During this sparse, fingerpicked ballad, Marling objectifies one of her real-life friends as a classic muse.
Oh Nouel, you sing so well
Sing only for me?
"I was interested in what it is like to be made a muse," Marling explained to the BBC. "Nouel is a person who exists, a visual artist I know in Los Angeles, and I took her essence and I exaggerated it into a fantasy."
She lays herself across the bed
The origine du monde
Slight of shoulder, long and legged
Her hair a faded blonde
Here, Marling compares her friend to Gustave Courbet's Origine Du Monde - an explicit 1866 painting of a sprawled woman revealing her genitalia. "It's her but it's not her," she told the BBC. "I haven't painted a picture of her - it's my projection of my feelings about how extraordinary I feel she is."
Marling is subverting the traditional masculine gaze by desiring and idealising a woman in the manner of a traditional male bard. "Everything's about sex, I believe," Marling explained to The Guardian. "This idea there's a very finite difference between sexual and romantic love and friendship is crazy. I think you fall in love with friends."
Marling added that she feels relationships between women have "either been ignored or commodified, or sexualized. So I wanted to give a different perspective on that."
Though the real Nouel was flattered by the tune, Marling admitted to MTV News that she questioned herself whether she was right to record a song about her friend.
"When I wrote 'Nouel,' I sent it to Nouel," she said. "And I was like, [self-deprecating, dorky voice] 'I wrote a song about you.' But afterward I realized I didn't ask her if I could do that. She's fine with it, of course. But she didn't willingly participate in that creative act with me. And that's interesting, because I took something from her. Did I maybe take away her right to anonymity? And is my consciousness about that because I'm hyperaware because I'm a woman?"
"I talk about her physical beauty in a way that we're used to hearing men sing," Marling continued." It sort of ties in with Salomé's belief that the female psyche is inherently self-sufficient, because female sexuality is inherently self-sufficient. I think women are maybe more comfortable, or women are able to find physical beauty in each other that doesn't terrify them. But then I did also feel an insecurity - I did do that without asking."
Oh Nouel, you know me well
And I didn't even show you the scar
Fickle and changeable
The Semper Femina album title is a quote from Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid. The full line runs, "Varium et mutabile semper femina" it runs, translating roughly as "A woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing." When she was 21, Laura Marling decided to have the words tattooed on her leg. Realizing that the line was a little long for the limb, at the very last moment she opted instead for an abbreviation: "Semper femina" meaning "Always a woman."
Throughout Semper Femina, Marling explores themes of gender and sexuality. "I started out writing 'Semper Femina' as if a man was writing about a woman, and then I thought; 'it's not a man, it's me'," she said to The Fader of the record. "I don't need to pretend it's a man to justify the intimacy, or the way I'm looking and feeling about women. It's me looking specifically at women and feeling great empathy towards them, and by proxy, towards myself."