"Semper Femina": Evolving with an Artist

Getting older entails shedding the parts of ourselves we’ve outgrown, whether it’s old clothes or haircuts, music tastes, or even stagnant relationships. This process of leaving things behind can be painful, but it is also liberating—by letting go of what we no longer enjoy or benefit from, we have more time to appreciate what’s truly important to us. Perhaps one of most meaningful parts of life, at least in my experience, is the pleasure of growing with the people and things that are dear to us.

I have been listening to my favorite musician, Laura Marling, since 2013, when I was nearing the end of my senior year of high school. Needless to say, it was an angsty time and I was drawn to her lyrics, which were a bit brooding, but in a thoughtful rather than self-pitying way. “Blackberry Stone,” from the album I Speak Because I Can, was the first song of hers I heard, and I was struck immediately how insightful—even wise—her words could be. I soon found out that this album was from 2010, when Marling had just turned twenty years old. Her first album Alas, I Cannot Swim, was released in 2008. As a then seventeen-year-old girl and would-be writer, finding Laura Marling was like finding the role model I never knew I needed.

Since then, as cheesy as it sounds, Laura Marling’s music has been the soundtrack playing in the background of my life. I have been with her for three album releases—Once I Was an Eagle, Short Movie, and her most recent, Semper Femina. By chance, each album has been released during transitional periods in my own life, first as I was graduating high school, then when I was about to spend a semester abroad, and now as I am about to graduate from college. These three albums especially have provided me both comfort and guidance because of the timing and also the small but significant age gap between Laura Marling and myself that, to me, has seemed to put her one phase of life ahead of me. Her evident modesty, intelligence, and empathy are characteristics that I strive toward for myself.

Of course, listening to these songs so frequently and living with them for so many years, they begin to pick up other meaning than the ones I originally infused them with. When I hear the familiar guitar sequence that recurs through Once I Was an Eagle that always has sounded to me like the wings of a bird about to take off, I think of driving home in the dark on the hilly, winding backroads of my tiny hometown, but also some of my first nights at college when I was still fumbling my way through making friends. “Flicker and Fail,” a bonus track off of her 2011 album A Creature I Don’t Know, whose first line, “You took a bus to meet me in a bar in a Tuscan hill,” will forever make me think of being on a bus weaving through hilly Sicily, where I serendipitously heard the song for the first time. When I got my first tattoo—a daisy on the inside of my right arm—I enjoyed a private joke with myself, thinking about how one of my favorite Laura Marling songs is titled “Daisy.”

The first song I learned to play on the guitar was Laura Marling’s “Failure,” which is also the song that made me cry a year and a half later when I was lucky and tenacious enough to see her play it in person in New York City. Despite my family and friends dissuading me from taking the trip because I would be going alone, I took a bus for six hours there and back, travelling by myself for the first time, and also visiting New York City for the first time in my life. I still think of it as my own sort of pilgrimage, paying homage to the words and an artist who has meant so much to me for a formative period of my life.

Semper Femina, which only came out last month, has likely been the most anticipated album so far in Laura Marling’s career. Marling has said, and it’s clear from the content as well as the three accompanying music videos which she self-directed, that it is an album about women. The Latin of the album’s title means “always women” and is pulled from a longer quote or Virgil’s, varium et mutabile semper femina, which translates to “fickle and changeable always is woman.” A Latin title in a modern context is exciting in and of itself for a Classics major and Latin nerd like me. But the presence of the quote, which was certainly meant negatively toward women in the original Virgilian context, in the context of an album about a woman’s relationship with other women imparts an unapologetic freedom to be who you want to be, even if who you want to be is always changing. For me, that inner strength and willingness to stand up and say what she believes to be true and right pervades album and displays a new phase of confidence and maturity. And I’m excited to start weaving that sentiment into my own life as I settle into the groove of this new collection of songs and thoughts to ponder.


Image credits: Feature, 1, 2, 3