Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
- The poem continues to zoom out to a more and more general setting, this time taking us from the watchtower to the growling of a wildcat in the distance.
- However, we're still hearing this menacing sound from the perspective of the people in the watchtower. This sound might herald the end of the party: the end of all that wine-drinking and earth-plowing.
- However, it would be one thing if an enemy army were approaching in the distance: at least they would be prepared for that.
- But the growl is totally foreign to human speech or intentions.
- Do the people in the watchtower even notice or think anything of this sound? Maybe, or maybe they're too wrapped up in their life of luxury to hear the apocalyptic warning in the distance.
- Finally, the wildcat is an iconic image of American nature and the West especially. So, while some other verses have suggested a setting in Biblical times, the wildcat hints at a rugged American landscape.
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
- More ominous signs.
- The two riders on horseback have a Biblical parallel in the four horsemen who bring about the end of the world – the apocalypse – in the Book of Revelation.
- It's probably the joker and the thief, but we don't know their relation to the city being protected by the watchtower.
- Maybe they're messengers bringing back news of the fall of Babylon and the end of idolatry, or the worship of false gods, like in the Biblical passage that helped inspire the song.
- Or maybe they're prophets of doom, and the city being protected by the watchtower is Babylon, about to be destroyed for its worship of money and pleasure.
- The world has suddenly become chaotic and confusing, with the wind howling and kicking up dust and debris.
- If the song were to go on, we might see the people in the watchtower scramble back into their houses as their lounge chairs, outdoor umbrellas, and platters of fancy food and wine all get knocked over by the ferocious wind.