The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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TineDoes
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by TineDoes » Sat Apr 17, 2010 7:59 pm

Mat, Thank you so much for giving this interpretation.
mat james wrote:By the way, I love the zen-ish description of heaven and earth, “I swept the marble chambers, But you sent me down below.”
I like that . 'Down below' on earth among the living. I think this is also a reference to Zen : 'When hatred with his package comes/You forbid delivery'.
To overcome suffering (reach the ultamate love?) one must be free oneself from craving and hatred.
Tine
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by mat james » Sun Apr 18, 2010 3:51 am

"I swept the marble chambers..."
Just a few more thoughts on this evocative line;
"marble" is probably a reference to Ancient Greece, Platonic concepts of soul and Western Philosophy.
"swept" is probably or maybe the zen reference mentioned above; a bit like the raking of the stone pebbles in a zen-garden. For me, the combination took me to contemplative practices and spiritual/meditative space. The more I internally image(imagine) the line, the more 'swept' and mentally cleansed I feel.
Leonard was responsible for cleaning Roshi's (his Zen Teacher) chambers when he was living with him as a monk. This experience of the simple daily cleaning routine is probably the genesis of the line.(?)
Of course my interpretation of the line may be incorrect, but somehow it doesn't matter because that independent musing and off-tangent- wander is the license of the reader of poetry.
"I swept the marble chambers..." :razz: :!:

...and to your comments:
I think this is also a reference to Zen : 'When hatred with his package comes/You forbid delivery'.
To overcome suffering (reach the ultimate love?) one must be free oneself from craving and hatred.
Tine
I would go along with that completely; good point.

Thanks again for your input and please add more comments or songs from the album as you feel inclined :) .

Regards, Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by DBCohen » Sun Apr 25, 2010 4:13 am

Mat,

I somehow missed this thread earlier, and only now read it, with much interest. I hope you will carry on and present the other songs on the album. Some of them have already been discussed on various occasions (especially “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “Alexandra Leaving”), but some hardly at all.
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by lizzytysh » Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:56 am

I can't help the visuals that come to me without trying, but this one just did in the context of these lyrics:
I said I’d be your lover.
You laughed at what I said.
I lost my job forever.
I was counted with the dead.

I swept the marble chambers,
But you sent me down below.

You kept me from believing
Until you let me know:

That I am not the one who loves –
It’s love that seizes me.
When hatred with his package comes,
You forbid delivery.
Aside from heaven and G~d and the Zen aspects, my visual was physical with man and woman. The marble being the colour of her skin, the chambers were her breasts for holding milk. The sweeping was his caresses. She sent him to her vagina. Not claiming rightness; just sharing my visual that appeared without prompting. I've listened to this song for a long time and this was this visual's first time, as I read the lyrics.
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by TineDoes » Sun Apr 25, 2010 8:49 pm

DBCohen wrote: Some of them have already been discussed on various occasions (especially “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “Alexandra Leaving”
Could anyone give the links to the threads of these discussions?
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by DBCohen » Mon Apr 26, 2010 1:58 am

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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by TineDoes » Mon Apr 26, 2010 9:51 am

DBCohen, Thank you!
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by mat james » Tue Apr 27, 2010 5:08 pm

By The Rivers Dark

By the rivers dark
I wandered on.
I lived my life
in Babylon.

And I did forget
My holy song:
And I had no strength
In Babylon.

By the rivers dark
Where I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me.

And he cut my lip
And he cut my heart.
So I could not drink
From the river dark.

And he covered me,
And I saw within,
My lawless heart
And my wedding ring,

I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there,
Who was hunting me

By the rivers dark
I panicked on.
I belonged at last
To Babylon.

Then he struck my heart
With a deadly force,
And he said, ‘This heart:
It is not yours.’

And he gave the wind
My wedding ring:
And he circled us
With everything.

By the rivers dark,
In a wounded dawn,
I live my life
In Babylon.

Though I take my song
From a withered limb,
Both song and tree,
They sing for him.

Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone,
If I forget
My Babylon.

I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there.
Who was hunting me.

By the rivers dark,
Where it all goes on:
By the rivers dark
In Babylon.

I'll elaborate more on this soon.
But here is the key.

" I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there,
Who was hunting me"

To me, it was:
His God who was waiting and hunting him.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by TineDoes » Tue Apr 27, 2010 10:27 pm

Mat, looking forward to reading what you have to say about this song.

Who was waiting who was hunting? I took this to be evil itself, Satan. But I can imagine that it could be God wanting to hunt the narator out of Babylon. Babylon, for the little I know about it, being seen as the biblical apocalyptic root of great evil, symbol for a godlessness. The city of Babel/Babylon was destroyed at the end of human history according to John's book of Revelations. Some believe that God himself destroyed Babylon.

Tine
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by DBCohen » Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:54 am

It seems to me that LC combines here two quite different biblical images. The first is from the Old Testament, Psalm 137: 1-6 (in the King James Bible version):
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
This psalm is reflected several times along the song, beginning with the first two stanzas, and evoking the theme of exile. This theme becomes poignant by the middle of the song: “I belonged at last/ to Babylon”. And there is a deep despair, it seems to me, in his swearing not to forget Babylon, rather than Jerusalem:

Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone,
If I forget
My Babylon.

Simultaneously, he evokes the struggle of the artist, his need and sometimes his inability to sing (as expressed so poignantly in the psalm), which still must be overcome somehow:

Though I take my song
From a withered limb,
Both song and tree,
They sing for him.

The other biblical image, as mentioned above by Tine, is from the New Testament and the Book of Revelation, where it appears several times, for example, 17:5
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
The image of “Babylon” as seductive femininity is very familiar from other LC poems and songs, such as “Last Year’s Man”, “Is This What You Wanted”, and “Dance Me To The End Of Love”. In the book Parasites of Heaven there is this interesting piece, beginning:
Foreign God, reigning in earthly glory between the Godless God and this greedy telescope of mine: touch my hidden jelly muscle, ring me with some power, I must conquer Babylon and New York. […]
A great piece of metaphorical sensuous writing, which also may be an early (1965) anticipation of “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin”. In any case, in this song the sensuous side is also painful, with the heart “which is not yours”, and the wedding ring which is swept by the wind.

Finally, after exile, art, sex and relationship, there is the mystical theme, but I’ll leave that to Mat to elaborate on, and I’m sure his take on the song will be rather different than mine. 8)

(As always, so much more that needs to be said, but no time!)
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by TineDoes » Thu Apr 29, 2010 2:12 am

DBCohen, I read your post and all your fine biblical references with great interest. I look forward to Mat's mystical theme's. Awaiting that I would like to give my very short interpretation of the Song.

In this song I see Leonard experiencing his life as being in exile, wandering in unknown territory. There his song and talent, his strength has left him. His fate unknown; Will he meet Good or Evil? Who or whatever is there damages him in such a way that he can no longer take care of himself; he is destitute. Who or whatever is there tells him to look into himself; he sees his own falsities.Through increasing panic he realises that this place of exile, is his unavoidable destiny.
This realisation strikes him hard. His song and talent now have to take inspiration from and serve his new fate.
He must now in full awareness give himself to this state of exile.
Tine
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by mat james » Thu Apr 29, 2010 11:52 am

By The Rivers Dark.

(Symbols: Rivers, dark, Babylon, holy song, hunting, cut my lip, cut my heart, he covered me, lawless heart, wedding ring, panicked, struck with force, THIS HEART IS NOT YOURS, gave the wind the ring and was circled with everything, (Tarot?)
A wounded dawn, Withered limb, sings for him, be the TRUTH UNSAID AND THE BLESSING GONE )


I would interpret this song, By The Rivers Dark, as outlined below.
(Of course this is simply my take on it.)


A deadly force awakens Leonard and says,
“This heart is not yours”
Which “heart” is not Leonard’s? or, Who’s “heart” is it?
I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there,
Who was hunting me
Who was waiting? ...The Heart of hearts.

"I did forget my holy song" (his personal search/quest for the divine)

"Though I take my song
From a withered limb, (his aged religion, Judaism? or, perhaps his unfulfilled self?)
Both song and tree
They sing for him."

( Both his Judaic culture (tree) and his personal quest (a withered limb) are striving for the same goal, to sing G~d into immediacy; and to sing one's own song, one's own sacredness into awareness.)
And he covered me.
Like some sacred prayer shawl, G~d covered Leonard in a shroud of understanding; covered him with knowledge of his tainted tangential wanderings through "Babylon"; the life without divine reflection.
“By the rivers dark”
Darkness in this Neo-Platonic sense is “unknowing”, ignorance, ignorance of a better way to live and “sing”, ignorance of the divinity within. But it is through this very “Darkness” that the journeying mystic must wander. For some/many it is the only way to G~d, to “awakening”(from ignorance), to Unity and Nirvana.
The darkness in this context should therefore not be undervalued; but rather embraced and understood as personal ignorance spiced with "longing" (Book of Longing) and this ignorance is ongoing until “a deadly force” (Mercy) enlightens it after prolonged struggle. The deadly force washes the seeker with a secret cognition:
“This heart is not yours”
You have a better heart than this one you are wallowing in/with.
This force whispers, "This is not you, Leonard. There is more to you than this struggling heart, bleeding; and these lamenting lips, bleeding and bleating into songs of loss and struggle, lamentations.
And that “more”, is Me." (Leonard’s G~d).
You are not married to this ongoing ignorance!
“This heart is not yours”; Listen singer, “I AM your heart”. (says the deadly force, his Merciful G~d.)
I’ll blow away the ring that binds you to this ignorance and I will encircle you with My Totality. I AM Who Am…I encompass all, including you, Leo.
Hence;
And he circled us
With everything.
“Be the truth unsaid and the blessing gone if I forget my Babylon.”
What truth could be left unsaid?...That he and his G~d are “One Heart” Unity/Co-union/Holy communion.
What blessing could disappear (be gone)?...Knowing/remembering that his heart is not his, but intrinsically, it is of G~d.
As if G~d were to say; "This heart is not yours.... All hearts are Mine (your G~d); but they are mostly lost in ignorance of this yoking/bond/marriage."
" I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there,
Who was hunting me"
Leonard may well say:

I have found Your hiding place
There, in the depths of my soul;
I went out into the darkness hunting you
and I lost my direction but not my longing;
…and you snared me!

Blessed is this darkness
For in it You saw me struggling
You hunted me,
You consumed me;
We are now One.

I did not know
And I did not see
YOU ! were waiting there;
YOU! Were hunting me!

Blessed is the “darkness” that brought me to You, the Supreme Hunter; G~d.

Mat.
Last edited by mat james on Thu Apr 29, 2010 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by TineDoes » Thu Apr 29, 2010 4:34 pm

Mat,
Thank you for your giving very deep vision on the song. Its meaning for me gets more layers all the time.
Question:
mat james wrote:Darkness in this Neo-Platonic sense is “unknowing”,
Do you see this darkness to be the same as 'my Babylon'? What do you think 'my Babylon' other than a place of darkness could be?
In the verse:

Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone,
If I forget
My Babylon.

Is Leonard not telling himself never to forget this place, his Babylon, the darkness? The word 'if' being all important. Otherwise the truth will have no meaning and the blessings; his knowledge, his G-d will be lost to him again.
Tine
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by mat james » Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:23 am

Hi Tine Does, Doron and all,
You ask or suggest T.D,
“Is Leonard not telling himself never to forget this place, his Babylon, the darkness? The word 'if' being all important. Otherwise the truth will have no meaning and the blessings; his knowledge, his G-d will be lost to him again.”
I look to these lines below for a possible answer.
“By the rivers dark,
In a wounded dawn,
I live my life
In Babylon.”
“In a wounded dawn.” (What a beautiful phrase/line!)
For me, this represents his reality. Life goes on, we all live back on Boogie street and not in the high states of Divine cognition. Therefore we all hang around Babylon, so to speak.
“…a wounded dawn,” could be viewed several ways, for me. It could be the “darkness” wounded by enlightenment, or,
It could be the enlightened spirit “wounded” by its journey through Samsara/Babylonian Darkness.
The wounded dawn is the interface of light and darkness…Holy Communion.
Opposites “need” each other, …and at that interface, that wounded dawn is a transient co-existent moment in a day. It does not last all day, or all night, just occasionally somewhere in between. Then back to Babylon or Boogie Street we go! Yet he/we remember that moment of fusing opposition; and without one you lose the other, and, that glorious vision.
So to return to you query…Yes, I think Leonard is “telling himself never to forget this place” of union/interaction of opposites. This “wounded dawn”; this symbiotic yoking of opposites.

Perhaps Leonard’s vision of redemption is aligned to that of King David's and sometimes even Jesus’?
I would suggest that the poetic phrase mentioned above, “In a wounded dawn,” is something like King David’s “broken hallelujah” that Leonard sings about.
Christ in Gethsemane, or stranded on the Cross singing “Why hast thou forsaken me!” are dark and wounded dawns with broken hallelujahs.

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The poetry of "Ten New Songs"

Post by DBCohen » Fri Apr 30, 2010 3:40 pm

Mat,

Great work, as always, in interpreting the song in the spiritual mode. However, I have a certain difficulty with this interpretation. I think the darkness here is hiding something much more sinister. Look at those lines (I numbered the stanzas):

[3]
By the rivers dark
Where I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me.

[4]
And he cut my lip
And he cut my heart.
So I could not drink
From the river dark.

[8]
Then he struck my heart
With a deadly force,
And he said, ‘This heart:
It is not yours.’

[9]
And he gave the wind
My wedding ring:
And he circled us
With everything.

So, there is somebody who is lurking in the dark, hunting him. This somebody attacks him brutally, cutting his lip (perhaps his song) and his heart (love, relationship and everything else). Later he strikes his heart - or what’s left of it - with a deadly force, and finally scatters his relationship to the wind. Now, could LC attribute all these violence to a benevolent force that is meant to awaken him? That’s a little hard to accept. Mightn’t he refer to a much darker force? (We’ve seen some hints in that direction in BoM, by the way.)

Incidentally, that dark force must not necessarily be totally bad. Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, when asked who he is, after all, replies: “I am part of the power / which forever wills evil / and forever works good”. So even the prince of darkness can work good in some indirect way. However, I’m not sure that this is what happens in this song, since it also ends on a note of despair, and there seems to be no way out of the darkness in this case. Although I may agree with your argument, Mat, about his view of redemption, on which you’ve expounded beautifully in your last posting, after reading this song again and again, I have the feeling that out of this darkness no dawn can break out. We have often talked about how LC’s songs have given us hope, even in their darkness, but I feel as if this song is an exception, and it was written in real despair. Still, as I wrote earlier, I find it full of ideas and allusions, and there’s more to be said about it.
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