by Judith Fitzgerald
I suppose I might be considered obsessive about form or order or structure or whatever; but, I don't think so. It's part of its attractiveness, for one thing. ... Making Various Positions (1984) was the first time I could really see and intuitively feel what it was I was doing, making, or creating in that enterprise. It all
just seemed to click. Suddenly, I knew these weren't discrete songs I was writing. I could see -- I could
sense -- a unity. Various Positions had its own life, its own narrative. It was all laid out and all of a
sudden it all made sense.
-- Leonard Cohen (The Globe and Mail, November 2000)
There's a lot of taking-away of things that might distract from the whole. ... I wrote a lot of parts that
ended up being taken out. There were parts that I thought were beautiful. And I'd bring them over, and
he'd say, 'That's beautiful.' Then a minute later, he'd say: 'It's too beautiful. We've got to get rid of it.'
-- Sharon Robinson (The Globe and Mail, October 2001)
Under "Lifer" in the Hurts' Encyclopaedia, you'll find Leonard Cohen's name illuminated in gold. The
guy with the hurt-on the size of all creation is -- not to put too fine a point on it -- a walking compilation
of Greatest Hurts.
Long revered for his willingness to wear his wounds on his sleeve, Cohen's ruinous tunefulness has always
lifted les âmes perdues to jouissant heights, most likely because the sine qua non of blasted baritones
has always issued straight from the numinous and luminous depths. Think "Suzanne," "Bird On The
Wire," "Last Year's Man," "Hallelujah," "Who By Fire," "Avalanche," "Joan Of Arc," "Paper Thin Hotel,"
"Coming Back To You," or virtually any of the tunes penned since the first of several certified
masterpieces, 1984's Various Positions, was released 16 years after the artist's now-classic breakthrough
début, Songs Of Leonard Cohen, forever altered the popular-music soundscape for the better 27 December
Naturally, following the release of his second (1988's I'm Your Man) and third (1992's The Future)
masterpieces, the general consensus among popular commentarians and qualified critics was that Cohen
could not possibly square the circle a fourth time (despite the fact it would take almost a decade for him to
bring that highly anticipated platter to market).
Naturally, the general consensors now eat their words. Ten New Songs is indeed The Man's fourth
masterpiece since Various Positions; however, because that highly laudatory cognominatio
denoting the apotheosis of aesthetic excellence has lost much of its value, power, and vigour these past
few decades, it is essential to remind readers exactly what a masterpiece is and, by extension, what a
masterpiece does (both in terms of its intrinsic achievements and extrinsic accomplishments).
The Fourth Edition of The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (2000) locates the
word's probable etymological roots in the Dutch "meesterstuker" as well as the German "meisterstück."
As its etymology suggests, a masterpiece is "an outstanding work of art or craft" which distinguishes itself
as a work of superlative perfectitude not only in relation to its creator's oeuvre but also in relation to the
milieu in which it is created.
In point of fact, the art of the recorded composition is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of
making a joyful noiseful. Prior to the advent of the professional recording studio, few masterpieces were
created (or preserved) because pioneer Chet Atkins, the ace guitarist largely responsible for perfecting
both the dynamics of the acoustic environment as well as many of its soundest principles, techniques,
equipments, and accoutrements (essential to the development of the emerging medium's aesthetic of
excellence vis-à-vis production values) were generally conceived and created by Atkins on the fly, so to
speak, shortly after WWII.
A multi-tasking Renaissance man of the virtuoso-guitarist persuasion, Atkins tweaked the fuzz-tone effect, reverb, tremelo, wah-wah, direct-to-board instrumentation, and the echo chamber (pioneered by Les Paul), to cite but a couple or few of the remarkable contributors and contributions to the art and craft works issuing from the recording studio.
Not surprisingly, the first few waves of resulting masterpieces to make an international splash were
analogue productions created by country, blues, gospel, bluegrass, and rockabilly artists (Elvis Presley,
Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, et.al., most notable
Still, a medium -- pioneering spirits and spirited practitioners notwithstanding -- does not a masterpiece
make. For that reason, it is useful to remember that even the most objective of judgements (based on
quantifiables such as technical merit, instrumentation, repeat listenability, arrangements, production
values, etc.) involves the application of a subjective set of criteria (originality, durability, novelty,
consistency, inspiration, formal coherence, invention, transformative power, etc.,); consequently, it is
equally instructive to recall at least one way in which chef-d'oeuvres can be assessed on their own merits:
Does the composition under scrutiny contain one word, one beat, one bar of sound, or one measly measure
of silence that can be altered, rearranged, or deleted without radically affecting (improving or
diminishing) the work's overarching intentions, aesthetic integrity, and musical coherence? Once a
determination in favour of the composition's inviolable authenticity has been rendered, it logically follows
that a masterpiece, by its very existence, redefines the boundaries and scope of the medium in which it is
created and, in some elementary way, transcends genre at the same time; thus, historically driven aesthetic
concepts such as Significant Form only and always confirm such assessments.
Ten New Songs(Sony Canada) is a masterpiece. An aural miracle, the disc's an utterly irresistible breath of fresh ear from a pair of the world's leading unsung seers. It's an exquisite secular benediction jam-crammed with quotidian psalms, salutary anthems, consuetudinary hymns, and arie melodiose cantante a due voci nello stile del crooner lucertole di salotto expressing the inexpressible to the Nth degree of dramatic intensity and compressed musicality.
Individually, Robinson and Cohen are awesome; together, they are sublime. Arguably one of the finest
recorded performances in existence, the retro-deco duet-set comprising the elegiac song cycle, Ten New
Songs, is wholly and fully their masterpiece worthy of the distinctive honour such a designation implicitly
Sublimely layered and logically ordered through the deployment of a variety of structural divisions,
developmental directions, shifting narrative perspectives, and a series of diverse philosophical positions
dependent as much upon the Tradition's canonical elements as Cohen's self-stylised signature themes,
these chansons à deux parties illuminating "the exploded landscape" of contemporary existence underscore
the current enterprise in all its glorious manifestations and trademark allusive applications.
Consider, for digressionary example, the fact Cohen leads off 1968's "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong" (Songs Of Leonard Cohen) with
an arresting and remarkably compressed ear-catcher made all the more resonant by virtue of its affinity
with Quebecer Anne Hébert's "La chambre de bois" (Le tombeau des rois, 1953): "J'aime un petit
bougeoir vert," wrote she in 1953. Cohen respectfully dibbed the concept and transformed "I love a small
green candlestick" into a green-eyed monster of an altogether different stripe: "I lit a thin green candle to
make you jealous of me," confesses the representative he; but, three brief verses later, the boy with the
badass blues reports the good old news: "The poor man could hardly stop shivering / his lips and fingers
were blue / I suppose that he froze when the wind / took your clothes / and I guess he just never got warm
/ but you stand there so nice / in your blizzard of ice / oh please let me come into the storm... ."
Despite enumerating nothing but warts, woes, and worries, the speaker on this heat-seeking slo-mo sizzler
certainly invites felicitous comparison with the primary narrator of Ten New Songs, particularly in terms
of the intersection of the voices' copacetic views when it all comes down to dust, the singing darkness,
long sleepless nights, honeymoon details, the drooling souls of saints, blizzards of ice, et so forthia.
Additionally, intertextually linked phrases overlay allusional theme-markers flagging earlier sonic and
linguistic instances wherein often identical (but always similar and certainly familiar) emotional,
psychological, and spiritual themes conjoin with psychic landscapes to illuminate aspects of one's secret
(or private) life in comparison with the display of its highly public counterpart. As Cohen told El
Mundo's Elena Pita recently, "[e]veryone knows that the secret life is the one that parallels the one we live
for appearances; it is the life of deep feelings, of honesty, the one we can never show; it is the life behind
Notwithstanding the life one can never show, right from the get-go, everybody knows who's running this
show: That unmistakable voice was heard early in the poet's work emerging from the broken shards and
blasted shreds of 1964's Flowers for Hitler in the name of Lot ("Give me back my name / give me back my
childhood list / I whispered to the dust when the path gave out / Now sing / Now sing / sang my master as
I waited in the raw wind"), in the name of the character who reveals "history is a needle / for putting men
asleep, / anointed with the poison / of all they want to keep ... Now a name that saved you / has a foreign
taste / claims a foreign body / froze in last year's waste" and, most acutely, in the name of Love and Death,
the twinned themes Robinson and Cohen celebrate with Ten New Songs.
"Well, we all have a sense of a truth," allows Cohen in Euroman, "the truth can be the most intimate
conversation with one's heart about its desire and appetite. And when this conversation appears, it comes
very close to the truth and a feeling of authenticity ... 'I smile when I'm angry. / I cheat and I lie. / I do
what I have to do / to get by / But I know what is wrong / And I know what is right / And I'd die for the
truth / in my secret life.' To be understood in the way that you can deceive everybody but yourself. This is
the truth viewed in a simple, pragmatic, and ordinary way, but it isn't the great truth of our existence."
Nor, really, do such earlier tunes as "The Stranger Song" (Songs Of Leonard Cohen, 1968) or "The Window" (Recent Songs, 1979) investigate the great truth of our existence; rather, they reinforce the value of its understanding. While
the former achieves its effects in terms of the holy game of poker ("Like any dealer he was watching for
the card / that is so high and wild / he'll never need to deal another" and "Please understand I never had a
secret chart / to get me to the heart of this / or any other matter), the latter freezes and frames love in its
window of lost opportunities (... "lost in the waves of a sickness / that loosens the high silver nerves / O
chosen love, O frozen love / O tangle of matter and ghost / O darling of angels, demons, and saints, and
the whole broken-hearted host ...").
Then, suddenly, it's now, it's new, it's next, it's 1992: "Give me back my broken night / My mirrored
room, my secret life," commands the aggressively urgent narrator in the first lines of the title-tune
opening Cohen's penultimate studio effort; and, by the way, hello, there. Welcome to the future of The
Future where the shattered unseen seer has not only risen from the ashes of history and splinters of
catastrophe but has also proven he's ready, he's willing, he's raring to identify, codify, and verify the
contents of that secret life he's clearly reclaimed post-avalanche, post-blizzard, post-dress-rehearsal
rag-and-bone-shop art of the terminally broken heart beating in the breast of any one of the billions of
contemporary anybodies populating the planet.
"I’m not necessarily the person in all my songs," Cohen explained to Frank DiGiacomo of The New York
Observer (October 2001). Later that same fall, articulating the salient features of TNS's
lead-off in a special interview, Cohen additionally pointed out the importance of the fact that the first lines
of the first tune on his current speak to notions of "a love that won't die," of a love that, in his words,
"resurrects itself continually in one's secret life" before clarifying his position concerning the distinction
between first-personal art and autobiography:
"Well, you know, even though it's an autobiographical I, it's not consistently that autobiographical I. It
migrates to different positions. The "I" there is one I that I recognise that I don't necessarily inhabit right
now; but, it's something that I've certainly felt. 'I saw you this morning / You were moving so fast / Can't
seem to loosen my grip / on the past.' That is, you know, we still live in our memories, especially when it
comes to love. When one has experienced loss -- which everybody does -- at least half one's songs are
about loss. One half's about finding love; the other half's about losing love. Then, there's some kind of
grey area in the centre which celebrates the love; but, those are not that common."
Indeed, the work sui generis contains a suite of celebratory sequences created within the parameters that
grey area circumscribes, a fact serving to further reinforce the strengths of this uncommonly shaped and
lovingly polished suite à deux voix. Among the most accomplished -- and coherent -- recorded
compositions ever attempted, its splendid blend of foreground colour and background texture never
dissolves in spectral blackitude; rather, the universal tone poem -- traversing the spectrum and
incorporating the thesis-antithesis-synthesis organising principle of its creation -- incrementally
materialises on a Spartan mindscape of intimate blues, limpid mauves, burnished teaks, and incandescent
greys most obviously apparent in the cycle's first four numbers.
An adventurous redemption suite infused with fluid grace, literate warmth, and a hint of sashay sway, Ten
New Songs features melodic touches of countrified gospel seamlessly embellished with smooth R & B
stylings unerringly dipping and slipping way down deep to capture a profound sense of poise, power, and
sonomonopeia™, especially when Cohen sinks his voice to further deepen the already deep deepery of "a
thousand kisses deep" or slurs his fighting-drunk way through the marbly mouthed "That Don't Make It
Junk," to cite but a pair of sonic TKOs.
Except for Bob Metzger's glorious guitar riffs on "In My Secret Life," TNS is completely electronic, a
feature of the new CD which may give diehard aLCholics cause for pause. True B'Losers would hardly
expect synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines; but, born-to-b'lose aficionados would hardily and
wholeheartedly embravo the pair's novel approach. Eventually. Upon reflection, it certainly becomes
clear the contents, aims, and methods deployed on the Zen Ten cry out for an extra-human foundation, a
something "other" or else, a stack-'em-up/strip-'em down electronic ground of sound which affords both
musicians and prospective listeners the luxury of appreciating the subtleties of sonic time filtered through
the spacious warmth of the radically up-front vocal tracks. The glittering musicality of synchromeshing
voices made and meant for each other swaths the electro-beats with a spangly wash of compellingly
stunning yet appropriately understated vocal gorgeosity.
Accordingly, Ten New Songs contains gravelly creamy-dreamy croon tunes dissolving the wild and weary
contours of the nameless narrator's ice-bound heart while concurrently presaging the pallor of things to
come for "the millions in a prison / that wealth has set apart" (currently at loose ends in the homogenised
and sterilised land of plenty). Robinson's ethereally commanding voice, by far the finest to complement
Cohen's to date, magically wraps itself around the material with such finesse and purity, it quickly
becomes impossible to imagine these irresistible songs in any but their current setting, so mesmerising is
the musical alchemy at work between this preternaturally perfect pair of lead singers on Ten New Songs.
And, considering the combination of elegance and restraint immeasurably mellowed by the crisp
articulation and compulsive momentum driving one truly compact disc, Cohen and Robinson telegraph a
moving message culminating in prayerful serenity for the throngs of working stiffs given over to the
throes of organised dissatisfaction run ragged and rampant in "The Land Of Plenty."
Retro-soul rhythms revel in the jazzy-bluesy heartwork of pure song and spirit. The coarse and throaty
speech-like timbre of the vox humana proceeds, with escalating intensity, to unravel the dramatically
lyrical lines and sweetly sedate phrasings of one stunningly melismatic vox angelica gracefully moving
through the shattered soulscape of the present.
The lush and mellow backbeat rhythms encircling the alto-baritone union are offset by an encyclopaedic
exploration of tonal organisation best evidenced in the collaborators' decision to forego all but 4/4 (or
closely related) time signatures, a fact which raises a number of questions, the most intriguing of which
might well lead listeners to ponder why there are no waltzes on the current CD. Sharon Robinson
graciously provided her take on their absence via e-mail: "Time signature is not always an exact science,"
she explained, adding that she, too, has "wondered why there are no waltzes on TNS. I think
it's because, in large part, our creative work is not completely in our hands. A couple of these songs
could have perhaps been written as waltzes, and I remember presenting a few ideas to Leonard in 3/4, but
for whatever reason, we liked the straight-ahead feels better for these particular lyrics."
The straight-ahead feels of these particular lyrics dominate a disc saturated with ambivalence and tethered
to a tangle of tertiary streams of thought coursing through the minds of these voices on a first-name basis
with Love and Death. Fresh, bright, and achingly tender, the sensuous and full-bodied richness
situates the soundscape slightly west of World-Beat Street even though its interwoven mythic threads
detour through a cabaret of stark sonorities the dual lead singers celebrate.
"The album," Cohen thinks, "could be described as a duet." He thinks? LOL! They gain the light, they
formlessly entwine -- one voice, one heart, one dreamscape, darkness sounding depths in the name of the
Admirably restrained and effortlessly blended in a chiaroscuro of transcendent tempi, the album's
intensely muted atmosphere reaches out to keep listeners close (but never claustrophobic). Rich and
reverent late-night ballads augment strains of early-morning benisons glittering with the rising sun
hovering on the cusp of the horizon to create an artistic triumph of tone and timelessness equalling (or
surpassing) the earlier masterworks.
In fact, the low-key grandeur (accomplished, perhaps, by the dearth of lead-and-harmony vocals in deference to the dual leads) and touches of classical elegance put one in mind of those lovely masterpieces Leonardo Da Vinci bequeathed the world, the ones in which he invented and perfected a trio of painterly techniques Cohen and Co. seem to have adopted as their own. Suffused with a fine and palpable sfumato, a haze of acoustic space becomes regal and tangible as the chiaroscurists shadow dance among the shifting shapes of atmospheric perspective wedded to the monochromatics of loss within the
dust-flecked formlessness preconfiguring "formless circumstance."
Such initially jarring juxtapositions ("formless circumstance," "lawless heart," "invincible defeat")
combine with intentionally startling unpredictabilities (e.g., the use of "piss" and "pan" on "Here It Is," the
disarmingly candid disclosures one of the dominant narrators makes concerning poseurs, posturing, and
prevarication on "In My Secret Life" or, most tellingly, "the maps of blood and flesh" now "posted on the
door" on "Boogie Street") artlessly recombine with key P-O-V shifts and subtle sonic reinforcements of the main theme -- say, when the music supports the subject under scrutiny on "Boogie Street" and intimates those sirenical snake-charmer strains long associated with Cleopatra -- to augment the work's formal organisation and signal transitions seamlessly dissolving in the stately melodic flow.
Voluptuously austere and heartbreakingly dignified, many of the songs re-examine familiar themes in the
Book of Eternity (as well as Cohen's own collected works), from the suitor's disappointing performances
and imperfections to the genuine attempts to reconcile the ravages of life amid the ruins of time with the very
human need to love, be loved, and achieve immortality through creative engagement in artistic
enterprises. Characteristic of such themes, the major motifs involve aspects of the lovers' debate and
feature several elements and situations germane to its development, denouément, and conclusion (the
ship's voyage, the bridegroom and the bride, the hunter and the hunted, the lover working at cross
purposes to the Beloved, and so on).
It comes as no surprise Cohen speaks of "a kind of peaceful feeling that runs through this record," of the
relief or release of "resolution, reconciliation." Spirituality, one learns, is not the knowledge one learns
but the knowledge one suffers in the little village where everybody knows the score and "for us," as Eliot
avers in Four Quartets, "there is only the trying."
When Mojo's Sylvie Simmons queried Cohen in November 2001 on songwriters, songwriting, romantic
descriptions, trying to love his way and such, the tunesmith politely demolished the concept by gently
reminding Simmons said image "has somewhat evaporated. Now I'd say it's the work of a scavenger. The
content of whatever it is you write is a matter of scavenging around and trying to satisfy this appetite to
make something." (Like Eliot said ... .)
An inveterate scavenger, the magpie makes raids on the sublime to pick up amusing, enchanting, or
irrefragable strains from such as Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," the ten
mystical creative powers emanating from G-d revealed in the Sephirot emphasising "calling, creating,
forming, and making," the supplicatory Rhyme Royal concluding Edmund Spenser's "Epithalamion,"
Keats's "Endymion," "The Everlasting Gospel" by William Blake, the seventh part of William
Wordsworth's "Ode; The Morning of the Day Appointed for a General Thanksgiving (18 January 1816),
"I've Been Working On The Railroad" ("Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah / Strumming on the old
banjo"), and E. E. Cummings's "Epithalamium," not to mention Cavafy nor Eliot nor "the latest hit" nor
"the wisdom of old" (a.k.a. Shakespeare, the Bible, the Qur'an, Greek myth, Roman legend, etc.), among a host of others.
The coolest of Cohen's creative smirkifications, of course, resides in the delicious slow-dawning gotcha
arising from a comparison between Booby Dylan's dullicious ditty, "Tangled Up In Blue," with the
magnificent heights the contemporary Commedia's creators conquer. On that 1975 tune, His Royal
Boobyist, one helluva lip-servicing Philistine, literally stooped to no-name droppings to innervate his
psychotic musical melange featuring some dame from a topless joint opening up "a book of poems ...
written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century." Ho hum.
Ten New Songs is essentially an illumination of historical and contemporary culture that consolidates its
binary viewpoint by deploying a series of speakers who take their turns incrementally advancing the
allegorical narrative at the heart of the matter or the centre of a world (that cannot hold). Too, in
deference to the scaffolding supporting the work consonantly dripping with bardistic flourishes and
dantisti elegance, it rises up in sonic space and geometric time to construct the contents of the mind of the
twenty-first century: The condition human, the comedy divine. Grey on grey-matter, giving up the ghost.
And, if compression is as compression does, it almost goes without saying nobody does it better than
Cohen himself -- nobody, that is, but Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the shadow painter who
devoted the third act of his life to creating the Divine Comedy upon which Cohen loosely models the
narrative of Ten New Songs.
The Danteum figures sublimely in the ten-tune trifurcation mirroring the Inferno, Purgatorio, and
Paradiso in equal measure. It claims pride of place among Shakespeare's Tragedy of Antony and
Cleopatra, the Psalms, Isaiah, Job, key passages from the New Testament, and so on.
Dante's 14,233-line journey commences in a dark wood that leads him simultaneously down and through
the circles of hell before ascending through the terraces of purgatory and resurfacing in heaven, a tri-part
sojourn matching the mind and mood of the pilgrim who has undergone a mental, spiritual, and emotional
transformation after traversing the spectrum from grief, bitterness, sin, and fear to the joyous acceptance
of The Good News. Penned in the complex terza-rima pentameter invented by the Italian, the epic gathers
readers close, inviting them to participate in the poet's guided tour through hell and purgatory with the
Roman poet, Virgil (Publius Virgilius Maro, 70-19 B.C.), who subsequently hands him over to Beatrice
(the Beloved to whom the epic stands as a timeless memorial) for the heavenly show. Dante commences
his pilgrimage on Good Friday; on Holy Thursday, he embraces the indescribable light of the Trinity
(Love, Loving, Loved) and the newly revealed mysteries of faith and resurrection through purgation,
illumination, and unification.
Ever-cresting circles within spherical waves within terza-rima triplets inexorably ferry readers towards the
brilliant still centre of the poem, the multifoliate rose symbolic of Pentecost and Life Eternal that T. S.
Eliot's Prufock would identify in his love song before the poet breathed new life into "The Burial of the
Dead" (The Waste Land), "neither living nor dead," in "the heart of light, the silence." The nature of
human solitude (combined with the ever-accelerated pursuit of loneliness) drives the secret at the heart of
the light of the Divine Comedy. Imagine the hell of your choice. Dante's done there; been that (from the
perpetually frying undead to the plenteous wretches who "have no hope of again dying" to those encased
in ice). Small wonder Cohen elects to revisit the conundrum and retrace the journey undertaken by an
Italian poet from the thirteenth century.
The Eucharistic nature and intrinsic value of the experience of life, love, and death are not lost on either
Dante or Cohen. From the anonymous suicide and the wretchedness of say, the disbelieving liars,
prevaricators, child molesters, abominable pedophiles, prodigals, thieves, misers, traitors, arch-heretics,
Boobyists, squanderers, whoremongers, murderers, sorcerers, idolators, tonsured clerics to Francesca's
kiss to the Purgatorio's Oderisi descanting upon the vanity of human wishes (cf. Ecclesiastes) and fleeting
conquests both prideful and self-aggrandising for no good reason, the trio of canticles is well-represented
among the suite's three sequences evenly distributed over ten intermeshing songs of exquisite supplication
(where songs 1-4 present the thesis, songs 5-7 the antithesis' and, of course, the remaining trio synthesises
Canto 24, for example, provides Dante with a platform to defend his "nove rime," descanting upon its
vernacular sources and inspirations while simultaneously clarifying what is frequently cited as the
Purgatorio’s most celebrated profession of poetic faith:
I' mi son un che, quando
Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo
ch'e' ditta dentro vo significando...
("I am one who, when Love inspires [read: in-spirits] me, takes note, and in that fashion that Love dictates goes signifying," Purgatorio 24.)
Of course, the Commedia's three parts correspond to the liturgy's trio of primary sequences; but, the
representation of Christ as the bridegroom at the sacred wedding (joining together), supported by the Song
of Songs and the symbolic emphasis upon the supreme union of God-Human, Heaven-Earth, Spirit-Flesh,
is not new. Consider, for example, the medieval carol, "My Dancing Day," wherein Christ sings:
"Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, / I would my true love did so chance. / To see the legend of my play,
/ to call my true love to my dance." Hrmm... He's turning tricks? He's getting fixed? He's back on "Boogie
Representations of Christ as lover and dancer coexist with His association with both the Biblical David
and the Greek Orpheus, gods of music who go south in one heck of a hurry deploying the art of music to
quell the savage beasts guarding the gates in the vicinity of the rivers dark where the mouth is the
antechamber of the heart. His embodiment, then, at the very least, represents a universally recognised
projection of human perfectitude "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" who
"descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4). By extension, the incarnation, crucifixion,
and resurrection aspects of Christ's death dovetail with related myths of redemption and divine
figureheads (pardoning marine pun), most notably those involving the Babylonian Ea-Damkina-Marduk,
the Egyptian Osiris-Isis-Horus, and the Greek Zeus-Persephone-Zagreus. (Osiris, Horus, Isis, Ishtar,
Demeter, Hercules, Theseus, Orpheus, et.al. -- all did their time in various conceptions of hell.)
The introductory tune on the song cycle, "In My Secret Life," serves as a succinct starting point for the
journey about to unravel between your ears; and, speaking of, should you take the time to peruse the lyrics
of these Ten New Songs, you will discover each and every last line scans beautifully. Look no further
than the first two verses of "In My Secret Life":
I saw you this morning/6
You were moving so fast/6
Can't seem to loosen my grip/7
On the past/3
And I miss you so much/6
There's no one in sight/5
And we're still making love/6
In My Secret Life/5
I smile when I'm angry/6
I cheat and I lie/5
I do what I have to do/7
To get by/3
But I know what is wrong/6
And I know what is right/6
And I'd die for the truth/6
In My Secret Life/5
Dante, now well on his way through hell in Canto XVII, wants to tell his companions to hold on to him;
but, words fail him, "my voice did not come / As I thought -- Make sure you hold on to me" which, of
course, resonates with Cohen's own exhortation, "Hold on, hold on, my brother / My sister, hold on tight."
The Inferno's Canto XXI commences with Dante explaining he and Virgil "travelled on" before stopping
to examine another "empty sorrow. ... And I saw how awesomely dark it was!" cries Dante, recoiling in
horror from the concatenation of human misery and deviltry he's witnessed as the pair makes its way
through that God-forsaken place of eternal perdition. Similarly, Canto XXIX opens with Dante affirming
"the swarms of people and the sweep of wounds / had left my eyes so blind drunk with their tears / that
still they ached to linger on and weep."
Looked through the paper
Makes you want to cry
Nobody cares if the people
Live or die
In Paradiso II, readers learn "this mingled power shines out through the body" before discovering that
from "[t]his power comes the apparent difference ... the formal principle which produces, / In proportion
to its goodness, the dark and bright."
... And the dealer wants you thinking
That it's either black or white
Thank G-d it's not that simple
In My Secret Life ...
... But I'm always alone
And my heart is like ice
And it's crowded and cold
In My Secret Life ...
As the Inferno's Canto XXXII concludes, Dante elaborates on the condition of things "below in the
darkened hole ... of this weary wretched brotherhood" before he spins around and realises he stands on a
lake "so frozen" it resembles glass with faces literally locked in ice:
After that I saw a thousand faces so
Purpled by cold that a shivering still
Grips me, and it always will, at frozen ponds.
"A Thousand Kisses Deep," as Cohen hears and sees it, "has its own coherence a thousand kisses deep.
Those words stand for that deeper intuitive understanding of how things unfold -- an acceptance. For
instance, I say, 'summoned now to deal with your invincible defeat.' That is, everybody has this
experience at some point in their lives where things are not going to turn out as they wished; but, still, we
have to make choices and live our lives as if our lives are real (even though a certain dreamy aspect begins
to assert itself, a certain flimsiness to reality). Nevertheless, you have to make choices and live your life
with the understanding that your life is unfolding according to patterns and directions that you yourself do
not necessarily determine. But, when you can rest on that understanding, there's a certain amount of
Early in his career, Cohen had explored "invincible belief" and investigated "battalions of the wretched"
in the poems of The Spice-Box of Earth (1961). Coming to "A Thousand Kisses Deep," he describes
Boogie Street, deriving from Singapore's Bugis Street, as that place of quotidian skirmishes and nocturnal
needinesses writ large as well as the symbolic intertwingling matrix of Babylon and Jerusalem, a feature of
the work not only related to the tune by that name but one which further aligns the song for Sandy with
"Alexandra Leaving," the last of the three middle tunes on the contemporary Commedia.
"Babylon is what I call 'Boogie Street,'" Cohen told Thomas Erber October 2001 in Le magazine de l'optimum, "it is
where we are without any real possibility of escaping from it. And many of the songs on the album speak
about this, of the reconciliation between these two ways of life, because finally, it may very well be that
this holy city of Jerusalem sits right in the middle of the kingdom of sins, and we are prisoners of these
two kingdoms and can never be in one forever."
Cohen elects to drive the point home when he slips into the Masterpiece and lovingly refashions a handful of lines to suit the occasion from Act IV; Scene xv, of Shakespeare's Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra:
ANTONY: I am dying, Egypt, dying; only
I here importune death awhile, until
Of many thousand kisses the poor last
I lay upon thy lips. ...
I am dying, Egypt, dying;
Give me some wine and let me speak a little. ...
CLEOPATRA: Noblest of men, woo't die?
Hast thou no care of me? Shall I abide
In this dull world, which in thy absence is
No better than a sty? O, see, my women,
The crown o' th' earth doth melt. My lord!
O, wither'd is the garland of the war,
The soldier's pole is fall'n! Young boys and girls
Are level now with men. The odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable. ...
Naturally, Dante had a thing or two to say about Cleopatra in his Divine Comedy. (Read 'er and weep.)
Of greater interest in this context, the scavenger Cohen relates how the narrator of "A Thousand Kisses
Deep" made it to "the forward deck" to "bless" his "remnant fleet," echoing Dante's description of Christ's
army "marching on behind the standard / with slow and straggling steps and scanty numbers" (Paradiso
XII). Earlier, in Canto V of the Paradiso, Dante had also written:
Now, if you reason from this, you will see
The high value of the vow, if it be such
That God gives his consent when you consent.
"For in the compact between God and humans,
This treasure of the will which I describe
Becomes the sacrifice by its own free act." ...
So I did see more than a thousand splendours
Drawing toward us, and in each I heard,
"Look, someone comes who shall augment our love!"
"That Don't Make It Junk" contains some of Cohen's favourite lines: "I know that I'm forgiven / But I
don't know how I know / I don't trust my inner feelings / Inner feelings come and go." He explains he
favours those lines because they run "in the face of the current therapeutic establishment. We're
encouraged to feel there's an inner self that is solid and fixed that's obscured by all kinds of psychological
distractions and trauma and if only we could reach that inner self, everything will change. My experience
is that there is no inner self and that the quest for it is ill-founded. It's to understand that there is no inner
self -- there is no fixed self -- that produces a certain sense of relaxation":
I fought against the bottle
But I had to do it drunk ...
That's a fact Cohen proves slurring his way through some memorable moments on "That Don't Make It
Junk." Fortunately, he and Dante (and Christ and King David) are loose enough to enjoy a drink or two. More
than once, Dante refers to the grape, prior to opining that anyone who refuses "to quench your thirst /
With the wine from his flask would be no freer / Than water stopped from flowing to the sea" (Paradiso
X), he notes the following in the Purgatorio's final lines:
If, reader, I had room to write more lines,
I would sing still, in part, of the sweet drink
That kept me thirsting always after more,
But since all of the pages planned beforehand
For this, the second canticle, are filled,
The curb of art lets me run on no further.
However, the narrator of "That Don't Make It Junk" is just beginning to loosen up:
...Took my diamond to the pawn shop
But that don't make it junk ...
Cohen's "diamond" -- the almighty talent task-mastered by the Muse herself -- cameos on virtually every
studio recording he's created. "Our Lady Of Solitude?" Tick. "Joan Of Arc?" Tick. "The Ballad Of The
Absent Mare?" Tick. "That Don't Make It Junk?" Natch.
... The woman in blue, she's asking for revenge
the man in white -- that's you -- says he has no friends
The river is swollen up with rusty cans
and the trees are burning in your promised land
And there are no letters in the mailbox
and there are no grapes upon the vine
and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore
and there are no diamonds in the mine
Well, you tell me that your lover has a broken limb
you say you're kind of restless now and it's on account of him
Well, I saw the man in question, it was just the other night
he was eating up a lady where the lions and Christians fight
And there are no letters in the mailbox
and there are no grapes upon the vine
and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore
and there are no diamonds in the mine ...
The catalogue-crazy narrator of "Diamonds In The Mine," say, puts in brief appearances on several of the
current cuts, always listing his achievements, such as they are, in relation to "That Don't Make It Junk."
Thus, when the present narrator confesses, "I tried to love you my way / But I couldn't make it hold / So I
closed the Book of Longing / And I do what I am told," he addresses the Muse with an admirable
frankness reminiscent of "I walk through the old yellow sunlight" first published in The Energy of Slaves
to get to my kitchen table
the poem about me
lying there with the books
in which I am listed
among the dead and future Dylans
You can understand
I am in no hurry to make the passage
The sunlight is old and yellow
a flood of what I laboured
to distil a tiny drop of
in that shabby little laboratory
called my talent ...
You can understand. This is not a complaint. This is simply the artist keeping some kind of record in the
name of honouring the gift, the very nature of the calling demanding complete conscription. You can
understand: That don't make it junk (drug pun notwithstanding).
Now, "Here It Is," and the cataloguer cuts loose with a collection of lines that list where they will. Of the
tune he considers "realistic," Cohen says, "'Here It Is' has a good line in it which is all I have to say and
it's kind of superficial; but, it has a certain minor value: 'May everyone live / And may everyone die /
Hello, my love / And my love, Goodbye.' That repeats over and over again. Here it is and it's about
death. It's nice to write a catchy tune about death. I don't know of any other songs -- I think I mention
death about seven times in that song. Sharon produced a very jaunty and hypnotic track for it. People like
Dante would no doubt understand this. In the final Canto of the Inferno, overcome by all he has
witnessed and seen, his eyes sweep over "Dis ... the place / Where you must arm yourself with
steadfastness," as Virgil explains to him. Overwhelmed, Dante attempts an explanatory description but
can go no further when he discovers that everyone doesn't live and everyone doesn't die, not in the
Inferno, not when they're trapped in a hell of their own devising:
How faint and frozen, reader, I grew then
Do not inquire: I shall not write it down,
Since all my words would be too few and weak.
I did not die and still I did not live.
Think for yourself -- should you possess the talent --
What I became, robbed of both life and death!
At various points in his journey, Dante launches into improvisations and variations on standards,
beginning one such with "Our Father" in Canto XI of the Purgatorio -- "Pure form and matter and the two
combined / Came into being which was wholly flawless..." -- not unlike the way in which Cohen and Robinson merge voices refashioning and renewing various tertiary streams bearing directly upon the "formless circumstance" at the centre of Ten New Songs. The Divine Comedy may well provide structural foundation for the set; but, in the name of all that is hallowed, righteous, and de rigueur, the modernist minimalist would not stop there, especially since the incorrigible magpie rarely resists the beautiful trope, exotic figure, or well-turned phrase alive with aesthetic possibilities in all matters allusive.
Reader, you clearly see I elevate
My theme: you should not wonder then if I
Try to raise my style with ampler art.
Dante blazed new territory raising up the beauty of the Italian vernacular to adorn spectacular vistas with
a new style, a vocabulary enriched as much by the magnificent and sublime as the secular and mundane or
the sacred and profane best expressed as the squalor and the splendour. He elevated his very human
themes using language appropriate to the occasion. As does Cohen. Look no further than "Here It Is," the
very tune that will, no doubt, make Irving Layton roar (no doubt, for more).
As Cohen explains, "'Love Itself' is a kind of central song -- not that I expect anybody to study the record
with any intensity because it took a long time to write -- but, the record does have a kind of development
and that's one of the central songs which describes an experience where that self is dissolved for a
moment; that mask is taken off; and, when that happens, 'I'll try to say a little more / Love went on and on
/ Until it reached an open door / Then love itself / Love itself was gone.' So, that love that I'm speaking
there is not the opposite of hate and it's not romance; it's the kind of love that embraces ordinary love and
spiritual love and all the requirements of the mind to wrap itself around the word, 'love,' because, in this
kind of experience, that tyranny is dissolved and even the need to love is dissolved. So, that's where real
relaxation arises. When all the requirements of spiritual perfection, all the ambition of spiritual
aspiration, are dissolved and you can just relax into ordinary humanness."
That experience, lasting for "something like a second," provides the central experience of the ten songs.
Dissolution involves an absence of "self" and "ego" (or, perhaps, "I" and "it"). These ideas and concepts
have always dominated Cohen's literary landscape, from "You Have the Lovers" (TSBOE) where "the
door is opened to the lover's chamber / The room has become a dense garden, / full of colours, smells,
sounds you have never known" to the transfiguring lines concerning "[m]arble and calm / And what
happened to love / In the gleaming universe? / It froze in the heart of G-d, / Froze on a spear of light"
located in "Brighter Than Our Sun" (TSBOE).
The light came through the window
Straight from the sun above
And so inside my little room
There plunged the rays of Love
In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see... .
Considering the way, the truth, and the light, Dante appropriately reports, in Paradiso II:
I thought we were enveloped in a cloud,
Shining, solid, dense, and highly polished
As a diamond struck by the sun would be. ...
And that heaven which myriad lights make lovely
Takes its image from the deep Mind that turns it
And of that image makes itself the seal.
And as the soul within this dust of yours
Has been diffused throughout the different members
To suit each one to some distinctive function,
"So the Intelligence deals out its goodness
By multiplying itself among the stars
As it revolves on its own unity."
Earlier, again in Purgatorio XI, Dante writes:
I would now gaze upon this man who lives
But remains nameless, to see if I know him
And to make him feel compassion for my load. ...
Cohen responds, "Out of which the Nameless makes / A Name for one like me."
Dante admits defeat: "I cannot here describe them all in full / For my lengthy theme so presses me
forward / That often words fall short of the occasion."
Cohen rises to the pivotal occasion:
... I'll try to say a little more
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone ...
Nevertheless, midway through the Paradiso, Dante experiences an epiphany:
"Faith is the substance of things that are hoped for
And the evidence of things that are not seen,
And this appears to me to be its essence."
And this appears to be the essence of "formless circumstance":
... All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance ...
... Then I came back from where I'd been
My room, it looked the same
But there was nothing left between
The Nameless and the Name ...
"You act like one who clearly apprehends / A thing by name, but cannot grasp its essence," observes
Dante in Paradiso XX.
... All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance ...
It is said Buddhist monks chant to achieve "self-lessness," that state where consciousness renders formless any
conceptual notion of form in terms of the Divine. Not unlike the Jewish or Moslem pilgrim, not to
mention the Christian monk, the Divine dissolves both formally and temporally while retaining the
character of formless circumstance, the transcendent act of other-directed meditation, contemplation, or
prayer where the relationship towards the other takes precedence.
To add a little more, Cohen certainly noodles around in the wordshop / workship of the nominal in many
of his earlier compositions such as "Hallelujah," "The Guests," and even "The Great Event" (1997) where
playing the "Moonlight Sonata backwards ... will reverse the effects of the world's mad plunge into
suffering, for the last 200 million years."
Of course, Cohen's narrator does say a little more, with gusto, as the divine duo takes up residence on the
observation deck to catch strains of Shakespeare's Antony telling Cleopatra "I am dying, Egypt, dying; /
Give me some more wine and let me speak a little ..."
Naturally, King David in Purgatory X, also deserves his mots justes prior to the occasion, at least as far as
... There in the vanguard of the sacred coffer,
Dancing with robes hitched up, the humble psalmist
So proved himself both more and less than king.
Opposite, depicted at the window
Of a stately palace, Michal watched him dance,
So like a woman filled with wrath and scorn. ...
"'By the rivers dark / I wandered on / I lived my life / in Babylon...' That song -- ['By The Rivers Dark']
-- just participates in that whole idea of the resolution between ordinary life and some other idea we have
of it, of Boogie Street and some other version of profundity that we might nourish in ourselves; but, we're
all on Boogie Street and we're all in Babylon. And, that song's about the reconciliation of Babylon with
Jerusalem, of the Holy Land and the profane land. We keep moving between those ideas in our lives; but,
really, they're the same place."
Around the same time Cohen sat for the special interview cited above, France's Thomas Erber, in Le magazine de
l'optimum, reported the peregrinations of a character in Canada reporting the peregrinations of a
character in Babylon. Of the song "By The Rivers Dark," the Canadian reports:
"This song reports the peregrinations of a character in Babylon. He's part of it, then flees it, comes back
to it ... He belongs to the City of depravities while he knows there's a Jerusalem somewhere, even if he
doesn't figure out what's going on there. It's like our thoughts. Our brain is a receptacle for thoughts just
as we are for love. One doesn't really know what's rising in us the next moment. But our nature drives us
to think we master these streams, while we master them no more than the location we're born in. We
spend too much time thinking we're able to deny, to disown our roots, and our condition. This story is
reflected in the character, except the fact he finally really understood where he comes from. Even if an
Eden exists, he does come from Babylon and has to face this, what will surely enable him to enjoy more
the idea of a distant place, necessarily better. ... Of course! Babylon is what I call 'Boogie Street,' it is
where we are without any real possibility of escaping from it. And many of the songs on the album speak
about this, of the reconciliation between these two ways of life, because finally, it may very well be that
this holy city of Jerusalem sits right in the middle of the kingdom of sins, and we are prisoners of these
two kingdoms and can never be in one forever."
Elsewhere, the Canadian reports "By The Rivers Dark" was inspired by Psalm 137 which, tellingly, is not
one of King David's compositions although King David -- considered the founder of the Judean dynasty of
Jerusalem, a national hero, and a spiritual father of Judaism -- is considered the primary author of the
Babylon -- which, incidentally, roughly translates as "gate of God" and not as "confusion" -- for various
reasons, is aligned with the corrupt human world in contradistinction from the blessed and holy city of
Jerusalem. Dante, for what it's worth, speaks disparagingly of the gold in Babylon in Canto XXIII of the
Paradiso. The logic for this association between Dante's voyage and the contrasted cities involves the
profound impact the Babylonian Exile (586-537 B.C.E.) had upon the people of Judah. Psalm 137 speaks
of (and to) that experience, felicitously capturing the righteous anger and sorrowful indignation of its
effects. "How shall we sing... ?" sings its author, thereby creating a psalm about not being able to sing, a
fact most often lost on those who come to the searing Psalm 137 (KJV) for the first time:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our
harps upon the willows [or poplars] in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of
Zion. How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right
hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I
prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of
Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be
destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh
and dasheth thy little ones against the rocks.
Incidentally, cunning or skill etymologically relates to kenning, a figurative word or phrase found in Old
English and Old Norse poetry, e.g., "breast-coffer" = heart or "storm of swords" = battle. Cunning derives
from the Middle-English present-participle of connen as well as the Old-English cunnan, to know.
Cohen would not be the first to return (again and again) to this tiny perfect monument. Its charms were
not lost on, say, among others, Alexander Pope who, in translating Homer's Iliad (Book 22, 89-91), wrote:
"My heroes slain, my bridal bed o'erturned, / My daughters ravished, and my city burn'd, / My bleeding
infants dashed against the floor; / These have I yet to see, perhaps yet more."
In 1815, Lord Byron released his translation of Psalm 137:
By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept
We sat down and wept by the waters
Of Babel, and thought of the day
When our foe, in the hue of his slaughters,
Made Salem's high places his prey;
And ye, oh her desolate daughters!
Were scattered all weeping away.
While sadly we gazed on the river
Which rolled on in freedom below,
They demanded the song; but, oh never
That triumph the stranger shall know!
May this right hand be withered for ever,
Ere it string our high harp for the foe!
On the willow that harp is suspended,
Oh Salem! its sound should be free;
And the hour when thy glories were ended
But left me that token of thee:
And ne'er shall its soft tones be blended
With the voice of the spoiler by me!
Thus, when Cohen adds his deux cents to the Tradition, the genius refashions it to create an opening for
his own holy song concerning "the rivers dark," the five rivers of hell which flow in opposition to Eden's
four rivers of Paradise.
Probably of Babylonian origin, Eden means steppe; Paradise (literally, garden or pleasure garden) is
situated there. The four rivers of Paradise (deriving from a singular source) flow into our world from the
secretly situated Eden after passing under the ocean and resurfacing as the Tigris (happily skipping
stream), Euphrates (freshwater stream), Phison (out-flowing stream), and Gehon/Nile (uplifting or
pioneering stream). "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as a crystal, proceeding out of
the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was
there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves
of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22). Psalm 65 recalls "the river of God, which
is full of water," suggesting that Paradise is the Church of Christ made possible through His death of
reconciliation. (The Tree of Life alongside the Sephirot cannot be overlooked in this context.) On the
other end of things, the five rivers of hell -- Acheron (woe), Lethe (oblivion), Styx (hatred), Phlegethon
(fire), and Cocytus (lamentation) -- encircle the Inferno.
By the rivers dark
I wandered on
I lived my life
In Babylon ...
The truth of this attenuated salvo is written in the songs themselves. With the release of his first recorded
composition, Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1968), the artist serves notice his songs are "Stories Of The
Street" populated with "children of the dust" and "hunters who are shrieking now." On "Last Year's Man"
(Songs Of Love And Hate, 1971) Bethlehem is characterised as the bridegroom and Babylon the bride
("Great Babylon was naked oh she stood there / Trembling for me / and Bethlehem inflamed us both /
Like the shy one at some orgy") while "the whore and the beast of Babylon" put in an appearance on "Is
This What You Wanted" from New Skin For The Old Ceremony (1974). Cohen's no stranger to panic
(and the situation surrounding it), as even a cursory inventory of his repertoire demonstrates. Still, it
behooves one to additionally note, In "Ballad Of The Absent Mare" (Recent Songs, 1979), "the river's in
flood / and the roads are awash / and the bridges break up / in the panic of loss." By the time he comes to
record Various Positions (1984), Cohen will inadvertently foreshadow the shape of things to come by
presenting a somewhat finished vision of the entire occasion when his narrator sings, on "Dance Me To
The End Of Love," the following lines:
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in ...
... Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon ...
... Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, we're both of us above
Dance me to the end of love ...
In "The Priest Says Goodbye" (TSBOE), the narrator recounts how "we name beautiful the smells / that
corpses give and immortelles." Immediately, he adds, "I have studied rivers: the waters rush / like eternal
fire in Moses' bush ...." Three years later, again returning to familiar territory, Cohen's narrator in "For
Anyone Dressed in Marble" (FFH) considers "the scar of naming in his eye / Bred close to the ovens, he's
burnt inside. / Light, wind, cold, dark -- they use him like a bride" even as the speaker of "On Hearing a
Name Long Unspoken" (FFH) reports on his very human condition: "... hungry and shrewd / and I am
with the hunted quick and soft and nude ...." Dante, in describing "the marshland that is called the Styx,"
notes, in the Inferno (VII) that "the water was far darker than black dye."
... By the rivers dark
Where I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me ...
Virgil instructs Dante in Purgatorio XV: "And he told me, "Because you still affix / Your intellect to the
things of the world, / You gather darkness out of the true light."
... And he cut my lip
And he cut my heart
So I could not drink
From the river dark
And he covered me
And I saw within
My lawless heart
And my wedding ring ...
By 1992, the narrator of "Anthem" (The Future) will confess he can no longer run "with that lawless
crowd / while the killers in high places / say their prayers out loud." Interestingly, in Purgatorio XX, the
Italian further notes, "I see the new Pilate so cruel that / This will not placate him, but lawlessly / He
heads his greedy sails into the temple."
I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me
The folkloric "Pan's Anniversary" (or "Shepherds' Holiday") begins, "Of Pan we sing, the best of singers,
Pan" prior to identifying the Greek god as "the best of hunters, Pan, Arcadian / That drives the heart to
seek unused ways / ... And while his powers and praises thus we sing, / The valleys let rebound, and all
the rivers sing."
... By the rivers dark
I panicked on
I belonged at last
To Babylon ...
For his part, Dante introduces "a panic fright" (Dryden) in the opening lines of the Commedia:
... But when I had reached the base of a hill,
There at the border where the valley ended
That had cut my heart to the quick with panic,
I looked up at the hill and saw its shoulder
Mantled already with the planet's light
That leads all people straight by every road.
With that my panic quieted a little
After lingering on in the lake of my heart
Through the night I had so grievously passed. ...
Well into Purgatory III, just prior to commenting, tongue-in-cheek, the family tree has become "so
stunted," Dante describes his own doubt arising from the panic of loss:
... I whirled around to my side in a panic
That I had been abandoned when I saw
The ground had darkened only there before me.
And my comfort, turning full circle, said,
"Why this deep distrust? Do you doubt that
I am still with you here and guide you on?" ...
Panic, the word itself, derives from the French panique (terrified), which has its origins in the Greek
"Pnikos, of Pan," in terms of the terror wrought upon flocks and herds, particularly since the causing of
sudden fright or fear was ascribed to Pan.
... Then he struck my heart
With a deadly force
And he said, This heart
It is not yours ...
Naturally, by the time Dante's grown used to Paradise (XVII) and his eyes have adjusted to its light, he is
able to report: "... I clearly see, my father, how time spurs / Toward me to strike me such a blow as falls / The heaviest on him who heeds it least. ... ."
... Though I take my song
From a withered limb
Both song and tree
They sing for him
Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone
If I forget
My Babylon ...
Now, Dante, coming to the conclusion of the transformational experience of Purgatory (XXVII), will lay it
on the line, thanks to Virgil:
"Await no more a word or sign from me.
Your will is straightened, free, and whole -- and not
To act upon its promptings would be wrong:
"I crown and mitre you lord of your self."
A prophet of panic? Hardly. The narrator, the one heading for Boogie Street, is equipped for the occasion
by the rivers dark; but, before he is purged of sin (peccatum), he will have to say goodbye to "Alexandra
Leaving," based on Constantine P. Cavafy's poem "The god abandons Antony," the last of the trio of
purgatorially driven tunes that create a space, a clear and open place, for the forgiveness of reconciliation,
a forgiveness created on the principle that darkness is to space what silence is to sound, that is, the interval.
Suddenly the night has grown colder
The god of love preparing to depart
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder
They slip between the sentries of the heart ...
Whether sentry or sepulchre, Dante is pushed "between the sepulchres" by Virgil before Virgil commands
him to "suit your words to the occasion" (Inferno X) which, of course, Dante eventually does (in Paradiso
XXVI); additionally, as Dante foreshadows his own cumulative vision that will draw the Divine Comedy
to a close, so Cohen here, in reference to "a fitful dream, the morning will exhaust," does likewise,
providing a neat sweet little foretaste of "Boogie Street" in the process:
... And as a shaft of sunlight shatters sleep
When the spirit of one’s eyesight runs to meet
The radiance that spreads from lid to lid,
And one who wakes up shrinks from what he sees,
His mind befuddled by the sudden rousing,
Until his judgement comes to help him out,
So Beatrice scattered every speck away
From my eyes with the beaming of her own
Which shone back down a thousand miles and more ...
For "you who had the honour of her evening / And by the honour had your own restored / Say goodbye to
Alexandra leaving / Alexandra leaving with her lord ... ." For his part, in keeping with the occasion
which presents itself in Paradiso XXX, Dante confesses "the beauty" he saw "transcends all measure" and
he must admit he is "defeated":
For as the sun confounds the feeblest sight,
So the remembrance of her fresh sweet smile
Severs my memory from my sense of self.
From the first day on which I saw her face
In this lifetime, until that sight of her,
My song has never stopped from following her.
But now must my pursuit cease following
Her beauty further in my poetry,
Like any artist come to his full limit.
So I leave her to nobler heralding
Than the sounding of my trumpet which here draws
Its arduous subject matter to a close...
In reference to "Alexandra Leaving" during the interview, Cohen begins by identifying what he considers
to be its good lines: "You who had the honour of her evening / And by the honour had your own restored
/ Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving / Alexandra leaving with her lord," before acknowledging, "Yes, it's a
certain take on loss which is the take that you don't lose anything, that there's nothing to be lost. It's
difficult to comment on these songs because the writing of them took so long and almost everything that I
wanted to say in those songs is written in the lyrics which took a great deal of time and effort -- not that
that's any guarantee of their excellence -- but, to speak spontaneously and casually about something that is
already carefully formed, somehow trivialises the song itself. A song has its own resonances and, if it
works, it has its own suggestions, its own invitations. So, when you try to describe exactly what they are,
in some way, you spoil the invitation.
"That song, curiously enough, began as a translation of a Greek poem by Cavafy, a very great modern
Greek poet. He lived in Alexandria. Many of his poems were about the city, Alexandria. I tried to
translate one of his poems -- I started the translation in '85; and, it's only when Alexandria changed into
Alexandra that I began to be able to translate his poem into another kind of form that still reflected, I
think, his original intention."
It would seem, too, that the narrator who admits, "In My Secret Life," of his inability to loosen his grip on
the past, has carefully plodded along with Dante on his symbolic journey towards release, respite,
acceptance, and reconciliation and is, now, able to come to terms with "strategies like this" in the name of
"someone long prepared for the occasion," fully in command of every wrecked plan, primarily because he
is incapable of choosing "a coward's explanation / that hides behind the cause and the effect." Dante, in
Canto XX of the Paradiso, puts his finger on it (or, as Cohen would have it, in the wound of it):
O predestination, how far removed
Your root lies from the eyesight of those people
Who do not see the First Cause as a whole!
The connections between the Cavafy and Cohen poems are self-evident and true. Cohen completed the
song -- begun in 1985 upon falling in love with "The god forsakes Anthony" (1911) -- after happening
upon his first draft of it in a drawer and changing "Alexandria" to "Alexandra." Cavafy, of course, had
fallen equally in love with Plutarch's version of the famous story concerning the fact Caesar left
Alexandria, a seaport on the Nile's left bank, to Queen Cleopatra (46 B.C.); but, in 30 B.C., the
conquering Octavius declared the Egyptian kingdom a Roman province. The poem recounts the way in
which the defeated and bereft Antony heard instruments and voices in the streets just before he passed out.
It is said Antony's protector, Bacchus (Dionysus), had deserted him (as Shakespeare points out in the
salient passage cited earlier): "I am dying, Egypt, dying; only / I here importune death awhile, until / Of
many thousand kisses the poor last / I lay upon thy lips... / ... I am dying, Egypt, dying; Give me some
wine and let me speak a little...."
By the time Cohen and Robinson tackle "You Have Loved Enough," the narrator has indeed become
emboldened and does, indeed, say "a little more."
I said I'd be your lover
You laughed at what I said
I lost my job forever
I was counted with the dead
I swept the marble chambers
But you sent me down below
You kept me from believing
Until you let me know
That I am not the one who loves
It's love that seizes me
When hatred with his package comes
You forbid delivery ...
Of course, Cohen returns to the core, the source, the centre, in all felicitous applications of that word
(including the one on Top of Mount Baldy where, during his five-year retreat, he served his Roshi). Yet,
teachers such as Roshi and Layton (who cameo frequently in this song cycle) notwithstanding, Cohen here
recalls Dante's experience with love's so-called seizure in Canto V of the Inferno (which foreshadows the
one to come in the Purgatorio):
Love which takes quick hold in a gentle heart
Seized this man for the beauty of the body
Snatched from me -- how it happened galls me!
Love which pardons no one loved from loving
Seized me so strongly with my pleasure in him
That, as you see, it still does not leave me....
By the time he's on his way out of Purgatory (XXIV), he reiterates the poem's central point:
And I told him, "I am one who, when Love
Inspires me, takes note, and in the manner
That he dictates to me, I set it down."
Back to the future, and Paradise, where Dante turns to his readers and exclaims, "Imagine, reader, if what
I now begin / Went no further on, how you would feel / an anguished hunger to know more about them, /
And you will see, all on your own, how I / Hungered to hear more of their condition / The moment they
were shown before my eyes."
... And when the hunger for your touch
Rises from the hunger
You whisper, You have loved enough
Now let me be the Lover ...
Hunger (often collocated with Beauty), literally and figuratively, recurs throughout Cohen's lifework.
From The Spice-Box of Earth's "It Swings Jocko" ("I want to be hungry, / hungry for food, / for love, / for
flesh ... If I am hungry / then I am great ...") published in 1961 to 1968's "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes"
(Songs From A Room) where "some of us are very hungry now / to hear what it is you've done that was so wrong" to "the
witness of a hungry man" and "I left you for another hungry man" in The Energy of Slaves (1972) to the
Phil Spector 1977 co-write, "Memories," on Death Of A Ladies' Man ("I know you're hungry / I can hear
it in your voice") to, among others, perhaps some of the most moving lines penned in the name of love
and loss in all of literature, 1974's "Take This Longing" (New Skin For The Old Ceremony):
... Hungry as an archway
through which the troops have passed
in ruins behind you
with your winter clothes
your broken sandal strap ...
"You have loved enough; now, let me be the lover. You can say that the world or G-d or totality or
consciousness or your lover is speaking to you. It just means, like, forget it. Lean back and be loved by
all that is already loving you; it is your effort at love that is preventing you from experiencing it. When
the hunger for your touch, when whatever it is that you want, whatever it is that seems to be an urgent
necessity -- and 'seems to be' does not describe it, it is an urgent necessity -- if you can hear that whisper
from your life itself, from the deepest resource of that activity that is keeping you alive, that promotes life,
that is responsible, that is the engine of life -- if you can hear a whisper from that activity that says, Lean
back and experience the love that is already surrounding you.
"It's like, if you've ever taught kids how to swim, the most difficult thing is for them to understand that
they'll float if they relax; if they hold their breath and relax, they will actually float. Most kids -- the ones
that find it difficult to swim -- feel that they're going to sink like a stone to the bottom of the lake. So, it's
just that understanding that you're going to float.
"Now, the circumstances may not be continually blissful. I mean, Jesus Christ Himself cried out, Why
hast thou forsaken me? So, that cry is a human cry; but then, afterwards, He said, Consumatum est. It is
done. This is the way it is; this is the way it happened. Then, He was able to give up the ghost.
"But, if you bump into a teaching that invites you to relax in your efforts at love, in your efforts at spiritual
achievement, if you bump into such a teaching -- and that's not in your hands either -- and if you can
accept to whatever degree you can accept it -- even to accept that you can't accept it -- every degree of
acceptance, no matter how remote it is from the full embrace, confers its own degree of peace."
A decade ago, Cohen called love "the only engine of survival." Here, now, he underscores the message of
Ten New Songs: Love has become, for the narrator, "the engine of life."
It may be instructive, at this point, to note one of the acknowledged founders of the Church, the Jewish
Philo of Alexandria (d. 50 A.D.), lamented the scarcity of quality initiates willing to bring The Good
Word to the populace. "If," remarked he, "there be any as yet unfitted to be called a son of God, let him
press to take his place under God's first-born son, the Logos, who holds the eldership among the angels,
their ruler as it were, for the Word is the eldest-born image of God." Through the Logos made flesh "full
of grace and truth" (John 1), God conjoins the finite with the infinite to conflate times past, present, and
future or eternity in a handful of dust.
Identifying Jesus as Christianity's hierophantic torch-bearer (or humanity's life light), Titus Flavius
Clemens, better-known as Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 A.D.), considered Greek philosophy a divinely
inspired enterprise ennobled by the act of "perfecting man as man." In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus
connects Joseph with his divine father and Mary with his divine mother, the Holy Ghost; yet, when Moses
asks for "the name" he should communicate to the children of Israel, Jesus cryptically responds, "I AM
THAT I AM" (Exodus 3), and foreshadows Cohen's own take on all of that: "I'm what I am and what I
am / Is back on Boogie Street."
[Aye, aye, PopEye. Jesus was a sailor, too, you know?]
"Well, 'Boogie Street' begins with Sharon's impeccable gospel rendering of the chorus. Because she's such
a modest person, I had to insist that she begin the song that way -- as I had to insist that we keep all the
tracks that she thought were demos, and all the elaborations that she thought would later be replaced by
live instruments. When I saw the scope of her gift, I began to understand that we had the record. We
didn't need to replace any of the sounds.
"So, I insisted that Sharon begin the song; and, she presented me with this incredible rendering of that
verse, 'O Crown of Light, O Darkened One / I never thought we'd meet / You kiss my lips, and then it's
done / I'm back on Boogie Street.' I never thought I'd have the experience of this reconciliation of what
seemed to be apparent and irreducible conflicts. You kiss my lips; and then, it's done: I'm back on
"So, when you hug your children, you dissolve; when you kiss your Beloved, you dissolve; when you have
some kind of experience of the totality of this life, you dissolve; but, immediately, you return to Boogie
Street. As my teacher says, You can't live in Paradise because there are no toilets nor restaurants. So,
we're continually entering Paradise; and, the thing that gets us is we want to say there, we want it to
continue; but, it's not in the nature of things for it to persist. Immediately, you're thrust back on Boogie
Street. If you let yourself go back, gracefully -- and that's not in your hands -- if you can return gracefully
to Boogie Street, you return with the residue of the experience that is not Boogie Street."
O Crown of Light, O Darkened One
I never thought we'd meet
You kiss my lips, and then it's done
I'm back on Boogie Street
As Cohen told LA Weekly's Brendan Bernhard (September 2001), "Boogie Street" is a metaphor for
"ordinary human struggle and life, the place of work and desire. It's where we're meant to be, it's what
we're born into. There are moments when the burden of the self is lifted, but those are only temporary
situations. As I say in the song, 'You kiss my lips and then it's done / I'm back on Boogie Street.'
Whatever the experience is -- the god, the woman, the insight, the epiphany, the penetration -- those are
... A sip of wine, a cigarette
And then, it's time to go ...
What with all the booze floating around Ten New Songs, and the narrator of "Boogie Street" sipping
wine, having a smoke, and then, needing to hawk a whizz...
[Erp. Make that a double take:]
"... A sip of wine, a cigarette / And then it's time to go ..." correlates with Dante's admission in Paradiso
XXVII that, at the moment "[t]he whole of paradise at once poured forth," he heard a song so sweet he
What I saw seemed to me to be a smile
Of the universe, so that my intoxication
Came over me from hearing and from sight.
O gladness! O ineffable elation!
O life entirely filled with love and peace!
O riches, free from every other longing!...
["So I closed the Book of Longing / and I do what I am told."]
... And O my love, I still recall
The pleasures that we knew
The rivers and the waterfall
Wherein I bathed with you ...
Does the narrator perhaps recall "The Flowers That I Left in the Ground" (TSBOE), where "as with
horses' manes and waterfalls. / This is my last catalogue. / I breathe the breathless / I love you, I love you --
/ and let you move forever?"
... Bewildered by your beauty there
I'd kneel to dry your feet
By such instructions you prepare
A man for Boogie Street ...
A "glutton," "winebibber," and Orphean-like charmer who consorted with publicans, sinners, and
no-count delinquents (Matthew 11), Jesus, the Davidic ancestor, dallied with women of questionable
repute as well as inflaming salubrious men of the sword to press forth into battle in the name of God's
Kingdom. Luke 7 relates the story of a "city woman" [a.k.a. a dame of ill-repute] who finds Jesus in the
house of Simon and commences weeping until His feet are awash in tears; she then dries His feet with her
hair before kissing and anointing them. Mary Magdelan, in the New Testament, similarly washes and
anoints His feet while, at the Last Supper, Jesus bathes the feet of His disciples.
So come, my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear
In expanding upon the lines, "It is in love that we are made / In love we disappear," Cohen allows, in November
2001's Mojo, that they're "just a journalistic reportage of the process. We are made in love and in love we
disappear. But that love is not the romantic love, it's the impersonal benign activity that governs creation
Regarding the crown of light and the one who ends the dark, Dante describes a similar phenomenon and
reports upon what might well have been a corona borealis in Paradise.
The "enraptured" poet, "moved with loving," hears heartbreakingly tender hymns of comfort and joy
emanating from within the cross itself. The Corona Borealis, a half-crescent of stars also known as the
Northern Crown, occasionally seems to disappear from the sky when sought by the naked eye; but, in fact,
it regularly obscures [cf. chiaroscuro, from Latin "clarus + obscurus" = "clear dark"] itself with carbon soot, not unlike coal dust or ash. As well, the progress of a total solar eclipse may well figure in the firmament of Ten New Songs ("O Crown of Light / O Darkened one / I never thought we'd meet ...").
During a total solar eclipse, the moon takes a small "bite" from the sun's western edge as the sun slowly
disappears. Droplets of light become noticeable. Daylight fades to black (but not before alternating bands
of light and dark shadow materialise in parallel sequences). Fifteen seconds before totality, lucent flecks
(resembling a string of beads) yield to the so-called "diamond ring" effect which signals the climax of the
event. Then, birds cease singing; flowers close; bees cease their activities, the temperature drops, and a
roseate glow wreathes the moon's edges. The sky -- displaying a milk-white crown of light, the sun's
corona, emanating in all directions, flashing and flaring around the edges of the blackened disk -- grows
dark except near the horizon where shadows and a faint reddish light commingle. In the sphere of the
Fixed Stars, the pilgrim is directed by [the absent] Beatrice to look into what Eliot calls, in The Waste
Land, "the heart of light, the silence." This he does.
Overwhelmed by the subsequent vision, the reborn poet made privy to the "revealed Name" -- "The Being"
-- cannot "recall what [the light] became at that moment"; nevertheless, his failure to do poetic justice to
his rapturous experience of the Trinity -- an experience that might well be described as "formless
circumstance" -- deters him not at all. Instead, appropriately, he offers up a celebratory hymn of praise, a
powerful prayer concluding the consummate work of art to become one with "the love that moves the sun
and the other stars." For the record, and of some value in the context of Ten New Songs, Dante wraps up
with a fanfare and flourish in the penultimate Canto of his Divine Comedy:
... Grace from her hands who has the power to help you.
And you shall follow me so with your love
That your heart will not wander from my words.
And he began to say this holy prayer:
Not surprisingly, Ten New Songs also closes with a prayer:
Don't really have the courage
To stand where I must stand
Don't really have the temperament
To lend a helping hand
Don't really know who sent me
To raise my voice and say
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day...
For the millions in a prison
That wealth has set apart
For the Christ who has not risen
From the caverns of the heart
For the innermost decision
That we cannot but obey
For what's left of our religion
I lift my voice and pray
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day...
"Well, that's a song that is in the tradition of a kind of protest song; but, I tried to be careful to establish
the fact that I had no credentials. Don't really have the courage to stand where I must stand. We see the
injustice; we see the inequality; but, who has the courage to resist it? Who has the knowledge of what to
do? Don't really have the temperament to lend a helping hand. Don't really know who sent me to raise
my voice and say, May the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth someday. I don't know what the
motivation, what the impetus, what the urgency of this song is all about. All I know is that I was
compelled to say those words; but, I wanted to make it clear in the song that I had no special
qualifications to utter this prayer."
Christ moves, works, and lives as a human being among human beings, raising humanity from the
guttermost to the uttermost. The Prince of Glory -- both archetypal and apocalyptic -- makes the Lord's
hidden mysteries tangible, manifest, and irrefutably real; he is the Logos of the Good Word. As Moses,
Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad are generally viewed as the founders of the world's principle
religions, the Good News is for all humanity, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics,
and atheists included.
Cohen, formally educated, deeply and widely read, has often spoken of his abiding love and respect for the
book of Isaiah, the Psalms, and the Revelation, all of which find their significant niches emphasising
correlative aspects of TNS's sphere of influence and reference.
"A sense of global convulsion has always been present in my work," he'd recently told Frank DiGiacomo, "people just credited it to my general morbid take on things, that I wouldn’t join the celebration about the destruction of the Berlin Wall ... It’s not that I wasn’t happy for people who no longer live under tyrannies, but I also sensed that with the disintegration of the Soviet empire there’d be great disorder, and that that was all that was keeping the various tribes from cutting each other’s throats."
At the same time, he told Brian D. Johnson (Maclean's) about the way in which he's been "living in an
exploded landscape for a long time. I have a place to situate all of this. Because I've felt that things were
going to blow up -- it wasn't as specific as the twin towers -- but I've felt for some time there was going to
be a shaking of the situation."
Absolutely true. A decade ago, Cohen told Bob Mackowitz exactly that during an interview discussing The Future's title-track: "... I think that Yeats's line, 'the centre will not hold,' could very well have been
the subtitle of the song. I say, you know, 'things are going to slide in all directions, nothing will be
measured anymore. The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold, overturned the order of the soul.'
We're not even able to hold a concept now of a resurrection mechanism; we don't even know what the
concept is about, now. We can't even locate it in our mental equipment. And, I do feel that the centrality
"You know, we used to talk about the broken family. We all have experienced the broken family, now --
us! You know, the people we were talking about -- the sociologists, the academicians, the poets, the
mental workers -- none of these things we were talking about, from an observational point of view, has
stayed as objects of our conversation. So, we are living a world -- in a daily life -- of such ambiguity --
ambiguity about ourselves, about our wives, our husbands, our loves, our families, our loyalties, our work
-- the ambiguities have become intolerable. We are no longer outside the problem. There no longer is a
distance. There is no hill to see this from -- you share one body, now, with the serpent you forbid and
with the dove that you allow. We're in it.
"And, The Future comes out of that experience. There is no perspective on the future anymore. It is like
-- Look it! -- you'll settle for the Berlin Wall. You'll settle for totalitarianism. You'll settle for the FBI.
You'll settle for the ozone layer with the hole in it. You'll settle for the wrecked Amazonian forest. All
these things will look good, next to what's coming down."
What's come down in the last decade? Your future, the future of the global village, "a gathering around a
perplexity." The blizzard has crossed the threshold; the sacred heart's blown; we are now "living in an
exploded landscape" which admits of a tentative affirmation, an acceptance.
"Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the
peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. 'I am the Alpha and the Omega,'
says the Lord God, 'who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Revelation 1).
If, as Cohen suggests, contemporary culture supplants Nature, what remains worthy of worship in a world
where Nature no longer provides the raw materials, the almighty stuff that heavens are made of?
In referring to King Claudius's couplet in Hamlet, "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words
without thoughts never to heaven go," Cohen reluctantly communicated his thoughts on the situation in
Israel to El Mundo's Elena Pita in September 2001. "Citing the words of the bard ('Oh,...my words... '),
the greatness of a religion is in affirming other religions, the way a great culture affirms other cultures. I
am conscious of putting a finger in a wound, but the first thing that comes to my mind is the
establishment of Jewish colonies in the land of the Palestinians."
"What I think? That's a weighty question. My loyalty is compromised; I wish everyone well; but, I am
especially worried about the survival of Israel. With the present Administration and its policy, Israel is
somewhat of a priority on my mind. But last week I was reading the Qur'an and it speaks of
reconciliation, of peace, of compassion. I have hope there will be a solution, although I don't know what
that would be. I know that it is tragic, that the Palestinians need to find a place to live, as do the Jews.
The problem is that G-d has commanded them both to live on the same site."
Despite the fact the entire Book of Revelation bears scrutiny here, Revelation 6 (KJV) stands on its own
and provides substantial correlative food for thought in terms of some of the key ingredients that have
gone into the creation of the sumptuous feast of a masterpiece known as Ten New Songs:
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the
four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a
bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. And when he had
opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse
that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they
should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. And when he had opened the third
seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo, a black horse; and he that sat on
him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure
of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I
looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and
with death, and with the beasts of the earth. And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar
the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they
cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our
blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was
said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their
brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. And I beheld when he had opened the
sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the
moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely
figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And Heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together;
and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great
men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free
man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks,
Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
The ponies run, the girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while, and then it’s done
Your little winning streak ...
And maybe I had miles to drive
And promises to keep
You ditch it all to stay alive
A Thousand Kisses Deep ... .
REFERENCES AND RELATED LINKS:
The Leonard Cohen Files (Jarkko and Rauli Arjatsalo)
Sony Canada's Official Leonard Cohen Site
Ten New Songs
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
JF in The Gallery of Beautiful Losers
Award-winning Canadian poet, literary journalist, and music critic Judith Fitzgerald's accessible, compelling, and concise portrait, Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy (Quest Biography Series, XYZ, 206 pp.) -- an exclusive excerpt from which was prominently featured on the front of Canada's National Newspaper, The Globe and Mail -- was published to glowing reviews November 2001. Currently, the ex-Torontonian who now calls Northern Ontario's Almaguin Highlands home is writing Our Incomparable Sense of Loss: The Art and Craft of the Words and Music of Leonard Cohen (Guernica Editions, 2003) -- "Notes" is an exclusive draft preview from this book -- and completing Adagios
(a four-part long poem), Oberon Press will publish next year.
© 2002 The Leonard Cohen Files (Electronic Edition)
© 2002 Judith Fitzgerald (Print Edition)
All Rights Reserved. Duplication in whole or in part in any medium without
the express written permission of the copyright holders is forbidden.
All TNS Lyrics cited by written permission.
© 2001-2002 Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson,
and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada Company.
All Rights Reserved.