FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
MutilatedPilgrim
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FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby MutilatedPilgrim » Sun Feb 02, 2003 9:32 am

Hello,
I was wondering if anyone could give me any insight, whatsoever, even if it is conjecture or opinion, about the Poem "FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE". I have been showing this to everyone I know trying to get different angles and opinions on the meaning. If anyone has heard previous discussion, knows anything, has read any analysis or criticism on it knows what the title refers to, or anything pertaining to it that could help me out, please clue me in. I thank you dearly for your time.

FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

When young the Christians told me
how we pinned Jesus
like a lovely butterfly against the wood,
and I wept beside paintings of Calvary
at velvet wounds
and delicate twisted feet.

But he could not hang softly long,
your fighters so proud with bugles,
bending flowers with their silver stain,
and when I faced the Ark for counting,
trembling under the burning oil,
the meadow of running flesh turned sour
and I kissed away my gentle teachers,
warned my younger brothers.

Among the young and turning-great
of the large nations, innocent
of the spiked wish and the bright crusade,
there I could sing my heathen tears
between the summersaults and chestnut battles,
love the distant saint
who fed his arm to flies,
mourn the crushed ant
and despise the reason of the heel.

Raging and weeping are left on the early road.
Now each in his holy hill
the glittering and hurting days are almost done.
Then let us compare mythologies.
I have learned my elaborate lie
of soaring crosses and poisoned thorns
and how my fathers nailed him
like a bat against a barn
to greet the autumn and late hungry ravens
as a hollow yellow sign.
MutilatedPilgrim
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Postby MutilatedPilgrim » Sat Feb 08, 2003 4:14 am

I guess no one had anything to say.
Have gotten various assertions about Israel and such.
Thanks to whoever read my post.
Einat
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Location: Israel

Postby Einat » Sat Feb 08, 2003 10:03 pm

Hi

Here's what ive managed to find through "google":


http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/ ... ations.htm

I hope it helps.
MutilatedPilgrim
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Postby MutilatedPilgrim » Sun Feb 09, 2003 12:19 am

Thanks. I actually found that article the same way; it mentions the poem only briefly. I was hoping someone would have some knowledge I haven't been able to find online.

It know it's pure speculation, I might be completely off base, but from what I've found so far:

(No Idea about title, First Paragraph is pretty self-explanatory)

”your fighters so proud with bugles,
bending flowers with their silver stain”

Is he addressing god, with the fighters being the angels? I really have no idea what a lot of this imagery means.

”between the summersaults and chestnut battles,”

Chesnut battles meaning, unimportant? And note the spelling of summersaults. Possibly to relate to the autumn at the end. My friend suggested this had to do with Israel and American or Palestine’s involvement with, or… something I really don’t have the historical knowledge to back any of this up. I do know that he had strong spiritual ties with Israel and of course is Jewish. I don’t even know if this is supposed to be from his point of view tho.

”Raging and weeping are left on the early road.
Now each in his holy hill
the glittering and hurting days are almost done.
Then let us compare mythologies.”

I suppose this is about judgment day or some comparable occurrence. And he’s saying… mythologies, as religions, a very beautiful statement, I think, maybe, like humanity is larger than even those beliefs.

”I have learned my elaborate lie
of soaring crosses and poisoned thorns
and how my fathers nailed him
like a bat against a barn
to greet the autumn and late hungry ravens
as a hollow yellow sign.”

I don’t what “soaring crosses and poisoned thorns” are, I know his heritage would play into the entire poem… autumn and late hungry ravens? Hollow yellow sign, yellow would be a cautionary color. I don’t know. I’m pretty close to giving up, perhaps I’m digging for something that isn’t there, but I originally assumed that the poem was beyond me, but that was because it was out of context for me. I don’t expect to find much more than the little I have, and was just hoping for some more opinions and speculatory insight. Obviosuly everyone will have their own interpretation.
Thanks, again.

(I apologize if there are numbers all through this, I am unfamilar with these boards and what is causing this.)
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lizzytysh
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Postby lizzytysh » Sun Feb 09, 2003 12:33 am

Don't give up, Pilgrim, more are likely to offer their opinions and interpretations here.
wilfred
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Re: FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby wilfred » Tue Dec 27, 2011 10:36 pm

Sorry that this may seem so late a reply, but I have only just been made aware of this discussion. I am the ''WILF'' of the title and *his house' refers to the (then) house of the Student Christian Movement at McGill University in Montreal where Leonard Cohen was studying. At that time I had charge of the house and Leonard was a friend of mine. The house still exists as an institution but is now known as 'The Yellow Door' and has a different purpose.
Wilfred
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surrender
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Re: FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby surrender » Wed Dec 28, 2011 7:40 pm

Hello Wilfred,

Welcome to the Forum,
thank you so much for your contribution; it's long time ago but it's certainly not too late!
Hopefully you will stay with us. It is an honor to have a youth friend of Leonard here.
1988: Amsterdam 1993: Nijmegen 2008: Amsterdam|Oberhausen 2009: Cologne|Antwerp|Barcelona 2010: Ghent (8/20-21-22)|Lille
2012: Ghent (8/12)|Amsterdam (8/21-22)|Verona|Lisboa 2013: Antwerp|Brussels|Rotterdam|Amsterdam


After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music...
(Aldous L. Huxley)
wilfred
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Re: FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby wilfred » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:43 pm

Thank you 'surrender' for your kind words of welcome.
Wilfred
beatingthelilies
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Re: FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby beatingthelilies » Sun Jan 29, 2012 3:46 am

Welcome to the boards, Wilfred! Thank you for giving us some background information into this poem. It is one of my favorites from Let Us Compare Mythologies.
John Etherington
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Re: FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby John Etherington » Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:17 pm

Synchronistically, I have stumbled upon this thread on Good Friday. I have always been intrigued by this poem, which would have been the first of Leonards poems that I read in 1969. It is the first poem in "Selected Poems" (1968), and the second in his first book "Let Us Compare Mythologies" (following "Elegy" in which the young poet likens himself to Orpheus). These placements alone suggest its importance in Leonard's personal canon. I had always understood the poem to show how the innocent's image of Christ becomes tarnished by the teachings of one's elders and it's misuse by those in power (the church/politicians/warmongers). However an interpretation that I largely resonate with is that of Stephen Scobie in his book "Leonard Cohen - Studies in Canadian Literature" (1978). I will quote this in full below, but must say that Wilfred's contribution to this thread adds welcome detail that we have previously not had access to. Here's Scobie's interpretation:

"For a young Jew in a Christian country, comparative mythology is not an academic excercise but an immediate fact of repression and predjudice.

The first two stanzas of the poem present two possible responses to this experience . In the first stanza Cohen accepts the Jewish communal "guilt"; he "wept beside paintings of Calvary", which he sees as sources of beauty and gentleness. But in the second stanza he reacts against this sense of responsibility; "Christ could not hang softly long." As he becomes more aware of the force of his Jewish inheritance - "when I faced the ark for counting" - he is forced to see Wilf and his Christian friends as "your fighters so proud with bugles", with the result that "the meadow of running flesh turned sour/ and I kissed away my gentle teachers / warned my younger brothers." Rejecting guilt he chooses an aggressive anti-Christian stance.

In the third stanza he attempts to make another choice. In Canada, a "young" nation without the weight of inheritance, he can be innocent of both the "spiked wish" which nailed Christ to the cross and the "bright crusade" which would avenge it. Indeed, he can be "heathen", neither Jew nor Christian, and in the youthful innocence of "summersaults and chesnut battles he can love his beautiful losers, the saint eaten, the saint eaten by insects, the insects in turn crushed under the "reason of the heel".

The final stanza confirms this choice. Raging and weeping " the alternatives of stanzas two and one respectively - "are left on the early road". There remains the neutral stance of the comparative mythographer, who can see the story of the crucifixion as "an elaborate lie", reminiscent of the image of a generalized vegetation god dying in the fall of the year. The conclusion proclaims a break away from any single or narrow religious view; Cohen believes in mythologies, but not in any one system, except that which he can assemble himself by comparison and assembly of fragments".

Thanks to mutilated pilgrim (an appropriate name) for starting this thread. I don't have much to add to these interpretations and comments, but I don't personally read "your fighters so proud with bugles" as being directed at Wilf and his house. The "reason of the heel" might be read as that af the nazis. If the "spiked-wish" relates to the piercing of Christ, then it appears again in "the spear of the age in your side" (I was told that an important book for Leonard was Trevor Ravenscrofts "The Spear of Destiny"). It is interesting how the Christian imagery has permeated Leonard's work, right though to "show me the place where the Word became a man".

Easter blessings, John E
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LY24
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Re: FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

Postby LY24 » Thu Dec 10, 2015 12:24 pm

HELLO! I am Chinese reader.
I'd like to know how to understand “spiked wish”and“ Ark for counting”and“the meadow of running flesh turned sour”.
I am translating Cohen's poetry,It is too difficult for me.
If any of you read Chinese,I attach the translation address.
I translated all 44 poems:http://site.douban.com/241628/room/3511158/

Hope anyone can help me to explain!I will thank you very much!


For wilf and his house
致维尔夫和他的房子

when young the christians told me
how we pinned Jesus
like a lovely butterfly against the wood,
and i wept beside paintings of calvary
at velvet wounds
and delicate twisted feet.
年轻时基督徒告诉我
我们如何钉住耶稣
像把一个可爱的蝴蝶钉在木头上,
我在耶稣受难画像旁
看着天鹅绒般的伤口
和纤弱缠绕的脚哭泣

But he could not hang softly long,
your fighters so proud with bugles,
bending flowers with their silver stain,
and when i faced the Ark for counting,【1】
trembling underneath the burning oil,
the meadow of running flesh turned sour【2】
and i kissed away my gentle teachers,
warned my younger brothers.
但他不能长期安稳的吊着,
你的战士与军号为荣,
弯曲的花朵带着银色的斑点,
当我面对那计数的方舟
在烧油之下颤抖,
那草地上奔跑的肉体变酸
我以吻安慰我和蔼的老师,
并警告我年轻的伙伴。

Among the young and turning-great
of the large nations,innocent
of the spiked wish and the bright crusade,【3】
there i could sing my heathen tears
between the summersaults and chestnut battles,
love the distant saint
who fed his arm to flies,
mourn the crushed ant
and despise the reason of the heel.
在年轻和变得伟大的大国中
无罪带刺的愿望和杰出的改革运动,
我可以歌唱我异教的眼泪
在翻腾和陈腐的战斗之中,
爱那遥远的圣人
他让苍蝇吸食他的手臂
为压碎的蚂蚁而哀悼
蔑视那脚后跟的理由。

Raging and weeping are left on the early road.
Now each in his holy hill
the glittering and hurting days are almost done.
Then let us compare mythologies.
I have learned my elaborate lie
of soaring crosses and poisoned thorns
and how my fathers nailed him
like a bat against a barn
to greet the autumn and late hungry ravens
as a hollow yellow sign.
狂怒和悲叹留在早期的路上,
现在每个在他的圣山中
辉煌和痛苦的日子几乎走完。
那么,让我们比较神话。
我已学会精心编造关于
高耸的十字架与有毒荆棘的谎言
以及我的父辈如何钉牢他
如一只蝙蝠靠着畜棚
去迎接秋天和迟来饥饿的乌鸦
就像一个无意义的黄记号。

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