Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

Tom Cochrane’s Bird On A Wire Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

lcjukebox

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.

- Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Heck Of A Guy feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

tomc

Tom Cochrane’s Grand Bird On A Wire

From CBC Radio Morningside with Peter Gzowski (Nov 18, 1992):

Peter Gzowski: Tom Cochrane has a beautiful  Bird On A Wire
Leonard Cohen: I know he does. It’s grand.

Tom Cochrane, is a Canadian singer-songwriter who fronted Red Rider as well as establishing a successful solo career, winning seven Juno Awards. He is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and was inducted onto the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2009. Tom Cochrane and Red Rider released their cover of Bird On A Wire on The Symphony Sessions album (1989).

Leonard Cohen & Wilfred Owen Grapple With God – Abraham’s Test Of Faith As A Plea For Peace

7 CARAVAGGIO900

Caravaggio’s renowned depiction of the biblical Sacrifice of Isaac

By David D. Fowler

David D. Fowler is a Canadian transmedia artist who blogs at MuseMash on Tumblr. For a preview of Omen Tide, his fantasy project combining words, photos, music and film, click here: MuseMash  – Omen Tide

 The Sacrifice Of Isaac As A Plea For Peace

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”

So wrote Bob Dylan, referring to the Old Testament legend of the Almighty using Abraham’s son to test the faith of Judaism’s founder.

Dylan’s song is really more about surreal roadside shenanigans than about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. While some songwriters tell the Old Testament story straightforwardly, evangelical Christian writers have interpreted Isaac’s ordeal through the filter of the New Testament as a poignant symbol of the sacrificial death of Jesus. Other writers, however, have used this evocative narrative as a most effective metaphor to comment on the scourge of war. The most significant of these, I would say, are Wilfred Owen and Leonard Cohen.

Owen has rightly been called the unofficial Poet Laureate of the Great War. His brilliant work is especially pertinent to Remembrance Day this year, the centenary of World War One. Owen was renowned for hard-hitting depictions of this ghastly conflict in poems such as Dulce ET Decorum Est, Strange Meeting, and Anthem For Doomed Youth. One of his most striking works, Parable of the Old Man & the Young, makes powerful use of the tale of Isaac – so powerful that Benjamin Britten made it a centerpiece of his choral masterwork, War Requiem.

Rather than honor the deep faith of the father figure in the original story, Owen paints a portrait of a psychotic butcher whose action precipitates the catastrophic bloodshed of the Great War. In the Bible, God commands Abraham to slay his son to prove his faith; but just before the patriarch complies, the Lord sends an angel to intercede – offering a lamb for sacrifice in Isaac’s stead, much to the loving father’s relief. Owen, however, turns this on its head in a harrowing passage: “An angel called him out of heaven, saying, ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do anything to him. Behold a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.’ But the old man would not so, but slew his son – and half the seed of Europe, one by one.” The dramatic repetition of that final phrase is one of the most chilling parts of Britten’s oratorio.

Leonard Cohen, just as prodigiously gifted, expresses a more complicated view of war than Owen. In 1974, he provocatively told ZigZag magazine,

War is wonderful. They’ll never stamp it out. It’s one of the few times people can act their best, [with] the sense of community and kinship and brotherhood, devotion. There are opportunities to feel things that you simply cannot feel in modern city life. Very impressive.

In the same interview, he says of his composition, Story Of Isaac,

The song doesn’t end with a plea for peace. It doesn’t end with a plea for sanity between the generations. It ends saying, ‘I’ll kill you if I can, I will help you if I must. I will kill you if I must, I will help you if I can.’

It would seem Cohen is not one to join mass peace movements. In Frankfurt, 1972, he introduced the song as one he

wrote to the people who feel it is within their right to sacrifice the young for some purpose which they conceive to be holy or just. It’s a song for them, and it’s also a song for those who would enlist my aid in defeating those men. Because I don’t want to join any program. I don’t want to write my name at the end of any [manifesto].

Cohen has maintained that the song is primarily a commentary on the relationship between the younger and older generations. Introducing it in Frankfurt in 1974, he said:

This is a song about that curious place where the generations often meet: an altar or a butcher’s block.

Nevertheless, he has made it clear that the song is by no means an endorsement of armed conflict. On the BBC in 1968, he said,

Just at the last moment before he was about to sacrifice Isaac, an angel held the hand of the father. But today the children are being sacrificed, and no one raises a hand to end the sacrifice. And this is what this song is about.

Elsewhere, he has emphasized this negative view of killing. At the 1972 Stockholm concert, he prefaced Story Of Isaac with “I sing this song for the butchers and the victims.” In a 1985 performance, he offered a significant variation on one verse:

Shame upon this uniform, the man of peace, the man of war. The peacock spreads his deadly fan.

Based on some of Cohen’s comments, one might be justified in thinking Story Of Isaac is not profoundly anti-war. However, one verse features a clear call for the abandonment of the time-honored tradition of ritual slaughter:

You who build these altars now, to sacrifice these children, you must not do it anymore. A scheme is not a vision, and you never have been tempted by a demon or a god. You who stand above them now, your hatchets blunt and bloody, you were not there before – when I lay upon a mountain, and my father’s hand was trembling with the beauty of the Word.

While I would not go so far as to call Cohen an “anti-war writer” per se, I believe this verse conveys an implicit metaphorical condemnation of the mass carnage resulting from war. The song also says “Have mercy on our uniform,” which I see as a call for compassion on the plight of all soldiers forced to kill. These elements, I feel, could be interpreted as making the song into the very “plea for peace” that he denied in the ZigZag interview – despite his original intentions, or later protestations to the contrary.

Both of these great works appear to express a pessimistic view of the perpetuity of war, but for essentially anti-war purposes; the writers are ultimately hopeful, in the sense that they evidently want war to cease. I would suggest Cohen perhaps demonstrates a cynical acceptance of war as an inevitable part of the human condition. But I would also conclude that he doesn’t like it any more than Owen does. So for me at least, Story Of Isaac remains a stirring anti-war statement.

Old Testament: Isaac & Abraham

Wilfred Owen: Parable of the Old Man & the Young

Leonard Cohen: Story Of Isaac – Isle of Wight 1970

Benjamin Britten: War Requiem

New Testament: Abraham

Leonard Cohen Specialty Videos On YouTube

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The Allan Showalter YouTube Channel has been reorganized and now sports a new look (see screen capture below) with a nifty header, a trailer, and, most importantly, all of the channel’s Leonard Cohen videos (62 as of today) gathered into a single section called Leonard Cohen Specialty Videos.

Note: A categorized listing of all the Leonard Cohen videos on my channel can be found at the Videos tab in the header of every page on this site.

trailer-look

The Leonard Cohen Specialty Videos Trailer

The trailer is a one minute video that provides newcomers an indication of the Cohencentric delights available.

Leonard Cohen Specialty Videos Trailer

Check out Leonard Cohen Specialty Videos
at Allan Showalter YouTube Channel

Credit Due Department: The exceptional photo atop this post is from the 2012 Leonard Cohen Madrid concert and was taken by SolMur

Whom Does The Eminently Quotable Leonard Cohen Quote?

quotes

Leonard Cohen has long been a popular source of quotations. Selections from his song lyrics, poems, and novels, for example, frequently appear in newspaper and magazine articles about not only music but also politics and culture. They also show up in graffiti, signs, and various other public displays.

cracks

This post, however, focus on individuals whose lines have been quoted by Leonard Cohen in his interviews and his remarks on stage between songs. And, although the following is a sampler that falls far short of an exhaustive catalog, it’s difficult to imagine another pop music star who draws from a corpus of such range and depth.

Songwriters

Given the nature of interviews and Cohen”s own songwriting career, it is unsurprising that Leonard Cohen often quotes lyrics from songs others have written. Two examples follow:

One of the greatest songs in history is “Blueberry Hill.” “The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill.” I would be happy to have written that line.1

Asked by Jarvis Cocker at a Jan 18, 2012 interview how he felt about being awarded the PEN New England award for literary excellence in song lyrics, Cohen replied,

The thing I liked about this award was that I’m sharing it with Chuck Berry,” said Cohen. “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news” – I’d like to write a line like that.2

Friends

Irving Layton: Irving Layton was, of course, a poet as well as a friend of Cohen’s. I’ve included him in the category of Friends rather than Poets on subjective grounds.

I always think of something Irving Layton said about the requirements for a young poet, and I think it goes for a young singer, too, or a beginning singer: “The two qualities most important for a young poet are arrogance and inexperience.” It’s only some very strong self-image that can keep you going in a world that really conspires to silence everyone.3

I don’t think the poet has a mission. I think that activity more appropriately applies to the priest, the teacher, the politician, and the warrior. As my friend Layton wrote: “Whatever else, poetry is freedom.” It seems a very aggressive proposition to teach someone something they don’t want to learn.4

Roshi: Similarly, Roshi was not only Cohen’s friend but his Zen teacher.

Songs are meant to be sad. That’s why we love them. Roshi once said to me, “Leonard, you should sing more sad!”5

There are moments – I suppose when you embrace your children, or kiss your beloved, or plunge into a pool of cold water – when you forget who you are, when you forget yourself, and that’s a very refreshing occasion, & it’s paradise – there’s no you. But you resurrect immediately, into Boogie Street. If you’re lucky, you resurrect with the residue of the experience of paradise. But, as Roshi says, you can’t live in paradise – no restaurants or toilets.6

Music Industry Figures

Marty Machat: Cohen’s lawyer and manager until his death in 1988.

I remember saying to my lawyer who was accompanying me there [Cohen’s singing debut in NYC]. In a state of panic, I said ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here; I can’t sing,’ and he said, ‘None of you guys can sing. When I want to hear singers, I go the Metropolitan Opera.’7

Jon Landau: Landau is a music critic, manager and record producer, best known for working with Bruce Springsteen.

I am reminded of the prophetic statement by Jon Landau in the early 1970s: “I have seen the future of rock and roll, and it is not Leonard Cohen.”8

Cohen was, of course, riffing on the famous proclamation Jon Landau wrote in 1974 as a Rolling Stone contributing editor, “I’ve seen the future of rock n’ roll, and it’s name is Bruce Springsteen.”

Spiritual Sources

Zen

There”s a Zen saying: The lotus that blossoms in the pool is swept away in the first fire. But the lotus that blossoms in the fire lasts forever.9

The Talmud:

As the Talmud says “There’s good wine in every generation.” I love to hear what Dylan has to say and Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits and many others.10

Greater is he that answers Amen than he that says the blessing – That’s a quotation from…the section of the Talmud called Ethics of the Father. It’s quite a wise and profound saying, and it has many resonances. That confession to yourself that you cannot innovate, but you might be able to affirm that which is worthwhile affirming, is a wonderful notion and the beginning of a kind of wisdom.11

Kabbalah:

Unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne. Somehow, the male and female parts of me refuse to encounter one another tonight, and God does not sit on his throne. This is a terrible thing to happen in Jerusalem.12

New Testament (Jesus)

Any guy who says “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek” has got to be a figure of unparallelled generosity and insight and madness.13

Poets

Yeats:

What Yeats said about “a foolish passion in an old man,” that’s not a bad calling. To stay alive in the heart and the spine and the genitals, to be sensitive to these delicious movements, is not a bad way to go.14

At the 2010 Lissadell House concerts, Cohen recited WB Yeats’s poem In memory of Eva Gore Booth and Constance Markiewicz which begins

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both,
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Yeats’s Father:

Yeats’s father said poetry is the social act of a solitary man – we all find ways of bridging that isolation. For writers it is words, but for the cabinet-maker it is the presentation of the finished bureau. I don’t think the act of writing is especially significant. I think a man or woman lays their work at the foot of their beloved. We do everything for love.15

William Ernest Henley:

At the 2010 Moscow concert, Cohen recited from “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley in his prologue to “Darkness.”
Leonard Cohen – Invictus & The Darkness
Moscow: July 10, 2010
Video from cheburek1960

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Matthew Arnold:

At the 2010 Stuttgart and Moscow shows, Cohen introduced “Born In Chains” with words from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” At the Aug 14, 2012 Ghent concert, Cohen also recited a verse of “Dover Beach” in his rendition of “I Can’t Forget” – but in this case the words of the poem were interlaced with the song itself rather than serving as its prologue.

Leonard Cohen – I Can’t Forget (Ghent, Aug 14, 2012)
Video by

Wordsworth:

Cohen quotes Wordsworth as a foil to his own experience, “Contrary to what Wordsworth said, I never felt my life was ‘recollected in tranquility.’16

Ezra Pound:

I never wanted my work to get too far away from music. Ezra Pound said … “When poetry strays too far from music, it atrophies. When music strays too far from the dance it atrophies.”17

James Joyce:

In a 1995 telephone interview with Joe Jackson, Cohen discusses the literary voices, many of which were Irish, that influenced his own work. Cohen quotes from the final paragraph of The Dead by James Joyce, making a minor error in the process:

Leonard Cohen: “snow was gen­eral over all of Ire­land”18

James Joyce: “snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land”19

Prose Writers

Ben Jonson Vs Edward Edwards/Samuel Johnson:

From “I remember what Ben Jonson said: ‘I’ve studied all the philosophies and all the theologies but cheerfulness keeps breaking through.”” Who was Leonard Cohen actually quoting in 1992?

Leonard Cohen used the line, “I’ve studied all the philosophies and all the theologies but cheerfulness keeps breaking through” a few time in interviews in 1992 and 1993, usually attributing it, as he does in this case (Leonard Cohen and the Death of Cool By Deborah Sprague. Your Flesh magazine, 1992. Found at Speaking Cohen) to Ben Jonson. In at least one interview (Maverick Spirit: Leonard Cohen by Jim O’Brien. B-Side Magazine, August/September 1993. Also found at Speaking Cohen), he tentatively attributes it to Samuel Johnson, which is closer, but still doesn’t win a cigar.

The original line was uttered by one Edward Edwards, who directed it to his friend, Samuel Johnson: “You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don’t know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.”

It was recorded, as one might expect, by the assiduous James Boswell in his magnificent biographical tome, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Tennessee Williams Vs Truman Capote:

From Leonard Cohen’s Perpetuated Tennessee Williams-Truman Capote Quotation Misattribution

In a 2001 interview ‘I never discuss my mistresses or my tailors’ by Nick Paton Walsh in the 13 October 2001 edition of The Observer, in which Leonard Cohen is quoted:

‘I don’t think much about [death], but in a certain stage in your life it becomes very clear that your time is not unlimited. Tennessee Williams said: “Life is a fairly well-written play, except for the third act.” I’m maybe at the third act, where you have the benefit of the experience of the first two acts. But how it ends is nobody’s business and is generally accompanied by some disagreeable circumstances.’

I thought this an appropriately pithy expression to warrant its publication as a “Words By Leonard Cohen” post, and as I am wont to do, checked the source of Tennessee Williams quote.

And I indeed found several references to that Tennessee Williams quote, but, oddly, every example save one mentioned not only the epigram itself and Tennessee Williams, but also Leonard Cohen offering the quote.

It turns out that the quote is actually worded a bit differently:

Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.

It also turns out that the source of the quote is significantly different; it was produced by Truman Capote rather than Tennessee Williams.

Norman Mailer;

“Love is the reward for work.” Norman Mailer said that and I thought it was very, very good.20

Woody Allen:

The critics have begun to be very kind to me. I am reminded of that aphorism articulated by the great cinema master who is now in disgrace, Woody Allen: “Most of life is just showing up.””21

William Faulkner:

At the beginning of my first book of poems [Let Us Compare Mythologies], I used a quotation from a short story by William Faulkner: “All right” he said. “Listen and read again, but only one stanza this time and closed the book and laid it on the table. “She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss” McCaslin said: “Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair.” “He”s talking about a girl,” he said. “He had to talk about something,” McCaslin said. That”s from The Bear by William Faulkner. We all have to talk about something.22

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  1. Leonard Cohen Gave Me 200 Franc by Martin Oestergaard. Euroman, Denmark September 2001 []
  2. Quoted in Jarvis Cocker & Leonard Cohen Discuss Pen New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award []
  3. The John Hammond Years, Interview with John Hammond and Leonard Cohen. BBC, September 20, 1986. Found at LeonardCohenFiles. []
  4. Leonard Cohen, responding to the query, “What is your opinion on the proposition that ‘the visions of poets may teach those who do not want to know it that there is more in shadow than in light?” in a 2001 online chat. []
  5. Leonard Cohen Hits 70 by Phillip Marchand, Toronto Star: September 19 2004 []
  6. State of Grace by Doug Saunders. Globe and Mail: Sept 1, 2001. Accessed 09 June 2014 at Ten New Songs []
  7. Leonard Cohen, describing his singing debut arranged by Judy Collins. From How Judy Collins Helped Leonard Cohen Start His Singer-Songwriter Career []
  8. Leonard Cohen at his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on March 11, 2008. []
  9. Leonard Cohen Mixes Movie-Making And Zen by Paul King. The Gazette, July 16, 1983. Accessed 03 July 2014 at Speaking Cohen []
  10. Online Chat []
  11. Leonard Cohen: Pondering His Past and “The Future” by Scott Crawford (Intermission, Stanford Daily: April 8, 1993) Retrieved 09 October 2014 from Speaking Cohen []
  12. Leonard Cohen Quotes Kabbalah To Explain Misgivings About Performance To Audience At 1972 Jerusalem Concert []
  13. Leonard Cohen (1988), from “Leonard Cohen in His Own Words” by Jim Devlin []
  14. From Melancholy Baby by John Walsh. The Independent Magazine: May 8, 1993. DrHGuy Note: I suspect Leonard Cohen’s reference is to the final line of A Prayer For Old Age by William Butler Yeats.

    God guard me from those thoughts men think
    In the mind alone;
    He that sings a lasting song
    Thinks in a marrow-bone;

    From all that makes a wise old man
    That can be praised of all;
    O what am I that I should not seem
    For the song’s sake a fool?

    I pray—for word is out
    And prayer comes round again—
    That I may seem, though I die old,
    A foolish, passionate man.
    []

  15. From A Life In The Day Of Leonard Cohen Interview By Nigel Williamson. The Sunday Times Magazine (London), 1997. []
  16. See Leonard Cohen On Bunk Beds, Country Music, Song Writing, Terrorism, Religion, and – Yes – Sex. Note: The Wordsworth quote is from the preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800). The context from which the phrase is drawn follows: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” []
  17. From Leonard Cohen: Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik. Melody Maker:1 March 1975. Dr Heck Note: The Ezra Pound quotation is from the Preface of his book, ABC of Reading (1934), and reads, in context,

    The author’s conviction on this day of the New Year is that music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; that poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music. []

  18. See Hear Leonard Cohen Talk About James Joyce’s Influence & Bono’s Cover Of Hallelujah []
  19. For context, the entire final paragraph from The Dead by James Joyce follows with the quoted words in bold:

    Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead. [emphasis mine] []

  20. From Leonard Cohen by Dev Sherlock (Musician Magazine, November, 1993). Found at Speaking Cohen. []
  21. Introduction to “A Singer Must Die” at the July 16, 1993 concert. Source: Leonard Cohen Prologues. Note: The quote attributed to Woody Allen is “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” Source: Quote Investigator []
  22. Leonard Cohen – Sony Online Chat. Oct 16, 2001 []

New Video: Is This What You Wanted by Leonard Cohen – Paris 1976

6-Jun-1976-5

Rare photo of June 5, 1976 Leonard Cohen Concert at the Olympia in Paris taken by Dominique BOILE

A Halloween Treat

As part of DrHGuy’s Leonard Cohen – Halloween offerings, I posted a video of the Most Halloweenish Leonard Cohen Song: “Is This What You Wanted”.

“Is This What You Wanted” gets my vote for “most Halloweenish Leonard Cohen song.” Not only does it feature a ghost and the requisite haunted house (“And is this what you wanted / to live in a house that is haunted / by the ghost of you and me?”) but it also suggests a number of appropriate disguises: “very reverend Freud,” “dirty little boy,” “Steve McQueen,” “Mr. Clean,” ” Rin Tin Tin,” …

It turns out the only live version of “Is This What You Wanted” I could find on YouTube is from the 1975 Bryn Mawr show, which is accurately described on the site as “not the best sound quality, but good enough.”

To provide an alternative with better sound, I tracked down a high quality audio track from a radio broadcast of the June 5, 1976 Leonard Cohen concert at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. A number of the photos used in the video were taken at that concert, most of the shots are from 1976, and all date within two years of the show.

Happy Halloween

Leonard Cohen: Is This What You Wanted
Olympia Theatre,Paris: June 5, 1976
Video by Allan Showalter

Credit Due Department: While there is no practical way to acknowledge the origins of all the photos in this video, it would be remiss not to note that all the 1976 Olympia show photos were taken by Dominique BOILE1 and many of the other shots were contributed by him.

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  1. See New – 1976 Photos Of Leonard Cohen With Backup Singers Laura Branigan And Cheryl Barnes []

An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends – Leonard Cohen’s First Published Work

 CIV/n #4 - The literary magazine that first published Leonard Cohen

CIV/n #4 – The literary magazine that first published Leonard Cohen

“An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends” by Leonard Norman Cohen

(Ou sont les jeunes?)1

Impassive frogs, skins stretched taut,
grey with late October,
the houses down my street
crouched, unaware of each other.

Unaware of a significant wind
and mad children igniting heaps of rattling leaves
and the desperate cry of desperate birds.

Dry, stuffed, squatting frogs.

I don’t know where the children got the birds.
Certainly, there are few around my house. Oh,
there is the occasional sparrow or robin or wren,
but these were big birds.
There were several turns of parcel twine about
each bird to secure its wings and feet. It was
that particularly hard variety of twine that can’t
be pulled apart but requires a knife or scissors
to be cut.
I was so lost in the ritual that I’m not sure if
it was seven or eight they burnt.

(“The effluvia of festering bodies was so great
that even the Mongols avoided such places and
named them Moubaligh, City of Woe.”)

Soon they grew tired of the dance
and removed the crepe-paper costumes
and said prayers and made laments.

It was a quarter-to-nine
when one bright youngster
incited the group to burn the frogs,
which they did at nine.

(Now that I think about it, the birds
must have been pigeons.)

If one of Temujin’s2 warriors
trapped a deer to eat,
it was forbidden
to slit its throat.
The beast must be bound
and the beast’s chest opened
and the heart removed
by the hunter’s hand.

DrHGuy Notes On “Halloween Poem”

Louis Dudek (1950s)

  • Ou Sont Les Jeunes: “Ou sont les jeunes?” which translates into “Where are the young?” was also the title of an essay by Cohen’s professor of poetry at McGill, Louis Dudek3 The first paragraph follows:

Poetry in Canada needs a new start. To the young, the field is wide open. Our younger poets are getting grey about the temples. The work of the forties is by now old and yellow: it was a good beginning, but not yet the real thing. There is now a ready audience for any young writer with something fresh and bouncing to say, someone with a new technique, a vision, or a gift for making art out of matters of fact. But where are the young? Where is the “new” generation?

An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends is, at least on one level, Cohen’s response to his teacher’s titular query.

  • Source Material: The following stanza, sans parentheses and quotation marks, is quoted from Genghis Khan The Emperor Of All Men, a well known book by Harold Lamb (Thornton Butterworth Ltd London, 1927):

(“The effluvia of festering bodies was so great
that even the Mongols avoided such places and
named them Moubaligh, City of Woe.”)

  • Publication in CIV/n: “An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends” and “Poem en Prose” were Cohen’s earliest published works (Cohen would have been 19).4 Both were published in CIV/n (No. 4, Oct 1953), a short lived (7 issues) but influential literary journal arising from Montreal’s school of poets edited by Louis Dudek and Aileen Collins (who married Dudek). CIV/n was the abbreviation Ezra Pound used for “civilization.” Below the title in the CIV/n masthead was the legend

Civilization is not a one man job

Louis Dudek’s memoir, “The Making of CIV/n,” identifies a letter from Ezra Pound as the source of the slogan.5 Copies of CIV/n were sent to Pound, who found it unpolemical and too local, questioning whether the magazine had any interest in “standing for maximum awareness.”6

  • Publication In Let Us Compare Mythologies: The poem, retitled as “Halloween Poem,” was also published in Leonard Cohen’s first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956)
  • Reviews:
    • One need not go far to draw a correlation between the enthusiastic cruelty of these children and the genocidal cruelty of some modern adults. Ritual, itself the manifestation of profound influence, takes the form of torture and cremation. The victims are the hitherto timeless images of creative, and thus poetic, freedom.7
    • Mr. Cohen’s outstanding poetic quality, so far, is a gift for macabre ballad reminding one of Auden, but thoroughly original, in which the chronicles of tabloids are celebrated in the limpid rhythms of folksong. The grisly Halloween Poem, with its muttering prose glosses, is perhaps the most striking of these …8

Credit Due Department: The photo of Louis Dudek was found at Poetry Quebec.

Leonard Cohen & Halloween  

Over the years, the Heck Of A Guy and DrHGuy sites have accumulated a significant number of items associated with Leonard Cohen and Halloween (how many other sites need a Leonard Cohen – Halloween tag?) that are brought back to life for reposting this time of year. An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends – The First Published Work By Leonard Cohen was first posted October 29th, 2011. The version in this post has been modestly revised.

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  1. See first entry under DrHGuy’s Notes []
  2. in 1206, at the age of 42, Temujin took the title Universal Ruler, which translates to Genghis Khan []
  3. Dudek, Louis. “Oú Sont Les Jeunes” Contact, I, No. 1, January 1952. Rpt. The Making of Modern Poetry in Canada Eds. Louis Dudek/Michael Gnarowski. Toronto: Ryerson Press 1967, pp.142-144. []
  4. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel. Random House of Canada 1996 []
  5. Editing modernity: women and little-magazine cultures in Canada, 1916-1956 by Dean Irvine. University of Toronto Press, 2008 []
  6. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel. Random House of Canada 1996 []
  7. Neurotic Affiliations: Klein, Layton, Cohen, and the Properties of Influence by by Michael Q. Abraham. []
  8. Northrop Frye on Leonard Cohen from from ‘Letters in Canada‘ University of Toronto Quarterly – 1956 []