The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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anneporter
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The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby anneporter » Sun Jan 25, 2009 12:45 pm

Any thoughts on the significance of this line at the end of The Story of Isaac?
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Maarten » Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:57 pm

Note: during some concerts Leonard sang:
"The peacock spreads its deadly fan"

http://pagesperso-orange.fr/pilgraeme/s ... _isaac.htm

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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby anneporter » Sun Jan 25, 2009 4:15 pm

Maarten,
Thanks for the link. As usual, more questions raised than answered...
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby John Etherington » Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:23 pm

Here's what Leonard says to John McKenna in the "How The Heart Approches What it Yearns" radio interview:

LC: I was careful in that song to try and put it beyond the pure, beyond the simple, anti-war protest, that it also is. Because it says at the end there the man of war the man of peace, the peacock spreads his deadly fan. In other words it isn't necessarily for war that we're willing to sacrifice each other. We'll get some idea - some magnificent idea - that we're willing to sacrifice each other for; it doesn't necessarily have to involve an opponent or an ideology, but human beings being what they are we're always going to set up people to die for some absurd situation that we define as important.
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby anneporter » Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:53 pm

Thanks, John. That helps.

Anne
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby hydriot » Mon Jan 26, 2009 3:03 pm

The peacock spreads his fan as a courtship ritual, to impress (seduce?) a female. Presumably what Leonard meant is that we destroy as many people in bed as on the battlefield.
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby John Etherington » Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:24 pm

Well done, Hydriot! That's the most succinct interpretation of this line that I've read, yet. It also matches my own understanding of it. Hence, on his next album, Leonard sings "Although I wear a uniform, I was not born to fight/All these wounded boys you lie beside/Goodnight my friends, goodnight",

All the best, John E
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby anneporter » Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:56 pm

Thanks to all for musing over the peacock's fan with me.

The line stood out as though illuminated at the end of Jenny Gear's passionate interpretation of the song at this December's Feast of Cohen in St. John's. While I had previously heard this line as a slightly mysterious non sequitur, she delivered it as though it would could illuminate the whole song. I have been musing about it ever since, wondering how I might represent it visually in a painting I will eventually make of the song for my Tarot project. I am staring to see just how illuminating that line can be.

The interpretations offered here are part but not the whole of the meaning that is gradually emerging...

More later...
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby John Etherington » Thu Jan 29, 2009 2:46 am

Hi Anne,

If your investigation is for a Tarot project, then you mind find these mythic associations interesting

"In Asia, the feathers of the peacock are considered auspicious and protective. However in the early part of the 20th-century in the West, it was considered very bad luck to keep them in the home.

One silly explanation for this superstition [not my words - JE] is that it was promoted intentionally to prevent people from eating this large, delicious member of the pheasant family. In that way, the bird would be protected from extinction, for many people thought it was rare -- a quintessential rara avis.

The reason for the superstition has more to do with the eye-like markings at the tips of the feathers which, around the Mediterranean, recall the dreaded "evil eye"-- the ever watchful and envious glance of the she-demon, Lilith. She was blamed for otherwise inexplicable deaths of infants, [!] among other misfortunes."

For full article, see: http://www.khandro.net/animal_bird_peacock.htm

All good things, John E
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Kevin » Thu Jan 29, 2009 4:04 am

John Etherington wrote:Here's what Leonard says to John McKenna in the "How The Heart Approches What it Yearns" radio interview:

LC: [...]but human beings being what they are we're always going to set up people to die for some absurd situation that we define as important.
I don't know what Len was thinking of but along the line of deadly peacock fan I'll say that I do believe the above snippet of a comment by Len applies to peacocks. The fan has a greater chance of attracting a mate the larger and more colorful it happens to be, sure... the downside is that it is also these factors that make a peacock easy prey for predators since it not only sticks out but most likely also makes the bird too bulky to allow it to quickly take to the air.
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby anneporter » Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:15 pm

Thanks, John and Kevin. More grist for the mill as are the following gleanings:

.... some thoughts about peacock symbolism from the realm of tarot, as summarized by Sandra Thompson (Pictures from the Heart, 2003):
{[notes] and emphases added by me}


An ambivalent symbol [perhaps she means ambiguous?], [the peacock] can represent vanity, (probably because of the bird’s pompous behaviour) yet it is also associated with perception, vision, and insight.

Its feathers are said to ward off evil.

Sacred to Hera, the tail feathers represented the goddess’s all-seeing eye and her vigilance to watch for Zeus’s infidelities.

Legend says the bird acquired those eyes when hundred-eyed Argus, a monstrous but beloved son of Hera, was defeated by Hermes [a son of Zeus, fighting with Hera’s son. The two sons of different mothers fought each other on their parents’ behalf because Hera was jealous of a cow, who used to be a woman that Zeus favoured. This seems, to me, to resonate with the “sacrificing children” theme of The Story of Isaac].

Juno [Hera] then spread his eyes throughout the peacock’s tail so that their “light” might not be closed. [ie, let us not delude ourselves about what we have done/are doing]

In Christian and other traditions, the peacock is often considered a solar symbol because of the way its tail feathers spread to form a wheel. For this same reason. and because of its many colors, esoteric tradition considers the peacock a symbol of wholeness.

In some cultures, it represents the soul and immortality (reincarnation and karma in India).

In medieval alchemy, the peacock represented the “phase of bright colors,” the synthesis of the elements.

In Jungian pschology, the peacock represents the collective unconscious.

Because they renew their plumage every year, peacocks sometimes symbolize resurrection, renewal and cyclic processes, as well as pride, ostentation and splendor.

[The] symmetrical precariousness [of peacock feathers on the Haindl tarot Justice card] represents the fragile “orderliness” of reality and ...the eyes in the feathers represent “seeing” our emotions.

A peacock head dominates the Haindl Death card, where it symbolizes
looking at the truth regarding death.

The peacock feathers behind the head of the Spiral Tarot’s Justice card symbolize the starry night sky and the watchfulness of the Egyptian goddess Ma’at, against whose “plumes of justice” the hearts of men were weighed at death.

So... the plot thickens...nothing is unidimensional in the realm of Cohen, (koan) and other mythologies...
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby hydriot » Fri Jan 30, 2009 8:05 pm

Kevin wrote:the downside is that it is also these factors that make a peacock easy prey for predators since it not only sticks out but most likely also makes the bird too bulky to allow it to quickly take to the air.
I can assure you a peacock takes to the air quickly and gracefully, if somewhat noisily, its fan packed tight horizontally behind it, the perfect tail-plane. We found one in a field two miles from its official home: a man in a van had to come out to collect it.
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Kevin » Fri Jan 30, 2009 10:06 pm

Well, not to be obsessive about this, and I will say again that I don't know any of this as fact. It's just that I happened to see it mentioned in passing on teevee... you have assured us that a peacock can take to the air gracefully and quickly. You have not assured us that a peacock with an abnormally large fan can take to the air gracefully and quickly.
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Womanfromaroom » Sun Feb 01, 2009 4:23 am

anneporter wrote:[...]An ambivalent symbol [perhaps she means ambiguous?], [the peacock] can represent vanity, (probably because of the bird’s pompous behaviour) ...
I would have thought about the reference to "vanity", too, and I find it plausible that there might be an allusion to the "seven deadly sins", especially when sometimes, Leonard explicitely speaks (or, rahter, sings) about the peacock's "deadly fan"; this is what Wikipeida (yes, I know, not a very profound source, but it will have to do at this time of night) has to say about the issue:
"In almost every list pride (or hubris or "vanity") is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and indeed the ultimate source from which the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to give compliments to others though they may be deserving of them, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor." In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the titulary famed Parisian doctor. In perhaps the best-known example, the story of Lucifer, pride (his desire to compete with God) was what caused his fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan. Vanity and narcissism are prime examples of this sin. In Dante's Divine Comedy, the penitent were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs in order to induce feelings of humility".
Good to know that Leonard is the exact opposite of a "vain" person... :D
"You thought that it could never happen / to all the people that you became"...
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby peter danielsen » Thu Feb 05, 2009 6:09 pm

And if you call me brother now,
forgive me if I inquire,
"Just according to whose plan?"

-The first person speaker cant accept being called "brother" just like that. He wants to know just who establish these familiar connections and which conventions. One could consider the connection between "Plan" and "scheme" in the third stanza. The point could be that the first person speaker cant accept people, whos ideologies creates victims, regardless that they come to him with the expression "brother".

When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must,
I will help you if I can.

-It is suggested that if the first person speaker kills, then his murder would be beyond his own moral choice. He only kills the other ("you") because he "must". Immediately afterwards the first person speaker claims that he will help if he can. The point could be that the selfrighteous person, who focus only on the unfolding of the ideology, and not on a possible victim, always try make sure that he has an apology. He will say, that he only kills because he has to, and if he doesnt help, it is because he cant.

When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must,
I will kill you if I can.

-The wording is now turned around. Now he only help if he must, but on the other hand he kill if he can. It seems moraly open to criticism, if one is only willing to help if one must, and at the same time willing to kill, if only the opportunity is there. But perhaps these 3 lines express the potential of violence, which aesthetically beautiful rhetoric possess. To "kill" could namely (both times) be interpreted as a way to use the rhetoric, which serves a violent purpose and with that express abuse of power and injustice. The person controlled purely by ideology would most likely selfrighteously claim, that he only uses power when it is a necessity, and that he will help, if it is possible. But in reality, he will only help, if he has to, but on the other hand he will use the rhetorical power to make the other person a victim, if only he gets the opportunity.



And mercy on our uniform,
man of peace or man of war,

- Could consequently be understood as a prayer, that God will forgive the ideological uniformity of selfrighteous people, because the captivating rhetoric is often used violently, and at the same time the sentence could express a wish that people would let their ideologies onfold with mercy as a characteristic.For a person capable of unfolding mercy, would not be so inclined to sacrifice other people, even though it would be possible.
-It is suggested that both the person who considers himself to be within the paradigm of peace as well as the person who considers himself to be within the paradigm of war, will be apt to use a rhetoric potential of creating victims.

the peacock spreads his fan.
-The image of the peacock, spreading the tail could, like "the beauty of the word" in the third Stanza, symbolize the unfolding of the aestheticallly beatiful rhetoric. It is exactly because the rhetoric can be so captivating that involves the danger of it being used to serve violence. This understanding is often beyond the horizon of the selfrightous rhetorician.
Last edited by peter danielsen on Thu Feb 05, 2009 8:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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