For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 28 November 2008

Take This Waltz

Many songs seem a little bald, a little lacking in something, if you read them just as lyrics on the page. The words tend to cry out for the familiar voice and musical accompaniment. I think there are some notable exceptions - the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Noel Coward for instance. And I would also add the lyrics of Leonard Cohen. As I reread my way through Cohen's Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, I'm struck by how amorphous the dividing line is between his songs and his poems. You can find this song on his very fine album I'm Your Man:

Take This Waltz
(After Lorca)


Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women.
There's a shoulder where death comes to cry.
There's a lobby with nine hundred windows.
There's a tree where the doves go to die.
There's a piece that was torn from the morning,
And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost -
Ay, ay ay ay
Take this waltz, take this waltz,
take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws.

I want you, I want you, I want you
on a chair with a dead magazine.
In the cave at the tip of the lily,
in some hallway where love's never been.
On a bed where the moon has been sweating,
in a cry filled with footsteps and sand -
Ay, ay ay ay
Take this waltz, take this waltz,
take its broken waist in your hand.

This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz,
with its very own breath
of brandy and death,
dragging its tail in the sea
.

There's a concert hall in Vienna
where your mouth had a thousand reviews.
There's a bar where the boys have stopped talking,
they've been sentenced to death by the blues.
Ah, but who is it climbs to your picture
With a garland of freshly cut tears?
Ay, ay ay ay
Take this waltz, take this waltz,
take this waltz, it's been dying for years.

There's an attic where children are playing,
Where I've got to lie down with you soon,
in a dream of Hungarian lanterns,
in the mist of some sweet afternoon.
And I'll see what you've chained to your sorrow,
all your sheep and your lilies of snow -
Ay, ay ay ay
Take this waltz, take this waltz,
with its "I'll never forget you, you know!"

And I'll dance with you in Vienna,
I'll be wearing a river's disguise.
The hyacinth wild on my shoulder
my mouth on the dew of your thighs.
And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
with the photographs there and the moss.
And I'll yield to the flood of your beauty,
my cheap violin and my cross.
And you'll carry me down on your dancing
to the pools that you lift on your wrist -
o my love, o my love
Take this waltz, take this waltz,
it's yours now. It's all that there is.


These lyrics bear all the hallmarks of a typical Cohen song: the romanticism, the eroticism, the surrealism, the melancholia. But I've chosen the words to this particular song above all because I do believe they stand up in their own right on the page, without the voice and the music - athough, of course, at the same time this song in particular is begging for a waltz time musical treatment. Which is exactly what it gets on the record.

2 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

I find it hard to read this as a poem Robert, as I want to hear the music. I think it is beautiful but am not sure that it stands on its own as a great poem. (nevertheless I wish I could write as well as that!)

The Solitary Walker said...

The 3/4 time melody is WONDERFUL (you must hear it) - but my point was that it's affecting, and beautiful, just as it stands on the page. Not as a great poem, sure, I never said that - but as an utterly arresting sequence of words and rhymes.