The celebration of marriage, the vows, the joy, the hope, cannot convey a fraction of the poignancy of the gracious breakup. The wedding knows nothing of the union – every marriage has one, they vary in complexity, extravagance, pomp, but they are all in the dark about what is really being celebrated – because it hasn’t happened yet. The breakup, in contrast, takes place in full knowledge of the reality of the relationship: the joy, the rancor, the frustration, confusion, and the real bond that existed.

Frida and Benny

Frida and Benny

So rarely is the ending of a relationship so gracious that it deserves celebration. It is a time of pain, sometimes mingled with doubt, inevitability, resentment, and so many other emotions which do not lend themselves to a celebratory conclusion and certainly rarely inspire one to immortalize it in verse or song. This is why it is so remarkable to see and experience a song that does so with such maturity, grace, and optimism as the one ABBA has given us in When All Is Said And Done. It is not just a brilliant song, it is the ultimate tribute to love, the relationship, the participants, and their affection that they could make that culmination into such a masterpiece. It is indeed a dedication of far greater significance than any number of blindly optimistic marriage songs and vows — to be able to exult in the inevitable and timely conclusion to a love which, not only the participants, but much of the world has followed and appreciated. It is a gift to us all.

All of these brilliant elements are present:

The toast:

Here's to us
one more toast

and then we'll pay the bill

The autumnal migratory metaphor:

deep inside
both of us

can feel the autumn chill

birds of passage

you and me

we fly instinctively

when the summer's over

and the dark clouds hide the sun

neither you nor I'm to blame

when all is said and done

The ever repeated effort to salvage the relationship:

It's so strange
when you're down

and lying on the floor

how you rise

shake your head

get up and ask for more

The inevitability, the decision:

clear-headed and open-eyed
with nothing left untried

The memories, the appreciation. No blame nor resentment:

thanks for all your generous love
and thanks for all the fun

neither you nor I'm to blame

when all is said and done

The decision made, the leisurely departure:

standing calmly at the crossroads
no desire to run

there's no hurry any more

when all is said and done

The optimism and the future:

slightly worn
but dignified

and not too old for sex

we're still striving for the sky

When All Is Said and Done was written at the time of the breakup of Benny and Frida, after the breakup of Björn and Agnetha, and all four took part.

Listening to this song and ABBA interviews, particularly the Swedish ones, recalls many emotions. I was going through a breakup from my Swedish wife at that same time this was written, similarly gracious, appreciative, and inevitable, but in the midst of that trauma, I could no more have written and sung about it than swum to the moon. Therein lies the creative and dedicated genius and the legacy of the ABBA four.

Watch When All Is Said And Done  on youtube.

With thanks to ABBA, and grateful for the generous love, fun, and also for the divorce, this is to you Lena, wherever you are.