A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Stranger Music

Since I'd enjoyed so much the Leonard Cohen concert the other night I thought it was high time I pulled down from the shelf my copy of Stranger Music, Cohen's 400 page collection of selected poems and songs, and reassessed it 15 years after its 1993 publication. I was not disappointed.

I was immediately struck by the very 1st poem in the book and its startling image of silence which blossoms like tumours on our lips. It's entitled simply Poem:


I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumours on our lips
it is because I hear a man climb the stairs
and clear his throat outside our door.

(Incidentally, and this has some bearing on the above poem, in his song The Tower of Song Cohen refers ironically to being born with the gift of a golden voice - a voice not at all conventionally "golden", of course!)

A few pages further on I found this perfect, translucent short poem, which has echoes of Byron's So We'll Go No More A' Roving:

As The Mist Leaves No Scar

As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill,
So my body leaves no scar
On you, nor ever will.

When wind and hawk encounter,
What remains to keep?
So you and I encounter,
Then turn, then fall to sleep.

As many nights endure
Without a moon or star,
So will we endure
When one is gone and far.

I think this says something interesting, and says it beautifully, about lovers both together and apart, lovers both as a couple and as independent individuals.

Several pages later comes this even shorter poem:

For Anne

With Annie gone,
Whose eyes to compare
With the morning sun?

Not that I did compare,
But I do compare
Now that she's gone.

The poem I Have Not Lingered In European Monasteries reminds one of Simon Armitage's It Ain't What You Do It's What It Does To You with its repetitive I have not... at the beginning of each verse. This is just a taster:

I Have Not Lingered In European Monasteries

I have not lingered in European monasteries
and discovered among the tall grasses tombs of knights...

I have not released my mind to wander and wait
in those great distances
between the snowy mountains and the fishermen...

I have not held my breath
so that I might hear the breathing of G-d...

The 2nd verse recalls one of those old Japanese landscape paintings - which in turn brings to mind Cohen's interest in Buddhism and the time when he trained as a Buddhist monk. The 1st verse attests to his abiding passion for European history and culture (the poetry of Lorca is one of his strong influences) and the 3rd verse to his interest in spiritual matters. I think I'm right in saying that he always writes "God" as "G-d" in his work.

More about Cohen's poetry later as I'm slowly rereading my way through the whole book...


The Weaver of Grass said...

I love these simple yet complex poems Robert - more please.

The Solitary Walker said...

There will be more... later. Re-evaluating his poetry has been a revelation - it's so much better than I remember it.