You Are Right, Sahara

Everything about Leonard's 2006 book of poetry and Anjani's album
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lizzytysh
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby lizzytysh » Mon Jan 03, 2011 7:53 pm

Yes, he is.

I was grateful when I found that Jarkko had placed ~greg's photo beneath my own in the Beautiful Losers section. Thank you, Jarkko.


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Diane
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Re:

Postby Diane » Mon Jan 03, 2011 10:07 pm

DBCohen wrote:The image of the veil has many sources in mythology, literature and art, but I think Leonard Cohen may have been influenced here by a specific source, which is a passage in Sefer HaZohar or The Book of Splendor, the major theosophical composition of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. (In passing, let me warn you against the New Age version of Kabbalah, championed by the like of Madonna, and which has very little to do with historical Kabbalah). This book was compiled in Spain, in late 13th century, although it is attributed to a sage of the former millennium. In this specific passage the Torah (a term referring to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible specifically, and to Jewish law and teaching generally), is likened to a beautiful maiden secluded in an isolated palace, and revealing herself only to her true lover. The passage is very long, so I will quote only a few parts of it (from the selected English translation edited by Gershom Scholem):

“So it is with the Torah, which discloses her innermost secrets only to them who love her. She knows that whosoever is wise in heart hovers near the gates of her dwelling place day after day. What does she do? From her palace, she shows her face to him, and gives him a signal of love, and forthwith retreats back to her hiding place. Only he alone catches her message, and he is drawn to her with his whole heart and soul, and with all of his being. In this manner the Torah, for a moment, discloses herself in love to her lovers, so as to rouse them to renewed love. […] And when he arrives, she commences to speak with him, at first from behind the veil which she has hung before the words […]. Then she speaks to him behind a filmy veil of finer mesh, she speaks to him in riddles and allegories […]. When, finally, he is on near terms with her, she stands disclosed face to face with him, and holds converse with him concerning all of her secret mysteries, and all the secret ways which have been hidden in her heart from immemorial time.”

LC is undoubtedly familiar with this passage. Let me also point out section 3 in The Book of Mercy, which is arguably LC’s most Jewish book (those unfamiliar with Jewish sources may not be aware how often does LC lift images or quote directly from various traditional sources in that book, including from the Hebrew Bible, the Prayer Book, the Mishnah, and Kabbalistic teachings). That section in The Book of Mercy seems also to allude to the same passage from The Book of Splendor.

And finally, why “Sahara”? Is it somehow derived from “Zohar”? Or from “Torah”? I’m not convinced myself. However, mixing images from different sources is common in LC’s writing, so “Sahara” may come from a different place altogether. If somebody has a better idea, I’d be glad to hear it.

Sincerely,
D. Cohen
That is a wonderful post, Doron (the poem you wrote in your other post was pretty good, too), and, four years later, I thank you for it! Yes, thanks to Abby too for re-surfacing this thread.

Why Sahara? To me, this is about the actual Sahara; the desert. After your and Greg's posts I thought that would sound daft so I didn't say anything at the time:-) A desert is by definition the most austere, silent, and barren of landscapes, and therefore conducive to spiritual transformation. The expansive, 'big sky' feel of the Sahara has been described by Paul Bowles*, American writer who lived in Morocco. He noted that French colonists in Morocco called the desert experience "le bateme de la solitude" (the baptism of solitude), and said, "once you have been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place can provide the sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute." Sand dunes, where they occur in the desert, also provide a shifting, impermanent landscape, equivalent of a psychological truth in a way that most landscapes are not. Edward Abbey wrote about the American deserts, and he along with others emphasised the depth of the desert's silence: "I become aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a slience so much as a great stillness - for there are a few sounds - the creak of some bird in the juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of the watch on my wrist - slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence." Something else Abbey said, and one of my favourite quotes, was, "what draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote."

So, for someone like me who has no religion but considerable "spiritual tendencies", the Sahara holds great allure.

You Are Right Sahara also reminds me of this Renato Casaro print of a woman merging with a desert dweller, that has pride of place in my living room. This picture was used in the poster for Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (adapted from the novel by Paul Bowles) :

Image
Then such a one, if he is a man, is ready to love the woman Sahara; and such a one, if she is a woman, is ready to love the man who can put into song The Great Distance of Mist and Veils. Is it you who are waiting, Sahara, or is it I?
Doron wrote, The Book of Splendor wrote: the Torah (is) a beautiful maiden secluded in an isolated palace, and revealing herself only to her true lover.
*Isabelle Eberhardt's wonderful series of short stories, The Oblivion Seekers, was translated by Paul Bowles, it is also worth noting. Ms Eberhardt was a European who travelled to the Sahara early in the 1900's and (disguised as a man to enable it) became a Sufi. I have also just discovered Bowles had a huge interest in Moroccon music.

More of the piece about the Sahara:
Baptism of Solitude
this essay first appeared in Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue: Scenes from the Non-Christian World (published in 1963)

Immediately when you arrive in the Sahara, for the first or the tenth time, you notice the stillness. An incredible, absolute silence prevails outside the towns; and within, even in busy places like the markets, there is a hushed quality in the air, as if the quiet were a conscious force which, resenting the intrusion of sound, minimizes and disperses sound straightaway. Then there is the sky, compared to which all other skies seem faint-hearted efforts. Solid and luminous, it is always the focal point of the landscape. At sunset, the precise, curved shadow of the earth rises into it swiftly from the horizon, cutting it into light section and dark section. When all daylight is gone, and the space is thick with stars, it is still of an intense and burning blue, darkest directly overhead and paling toward the earth, so that the night never really grows dark.

You leave the gate of the fort or town behind, pass the camels lying outside, go up into the dunes, or out onto the hard, stony plan and stand awhile, alone. Presently, you will either shiver and hurry back inside the walls, or you will go on standing there and let something very peculiar happen to you, something that everyone who lives there has undergone and which the French call le baptême de la solitude. It is a unique sensation, and it has nothing to do with loneliness, for loneliness presupposes memory. Here, in this wholly mineral landscape lighted by stars like flares, even memory disappears; nothing is left but your own breathing and the sound of your heart beating. A strange, and by no means pleasant, process of reintegration begins inside you, and you have the choice of fighting against it, and insisting on remaining the person you have always been, or letting it take its course. For no one who has stayed in the Sahara for a while is quite the same as when he came.

Perhaps the logical question to ask at this point is: Why go? The answer is that when a man has been there and undergone the baptism of solitude he can't help himself. Once he has been under the spell of the vast , luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute.

He will go back, whatever the cost in comfort and money, for the absolute has no price.
Anyway, it is very interesting to know the Kabbalah source for this piece. I am starting to think that Mat is correct when he says that Leonard Cohen (amongst all the other things he is) is a mystic - concerned with the direct experience of God or truth - given his references from Kabbalah, Sufi poetry, Christian mysticism (e.g.the Cloud of Unknowing), Vedanta...and his immersion in Zen.
Last edited by Diane on Mon Jan 17, 2011 2:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Tue Jan 04, 2011 9:47 am

Diane,

My, this is exciting.

Thanks for all the material pointing in the direction of the desert, which LC must have experienced on different occasions (including the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War of 1973). The desert is indeed a place famous not only for its extreme physical hardships, but also for its spiritual qualities. See the Bible, for example (Elijah in I Kings 19), or the early Christian monks.

As for the striking picture you included, to me it immediately brought to mind the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael (Genesis 21); and see also Book of Mercy, #14 and #27. (And by the way, I didn’t like Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky at all; I thought some of his earlier films were great, most of his later ones disappointing).

And as for LC as a mystic, I believe that he indeed has this side. It seems that he believes in the existence of an Ultimate Reality, with which he wishes to connect. But he is also always connected with the mundane, physical reality; his feet are always firmly planted in the ground, and he never turns his back on the crowd. He is attracted by solitude, but he is not narcissistic enough to put the ultimate value in it. I think this combination of contrasting attitudes is an important part of his appeal for me, and perhaps for many others.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Tue Jan 04, 2011 10:47 pm

Hi Doron. I wasn't crazy about the first half of that film but the toureg/camel-trains/dune scenes in the desert were very beautifully filmed, I thought. As is usuallly the case, the book is far more detailed and involving (although I don't associate the sometimes dire plot with my romanticised visions of the desert). I am away to check the BoM verses you mention.

I wonder if Mat will contribute a post here:-)
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby mat james » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:46 am

Lovely piece to pick, Diane. I haven't noticed this topic before.
Mists and veils and deserts and dancers; it's all very Sufi evolving into Flamenco and Tango. It's passion, driven.
Driven by desire, longing, love; and the mercy comes when love is satisfied.
These are the images conjured up for me by these words/images/lines.

Mists and veils and transcendence.
Where does the mist run out and where is the veil lifted?

“At the still point of the turning world
There the dance is.” (Eliot/Plotinus)

Leonard's words suggest to me that the mists and veils spin outside, beyond the “still point”. Mists and veils are the stuff of the world of the opposites; but before opposites; “I Am” (transcended).
Mists and veils are deserts as they obscure the “traveler” from his God.
Yet one must travel through “The Dark Night” of the desert, so to speak.
The whirling dervish, or any transcending mystic needs to drop into his center of spin and at that “still point” he aligns with the centre of the “I Am”; Love perhaps.
And there he/she recognizes there is only the One Center. “I am Who Am”.
(That is, nothing exists outside of me, YHWH)
The traveler caravan’s on, wedded to his “Bolero”;
He/she must lose themselves in “the dance” for love’s sake.

Maybe something like this Lorca inspired series of dances (video).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhH_3C_DFXQ

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby abby » Wed Jan 05, 2011 3:09 am

Sahara is mentioned also in another entry in Book of Longing:
My Consort

There is this huge woman,
(O G-d she's beautiful)
this huge woman
who, even though she is all women,
has a very specific character;
this huge woman
who sometimes comes to me
very early in the morning
and plucks me out of my skin!
We 'roll around heaven'
several miles above the pine trees
and there's no space between us,
but we're not One
or anything like that.
We're two huge people,
two immense bodies
of tenderness and delight,
with all the pleasures felt and magnified
to match our size.
Whenever this happens
I am usually ready to forgive everyone
who doesn't love me enough
including you, Sahara,
especially you.


All I knew before was that I felt jealousy about Sahara. Would Leonard name a woman after the desert because he needed more than she could give?

The Great Distance of Mists and Veil- the world? I think I mean Boogie Street. The woman is waiting for a song that tells the world true- the world with its wretches and lovers and transcenders, despite this world being small next to the other truth- that there are no mists or veils or distances. The realest world has to be the one that the spirit inhabits.

So with the last line might Leonard be asking whether he ever wrote a true song about this very sweet world, sweeter for containing the likes of Sahara, that at the end of the day isn't real?
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby mat james » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:59 pm

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:04 am

Thanks, I knew you'd write a great post, Mat!! Wonderful vids, too.
mat james wrote: Mists and veils and transcendence.
Where does the mist run out and where is the veil lifted?

“At the still point of the turning world
There the dance is.” (Eliot/Plotinus)
Dance requires music and (some of) the traditional music of North Africa has ancient roots and Sufi influences and (the live experience of) it and that Eliot remind me of this Rilke poem:
To Music

Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps:
silence of paintings. You language where all language
ends. You time
standing vertically on the motion of mortal hearts.

Feelings for whom? O you the transformation
of feelings into what?--: into audible landscape.
You stranger: music. You heart-space
grown out of us. The deepest space in us,
which, rising above us, forces its way out,--
holy departure:
when the innermost point in us stands
outside, as the most practiced distance, as the other
side of the air:
pure,
boundless,
no longer habitable.
Abby thanks for finding that other poem! It is interesting that he forgives the woman Sahara for not loving him enough when she gives him enormous pleasure. As far as I know, this is when men generally do feel loved enough.
abby wrote: ...So with the last line might Leonard be asking whether he ever wrote a true song about this very sweet world, sweeter for containing the likes of Sahara, that at the end of the day isn't real?
The last sentence, Is it you who are waiting, Sahara, or is it I?, the paradox of it, and what you said about it, remind me of something else Edward Abbey said (re. deep in the s/w n american deserts, in 1968):
Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear - the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break...I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.
"The heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break." He meant this literally but I like the way it mirrors the idea that we cannot usually see what is most beautiful, and that we disappear when we are most beautiful - at the end of love.

My own brief visit to the Sahara leaves me with quite a wish to return - it was amazing (if damned hot for some part of the day). At night you really feel as if you are being pushed into the sky. That's why this piece makes me think of the actual desert. I think I have been waiting for someone to come with me. It's hard to accept that there are some journeys you have to make alone.
Last edited by Diane on Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:44 am

Abby,

Thanks for quoting that other poem from Book of Longing. On reading it when the book came out my immediate feeling was that in “this huge woman” LC was talking about the sun. If you read along the poem you’ll see that there are several hints in that direction. One of them is the line ‘roll around heaven’ which is printed between quotation marks; this is indeed a quote from a Johnny Cash song “That Lucky Old Sun” (there could be an earlier source I’m not aware of):

Up in the mornin’, out on a job,
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun got nothin’ to do,
But roll around heaven all day.

So LC likens the sun to a huge woman, with whom he forms a couple, “and there’s no space between us”. However, like often with LC, it is not a perfect union: “but we’re not One / or anything like that”. This is interesting also because it is more often that the moon is considered female, rather than the sun, but LC must have a different view (and we could have held a long discussion now on “sun” and “moon” in his poems, but perhaps another time).

Now, it seems from the poem that the sun he hints at (and who in the title of the poem is called “My Consort”), and the actual woman “Sahara” who appears towards the end, are not the same. My guess is that “Sahara” is his code name for an actual woman with whom he had a difficult relationship; one could guess at her identity, but we can never be certain.

The drawings which appear on the same page as the poem in the book could be relevant too, but perhaps we should load them here before we discuss them.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:40 pm

Book of Loinging-1.jpg
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mat james
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby mat james » Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:41 pm

Up in the mornin’, out on a job,
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun got nothin’ to do,
But roll around heaven all day.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiQLtMaJLvs
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:56 pm

Thanks, Mat.

I should have looked into this more carefully. It’s a 1949 song by Haven Gillespie and Beasley Smith, made famous by Frankie Laine (LC’s old favorite). Louis Armstrong also recorded it the same year. Johnny Cash came much later.

And about the above drawings from Book of Longing, printed next to “My Consort”, I’ll give my opinion later on, but meanwhile everyone else are welcome to express their own.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby surrender » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:24 pm

Just a nice coincidence?

Sahara Smith, a very young singer-songwriter (born 1988), whose “ smoky voice, bluesy folk sound and lifetime love of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits have finally been captured on her debut album (Myth of the Heart)".

Sahara started to perform at age of 12, she was 18 when the Book of Longing has been published.

http://playingintrafficrecords.com/sahara-smith/
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)
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby dar » Fri Jan 07, 2011 4:41 pm

Ah, a thread I'm really enjoying. Not that there was anything wrong with the talk of the tour but...it's nice to get back to work. (Meaning I have to put some thought into the content here.) Feels like Greg's spirit is still around when these types of discussions get going. Feels good.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Fri Jan 07, 2011 8:51 pm

That's a very interesting coincidence, Surrender. I don't imagine LC had her in mind with these poems, but I definitely do wanna drive all night and wake up in Loredo (re. her video). The one in Spain will do for starters.

Dar, how excellent to see you! I wonder if you are writing from deep in the desert.

Doron, we await your further ideas about the My Consort poem, along with the accompanying drawings.

I notice that Brightnow has copied the entire page, up in the Tour section: download/file.php?id=10310&mode=view

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