rock singer she once loved "lost poetic ethic" and "he's a failure now." The god she once worshipped is no longer her savior: "If he made me in his image, then he's a failure, too." But the singer doesn't let the hardships define her. She encourages: "Don't cry, child, you've got so much more to live for."
Marling told Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters) that this was the first song she ever wrote and completed. "Damning words," she said of the lyrics about God. "There were some pretty terrible ones following that... they're full of teenage rage and they're quite funny, I suppose. I remember writing 'Failure' at the piano on the guitar at my parents' house and my dad hearing me do it and going, 'That's good.' I remember thinking, 'I'm doing good.' I can't remember the process of writing it."
The album title comes from an Iranian poem called There's a Boy Across the River but Alas I Cannot Swim. Marling says her godfather brought it to her attention while they were discussing "the relationship between early Christian writing and Greek mythology and the beginning of Western literature and how they contradict each other."