Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A music study break: Laura Marling and thoughts about her song "What He Wrote"

Laura Marling / I Speak Because I Can

One of many things I enjoy contributing to my Facebook Timeline is something I call a "music study break". It might either be a song that I've recently heard while listening to the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" program via KCRW.com (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-noon PT; GMT -7 hours) or, perhaps, a song that's recently come up in the shuffle mode on my iPod. 

Recently, I woke up wondering what to share for my "music study break" that day and the young, English folk singer/songwriter Laura Marling (age 22) immediately came to mind. And, I thought: What a wonderfully powerful alto voice she's been blessed with, and Marling has the gifted ability to pen intelligently defiant songs about feminine independence filled with gravitas. Earlier this summer, Marling shared in what was described as a religious communion of music when she performed a concert in San Francisco's Gothic-style Grace Cathedral.

As it happens, I have an autographed copy of Marling's 2010 Mercury Prize-winning album 'I Speak Because I Can' downloaded on my iPod that I've been exploring. It's an album filled with songs whose themes are centered around responsibility, particularly the responsibility of womanhood. I came across one particular song, "What He Wrote" that's both poignant in its tone, thought provoking in its lyrics, and it brings out the clarity in her voice.

After sharing "What He Wrote" on my Timeline, I decided to peruse the lyrics and see what I could glean from them. One of my first thoughts while listening to this song was: Is Marling sharing a poetic confession with God? After all, she connects authentically with her listeners in an elegant and emotional manner. And, Marling writes with keen wisdom beyond her years.

As it turned out, Marling explained in an interview, "What He Wrote" was inspired by letters from a wife to her husband in the Second World War. And, according to Marling, it reflected a time in her own life when she was still looking for her identity as a young woman.

In writing about the album which "What He Wrote" appears on, 'I Speak Because I Can', one critic suggested that Marling "uses folk as an archetypal form to get at the essential realities of love, sex, heartbreak, and death. Sometimes she does it with heart-stopping quietness, her voice dropping to conversational tones." So, in a sense, my immediate thoughts about a woman sharing a confession with God weren't too off base as the essential realities of Marling's songs aren't unlike some of the very same themes that are expressed in The Bible or, perhaps, The Quran. 

Laura Marling / She uses folk as an archetypal form to get
at the essential realities of love, sex, heartbreak and death.

Here's what the U.K.'s New Music Express described of "What He Wrote": "Inspired by wartime love letters that Laura read in a newspaper, ‘What He Wrote’ seems to detail the forbidden love of writing to a man other than your husband – she appeals to the Greek goddess Hera, goddess of women and marriage, for forgiveness for speaking to this man when she’s 'spoken for.' The whole song, just vocals and guitar, trembles in its waltz rhythm, but the most effecting line has to be the unqualified frankness of, 'I miss his smell.'"

In her review for the London-based newspaper The Telegraph, critic Helen Brown said of Marling: "Her songs are simple yet complex, weird but quotidian like hedgerows – twisted, full of thorns, fruit, life and death." Writing about "What He Wrote," Brown says: "She gazes back into Greek mythology for female companionship, addressing the marriage goddess Hera and conjuring the spirit of Odysseus’ patient wife Penelope." 

Laura Marling speaks because she can ~ and, through her inspiring music, she delivers a lot of poignant and expressive thoughts worth our time and pleasing to our ears.

What He Wrote
By Laura Marling

Forgive me Hera,
I cannot stay.
He cut out my tongue,
There is nothing to save.

Love me?
Oh Lord, he threw me away,
He laughed at my sins, in his arms I must

He wrote, I'm broke.
Please send for me.
But I'm broken, too,
And spoken for.
Do not tempt me.

Her skin is white, and I'm light as the
So holy light shines, on the things you have done.

So I asked him,
How he became this man?
How did he learn,
To hold fruit in his hands?

And where is the lamb, that gave you your
He had to leave, though I begged Him to

Left me alone, when I needed the
Fell to my knees, and I wept for my

If he had of stayed, you might
If he had of stayed, you never would've
Taken my hand.

He wrote,
I'm alone.
Please send for me.
But I'm broken, too,
And spoken for.
Do not tempt me.

And where is the lamb, that gave Him your
He had to flee, though I begged him to

Begged him to stay, in my cold wooden
Begged him to stay, by the light of this

Me fighting him,
Fighting light,
Fighting dawn.
The waves came,
And stole him,
And took him to war.

He wrote,
I'm broke.
Please send for me.
But I'm broken, too,
And I am spoken for.
Do not tempt me.

Forgive me, Hera, I cannot stay.
He cut out my tongue, there is nothing to
Love me or loathe, he threw me away.
He laughed at my sins, in his arms I must

We write.
And that's alright.
But I miss his smell.

And we speak,
When spoken to.
That suits me well.
That suits us well.
That suits me well.


  1. Nice one! You should do a study music break on some of her other songs.

  2. Great post. I love this song. It has seen me through many a sleepless night. But I don't get the 'if he had of stayed' bit. Had of stayed? It doesn't make any grammatical sense to me. Can you explain?

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  4. Hi, just found and fell in love with this song. Her voice is stunning.
    It's so incredibly poignant. Regarding the had 'of' stayed, whilst your correct grammatically it's nonsensical, in idiomatic English (English) (rather than English (US)) it's in common usage.