Book of Mercy #41-45

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
DBCohen
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby DBCohen » Wed Oct 14, 2009 4:55 am

I guess it’s time for the next installment:
II. 45
Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you. Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you. The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you. The wall smeared with filth, I go through a pinhole of light. Blocked by every thought, I fly on the wisp of a remembrance. Defeated by silence, here is a place where the silence is more subtle. And here is the opening in defeat. And here is the clasp of the will. And here is the fear of you. And here is the fastening of mercy. Blessed are you, in this man’s moment. Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil. Blessed are you who brings chains out of the darkness. Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you, whose name is in the world.
Perhaps more than any other prayer in the book, this one is simply asking to be printed out as a poem, so please forgive me if I do so:

Not knowing where to go, I go to you.
Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you.
Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you.
Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you.

Having lost my way, I make my way to you.
Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you.
Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you.

The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you.
The wall smeared with filth, I go through a pinhole of light.
Blocked by every thought, I fly on the wisp of a remembrance.
Defeated by silence, here is a place where the silence is more subtle.

And here is the opening in defeat.
And here is the clasp of the will.
And here is the fear of you.
And here is the fastening of mercy.

Blessed are you, in this man’s moment.
Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil.
Blessed are you who brings chains out of the darkness.
Blessed are you, who waits in the world.
Blessed are you, whose name is in the world.


The residues of religious poetry of various traditions, including the Psalms and the Sufi poetry in particular, are clearly felt here. For the time being I’ll refrain from any other comment.
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mat james
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby mat james » Sun Oct 18, 2009 2:07 am

I will rearrange this verse so it makes fluid sense to me.

defeated by silence
Not knowing where to go
I travel on a hair to you.
And here is the opening in defeat
I go through a pinhole of light
And here is the fastening of mercy
Blessed are you, in this man’s moment.
Blessed are you, who waits

I turn to you.

Not knowing where to go, I turn to you.

Comment:
Through silence
Leonard stills his brain to a single thought,
...You/G~d.

For him, this is a process of surrender
"And here is the opening in defeat."

The words he chooses to describe his defeat are:
• soiled
• wasted
• heap
• debris
• smear/filth

The words he chooses to describe his new journey/perspective are:
• fly
• wisp
• remembrance
• subtle
• opening
• will
• mercy
• blessed
• moment
• illuminates

And then he rounds off this new frame of mind with a slightly uncomfortable image of liberation.
" Blessed are you who brings chains out of the darkness."
Implication being that Leonard wishes to be chained like a slave/prisoner to his g~d.
For me; this indicates that (at this time in his life) he is describing himself as an addictive personality type. He is either addicted to the "debris" of existence or addicted to g~d and there is no room for any other position.
And he implies that the second addiction is his preference.

...for now anyway

MatbbgmephistoJ
Last edited by mat james on Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
sue7
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby sue7 » Sun Oct 18, 2009 8:16 am

I have not yet read the whole of the Book of Mercy, nor have I read anywhere near the whole of this extended conversation/meditation on it, so perhaps I should not yet contribute a comment here. But I was struck by one of your interpretations, Mat, and I think there is a different possible meaning to the line "Blessed are you who brings chains out of darkness." I think he could be referring to the fact that God brings enslavement to light, i.e. out of the darkness, or into consciousness or awareness.
Thank you for pulling various threads of this poem/prayer together into strands.
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby DBCohen » Sun Oct 18, 2009 10:30 am

Sue7,
Please don’t worry. Everyone is invited to participate and contribute on this thread when they have something to say concerning the pieces being discussed.

Mat,
Just a few points in response:
He says he is “defeated by silence”, and you chose to put this phrase on top, but, paradoxically perhaps, this piece seems to be a hypnotic recitation to be repeated again and again, and the very uttering of the words makes the difference.

You also say:
Implication being that Leonard wishes to be chained like a slave/prisoner to his g~d.
For me; this indicates that (at this time in his life) he is describing himself as an addictive personality type. He is either addicted to the "debris" of existence or addicted to g~d and there is no room for any other position.
And he implies that the second addiction is his preference.
I have some difficulty here. First, does anyone surrendering themselves to God necessarily have an “addictive personality”? Well, maybe… but is the speaker here really in a binary position of being addicted either to the “debris” or to “you” (which we presume is God, although not mentioned here)? I’m not sure I can see the addictive personality in this verse, but rather that of the bewildered soul looking for hope beyond all hope. I see here a choice, and a brave one at that, which comes out of a great effort rather than addiction. And about being a slave, please see the poem by Yehuda Halevi that I quoted on the previous page when analyzing #44.
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mat james
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby mat james » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:21 pm

Great to listen to another view sue7. The more you comment on the verses the happier we are 8) .
You will soon see that all views are appreciated on this thread and often the first person to attempt a verse analysis is simply "getting the ball rolling".
DB Cohen and I often interpret differently; and that is wonderful !
I mentioned that the quote below was rather uncomfortable for me.
Your interpretation makes sense and may well be the correct meaning.
"enslavement" even in your context is still an uncomfortable word for me. But that is just me.
"Blessed are you who brings chains out of darkness." I think he could be referring to the fact that God brings enslavement to light, i.e. out of the darkness, or into consciousness or awareness.
Sue7
only the slave of the Lord is free.
I'm chewing that little poem over DB.
I still prefer the poetical statement, "Ye are all gods to whom the word of God is given"
There is too much Egypt in the word "slave" for me. ;-)
Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby sue7 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:51 am

Thank you, DB and Mat, for welcoming me into the discussion.
Mat, on reading the poem/prayer again, it seems to me that the line "Blessed are you, who brings chains out of the darkness" is closely connected to the previous line "Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil," and also the following line, "Blessed are you, who waits in the world."
When you take them together, perhaps the "chains out of the darkness" line doesn't have the benevolent meaning that I interpreted it to have, but something much more troubling. In what way does God's presence illuminate outrageous evil? Because God shines a light on evil in some way? Or because God is somehow connected to that evil? And, connected to this, what does it mean for God to "wait" in the world? That God stands by while "outrageous evil" takes place?
He seems to resolve it in some way in the final line: "Blessed are you, whose name is in the world." But while I'm sure that he means the "name" with all the force of "HaShem," I wonder if the name is enough to tip the balance against the inability/unwillingness of God to act against evil. Are we left in the end with a presence with a certain moral ambiguity?
Yikes, I feel as though I should at least have read more of this thread before stumbling in like this, but I'll let it stand.
I've been wanting to engage with this book in this kind of detailed way for months, but have found it difficulty to begin at the beginning and follow the whole discussion when you are all so far into it. I am pleased to be doing some close reading of it at last. So thanks.
Sue
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby Gullivor » Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:31 am

I think he is blessing the ones in the world because he knows that lot. He also knows of the Grace granted from God that can transform a name in the world to a name in heaven and glory. It is mankinds Inheritance but it usaly takes a "wait" in the world. The "wait" is the tough part and most don't even know they are waiting. I guess it would be the yearning and longing to let go of the life and waiting that would bring us into "in this man’s moment" because he looses the world and looses himself. What follows is Gods Grace.....That can not be put into words but it is understood by those who have experanced it.....after that long and painful sometimes apealing darkened wait.
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby Gullivor » Tue Oct 20, 2009 7:55 am

Note to self: That was one hell of a wait!
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mat james
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby mat james » Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:26 am

The "wait" is the tough part
Most of the time I enjoy my "wait".

"...and the bloke who tries to grab the shining stars from out the skies,
goes crook on life and calls the World a cheat;
and tramples on the daisies at his feet." (Poem by C.J. Dennis, "The mooch o' Life": From his Book of poems, The sentimental bloke)
http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/d ... mooch.html
Take a look at verse 18 8)

I gave up trampling the daisies years ago.
It made me too depressed. :?
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Gullivor
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby Gullivor » Wed Oct 21, 2009 3:10 am

Sorry Matt,
It wasn't my intention to step on your daisy. I was only giving my thoughts and opinion on what Leonard was writing about in a way I understand.
So it seems you tried trampling on my Daisy for sharing as DBCohen said ~"Please don’t worry. Everyone is invited to participate and contribute on this thread when they have something to say concerning the pieces being discussed".

So I am thinking you haven't given up trampling on dasies any more then you are trying to give up grabbing " shining stars from out the skies" I didn't say the world was a cheat! Just a little incomplete!
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mat james
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby mat james » Wed Oct 21, 2009 9:16 am

:?:
Leonard's work, (and it seems my light hearted comments) can take on several meanings. That is one of the attractions to his poetry/songs.
Travellers always have interesting things to say Gulliver.
Please continue and don't let my misguided words of sweet intent, trip you.

So, back to BOM,11.45.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Gullivor
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby Gullivor » Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:37 pm

II. 45
"Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you. Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you. The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you".

So here I believe he is talking/praying to God. He knows and realizes none of us are perfect (including himself) and trough our falling away from God or not even seeking God or something "Higher then ourselves" are like "wasted days"...so out of defeat he brings the "heap" of his life to God and Humbly asks God or something "higher then himself" to fix it....but "I travel on a hair to you" seems to apply that the road is narrow with no room for anything else but his desire to seek God that may or may not make any sense in "the world".

But (I believe) everything has it's purpose in life and it is neither bad or good it just is what it is and it's just moments in time.
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mat james
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby mat james » Mon Oct 26, 2009 1:59 pm

I have a question, DB.
Who is the guy smiling?
http://images.google.com/hosted/life/l? ... 03b3ef81c8

:lol:
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
DBCohen
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby DBCohen » Mon Oct 26, 2009 2:55 pm

They are all smiling (must have been a great time over there). Do you mean the guy with the guitar? 8)

In other matters:

Sue,
I read your posting with much interest, and I’ve been thinking how to respond. One thing I would say is that LC is not a theologian, and I think that rather than systematically he thinks about God intuitively, and as a poet. It also means that he describes a personal experience, which he is sharing with us through his poetry, but he doesn’t tell us what to think or believe. It also means that what he says can mean different things to different people, and that’s why we’re arguing here so much. However, we agreed to disagree, and anyone are welcome to draw from these lines what they feel is right for them (as long as they remain faithful to the text in question). The lines you’ve been struggling with have not been easy for me either. I think that the two lines –

Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil.
Blessed are you who brings chains out of the darkness.

- are probably a variation on the same idea, that the presence of God may help us see what is just and what is not. But perhaps that’s putting it too simply, and there could be a darker undertone here. However, I believe that the fact that God’s name is in this world is for the poet a source of hope. I think that Gullivor, on the postings following yours, was saying something similar. I apologize for not being able to elaborate any further at this moment. Perhaps later.
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Re: Book of Mercy #41-

Postby sue7 » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:17 am

DB, It's late and I'm not able to think too much right now. :)
But what you said is extremely helpful to me, in approaching these poems. I mean about how LC is a poet, not a theologian, and how he thinks about God intuitively, not systematically. I think I tend to think like a theologian: not that I am one, but just that I don't really think like a poet about God. Which is why it's so helpful for me to be reminded that he's "coming at it" from another dimension. This is interesting to me, because I realize that I don't really approach his other poems in this more "systematic" way: I'm content to let the imagery be what it is, and suggest feelings/meanings/moods to me. Because this is so much about God, I immediately put on the other hat. So now I have to go and read the poem again.
And yes, I agree with you, that the presence of God's name in the world is a source of hope for the poet. Maybe at the heart of it, this contradictoriness of darkness and hope, is the ultimate mystery of God and God's relationship with the world, that can never be unknotted by us.
Sue

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