Honestly, I’ve been dreading this one a little because there’s no way around it– this song is about sex, and my mom and all of her friends read this blog. It’s also about sex in a very pre-sexual revolution sort of light– intimacy leads to babies, this is the only function of sexual relations, and everything else is SIN, I TELL YOU!! SIN!!!! Mom and friends, I’m sorry.
Even in 1840, we know people had sex outside of marriage. In fact, young men were encouraged to “sow their wild oats,” so to speak, with prostitutes and the like, while women were expected to know absolutely nothing about sex and needed teaching from their husbands. Haven’t you all watched Bridgerton? The shame of losing one’s virginity and the burden of unplanned pregnancy has always fallen on the woman, and that hasn’t gone away. A quote from The Breakfast Club comes to mind regarding virginity as a woman: “If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap.” Remember in my introduction to Frauenbild Fridays when I mentioned the “Madonna/Whore Complex”? People love to shame other people about sex, especially women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Most people know Margaret Atwood for her novel turned TV show, The Handmaid’s Tale. It was my favorite book I studied in high school, and it inspired me to read all of Atwood’s work I could get my hands on. Most of her writing is centered around dystopic future universes dripping with seething commentary on our current world. However, she wrote a historical novel in 1996, Alias Grace. It’s set around the time our song cycle was composed. One of the most riveting and angering plotlines is a maid in the tale engaging in a romance with a son of the family she works for, who gets her pregnant. He claims she got knocked up by somebody else and refuses to acknowledge the child. Knowing she will lose her well-paying servant position and reputation, the maid attempts to abort the fetus. She bleeds out on her bed and dies. So yeah, that’s what happened in 1840 when a woman had a Süsser Freund encounter–or perhaps 2040 if we keep eliminating reproductive rights.
Sexuality is a controversial topic these days. Many people in the United States believe that unless you’re attempting to conceive a child, any sexual act is unholy and their job to punish. Right-wing commentators unleash a vendetta upon the LGBTQ+ community daily. Reproductive rights diminish around the country. A small group of people’s desire to control American citizens’ private lives is disgusting, unacceptable, and, unfortunately, historically consistent. When will we learn?
Intimacy is just that– it’s intimate. It’s a shared moment between two (or more, you do you) people that is no one else’s business. Intimacy is the glistening glue holding this piece together. When I hear this song performed well, it’s almost as if I’m uncomfortable invading this private moment between two people. Their hopes, dreams, and wants are between just the two of them.
This song is just so beautiful. From personal experience, it’s also wicked hard to sing– it’s incredibly exposed and requires precision equal to that of a tightrope walker. The understated accompaniment, paired with the impossibly long vocal lines, paints an atmosphere of sensuality and privacy from the first chord. As the piano line animates in the middle section, the vocalist gains energy and courage, and the relaxation back into calming bliss is a powerful musical experience.
I’m so happy that our Frauenbild can practice vulnerability and experience safety and security with a partner she loves. I delight in the fact that she was married at a time when falling pregnant out of wedlock was life-threatening. I’m thrilled that she experienced a positive sexual awakening. Everyone deserves that, and not everyone is safe to love who they want to love right now or even how they want to love.
God called on his people to “love thy neighbor.” Let’s do that.
I am amazed at everything you do
Everything you are
What you could be
And when I am in your arms
I know I am safe
I know I am loved
I know I am home
I know you.