Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

I’m forty-one, the moon is full,
you make love very well.
You touch me like I touch myself,
I like you, Mademoiselle.
You’re so fresh and you’re so new,
I do enjoy you, Miss.
There’s nothing I would rather do
than move around just like this.

— Leonard Cohen, ‘Do I Have To Dance All Night?’


Here comes your bride

Here comes your bride with her veil on
Approach her, you wretch, if you dare
Approach her, you ape with your tail on

— Leonard Cohen, from ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On’

You’re going to have to learn to sing this song

Now I know you’re sitting there, deep in your velvet seats, and you’re thinking, ‘He’s up there saying something that he thinks about, but I’ll never have to sing that song’. But I promise you friends, you’re going to be singing this song. It may not be tonight, it may not be tomorrow, but one day you’ll be on your knees and I want you to know the words when the time comes. Because you’re going to have to sing it to yourself, or to another, or to your brother. You’re going to have to learn to sing this song.

— Leonard Cohen, ‘Please Don’t Pass Me By’

I stopped to listen

I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I began again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams on golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.

– Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy

The only poem

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

– Leonard Cohen

Whenever I happen to see you

Whenever I happen to see you
I forget for a while
That I am ugly in my own eyes
For not winning you

I wanted you to choose me
Over all the men you know
Because I am destroyed
In their company

I have often prayed for you
Like this
Let me have her

— Leonard Cohen, The Energy of Slaves


Q: That holiness you speak of, we seem bereft of it. It’s not in vogue to have that sense of spirituality anymore. Do you still cultivate it for yourself?

LC: I’m aware that I’m embraced by the absolute, as we are all embraced by the absolute. I feel that the technology for experiencing the absolute has been lost. But all the great religions have this experience, this information, this data, this technology which can [give you] this experience. I’ve always wondered why religions emphasise this idea of ‘belief’. Why should you believe in these matters? But experiencing these matters is available to all of us, experiencing the absolute is available. To be tyrannical or to be in some way oppressive about belief… I think it’s not fair to ask people to believe [when] they don’t experience. But we have the technology to experience the absolute, and I would just invite everybody to investigate their own religions. It’s not necessary to find a new one.

Leonard Cohen

A great opportunity

When you consider the fact of our little journey on the crust of this star, and the number of bridges, barriers, differentiations, diversions that we manage to construct for ourselves, to have an opportunity to dissolve them is really… a great opportunity. Because that moment is precisely there to dissolve those distinctions. If you don’t have moments when the distinctions are dissolved, then you become a very narrow, bitter, prejudiced, dogmatic kind of individual. Like I am most of the time. But from time to time I am permitted to dissolve these things.

Leonard Cohen

Men in love

And yet he was inclined to suspect that the state for which he so longed was a calm, a peace, which would not have been a propitious atmosphere for his love. When Odette ceased to be for him a creature always absent, regretted, imagined, when the feeling that he had for her was no longer the same mysterious turmoil that was wrought in him by the phrase from the sonata, but affection and gratitude, when normal relations that would put an end to his melancholy madness were established between them — then, no doubt, the actions of Odette’s daily life would appear to him as being of little intrinsic interest — as he had several times already felt that they might be, on the day, for instance, when he had read through its envelope her letter to Forcheville. Examining his complaint with as much scientific detachment as if he had inoculated himself with it in order to study its effects, he told himself that, when he was cured of it, what Odette might or might not do would be a matter of indifference to him. But the truth was that in the depths of his morbid condition he feared death itself no more than such a recovery, which would in fact amount to the death of all that he now was.

— Proust, Swann’s Way (trans. Moncrieff)


He exorcized the glory demons. The pages were jammed into an antique drawer that Shell respected. It was a Pandora’s box of visas and airline-ticket folders that would spirit him away if she opened it. Then he would climb back into the warm bed, their bodies sweetened by the threat.
   God, she was beautiful. Why shouldn’t he stay with her? Why shouldn’t he be a citizen with a woman and a job? Why shouldn’t he join the world? The beauty he had planned as a repose between solitudes now led him to demand old questions of loneliness.
   What did he betray if he remained with her? He didn’t dare recite the half-baked claims. And now he could taste the guilt that would nourish him if he left her. But he didn’t want to leave for good. He needed to be by himself, so he could miss her, to get perspective.
   He shoved an air-mail letter into the stuffed drawer.
   He watched her sleeping, sheet clutched in her hand like an amulet, hair sprung over the pillow in Hokusai waves. Certainly he would be willing to murder for that suspended body. It was the only allegiance. Then why turn from it?
   His mind leaped beyond parting to regret. He was writing to her from a great distance, from some desperate flesh-covered desk in the future.
   My darling Shell, there is someone lost in me whom I drowned stupidly in risky games a while ago — I would like to bring him to you, he’d jump into your daydreams without asking and take care of your flesh like a drunk scholar, with laughing and precious secret footnotes. But as I say, he is drowned, or crumpled in cowardly sleep, heavily medicated, dreamless, his ears jammed with seaweed or cotton — I don’t even know the location of the body, except that sometimes he stirs like a starving foetus in my heart when I remember you dressing or at work in the kitchen. That’s all I can write. I would have liked to bring him to you — not this page, not this regret.
   He looked up from his lined book. He imagined Shell’s silhouette and his own. Valentine sweethearts of his parents’ time. A card on his collector’s shelf. Could he embalm her for easy reference?
   She changed her position, drawing the white sheet tight along the side of her body, so that her waist and thigh seemed to emerge out of rough marble. He had no comparisons. It wasn’t just that the forms were perfect, or that he knew them so well. It was not a sleeping beauty, everybody’s princess. It was Shell. It was a certain particular woman who had an address and the features of her family. She was not a kaleidoscope to be adjusted for different visions. All her expressions represented feelings. When she laughed it was because. When she took his hand in the middle of the night it was because. She was the reason. Shell, the Shell he knew, was the owner of the body. It answered her, was her. It didn’t serve him from a pedestal. He had collided with a particular person. Beautiful or not, or ruined with vitriol tomorrow, it didn’t matter. Shell was the one he loved.

— Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game

The fire goes down easily

He never described himself as a poet or his work as poetry. The fact that the lines do not come to the edge of the page is no guarantee. Poetry is a verdict, not an occupation. He hated to argue about the techniques of verse. The poem is a dirty, bloody, burning thing that has to be grabbed first with bare hands. Once the fire celebrated Light, the dirt Humility, the blood Sacrifice. Now the poets are professional fire-eaters, freelancing at any carnival. The fire goes down easily and honours no one in particular.

— Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game