Wednesday, 12 January 2011


I'm reading - with great pleasure and not a little pleasant perplexity - Leonard Cohen's first poetry collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies. This has been recently reissued as an attractive facsimile of the original 1956 publication.

Those who are familiar only with his songs will already be aware that he is a densely allusive writer, who sometimes uses and combines systems of symbolism and reference in ways that demand a thoughtful response from his audience. His poems, even those he produced at the age of 22, offer the same challenge, but also many rewards in terms of the power they carry through imagery, metre, theme and vocabulary.

Occasionally, an apparently more straightforward example appears, and consequently has the impact of a ballad (a word Cohen uses in some titles), lullaby or chant. One of my favourite such is:


My lover Peterson
He named me Goldenmouth
I changed him to a bird
And he migrated south

My lover Frederick
Wrote sonnets to my breast
I changed him to a horse
And he galloped west

My lover Levite
He named me Bitterfeast
I changed him to a serpent
And he wriggled east

My lover I forget
He named me Death
I changed him to a catfish
And he swam north

My lover I imagine
He cannot form a name
I'll nestle in his fur
And never be to blame.

For an astonishingly erudite and intelligent discussion of Cohen's (and other artists') poetry and lyrics, as well as interesting explorations of many other related themes, The Leonard Cohen Forum is to be recommended. See especially the sections at the bottom.


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