The Night Comes On

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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mat james
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The Night Comes On

Postby mat james » Tue Apr 19, 2011 6:23 am

The Night Comes On

I went down to the place
Where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I'm frightened
The thunder and the lightning
I'll never come through this alone
She said, I'll be with you
My shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on
It was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, Go back to the World
We were fighting in Egypt
When they signed this agreement
That nobody else had to die
There was this terrible sound
And my father went down
With a terrible wound in his side
He said, Try to go on
Take my books, take my gun
Remember, my son, how they lied
And the night comes on
It's very calm
I'd like to pretend that my father was wrong
But you don't want to lie, not to the young
We were locked in this kitchen
I took to religion
And I wondered how long she would stay
I needed so much
To have nothing to touch
I've always been greedy that way
But my son and my daughter
Climbed out of the water
Crying, Papa, you promised to play
And they lead me away
To the great surprise
It's Papa, don't peek, Papa, cover your eyes
And they hide, they hide in the World
Now I look for her always
I'm lost in this calling
I'm tied to the threads of some prayer
Saying, When will she summon me
When will she come to me
What must I do to prepare
When she bends to my longing
Like a willow, like a fountain
She stands in the luminous air
And the night comes on
And it's very calm
I lie in her arms and says, When I'm gone
I'll be yours, yours for a song
Now the crickets are singing
The vesper bells ringing
The cat's curled asleep in his chair
I'll go down to Bill's Bar
I can make it that far
And I'll see if my friends are still there
Yes, and here's to the few
Who forgive what you do
And the fewer who don't even care
And the night comes on
It's very calm
I want to cross over, I want to go home
But she says, Go back, go back to the World
Leonard Cohen (Various Positions, 1984/5 )


(viewtopic.php?f=9&t=4208&hilit=The+night+comes+on )
"...In men's life the mother represents an authentic sense of protection, the life that strengthtens. In the second verse, there is that fight and this idea, "I'd like to pretend that my father was wrong. But you don't want to lie, not to the young"...the father represents this idea of a war forever fought. Then there is the marriage, which develops from a romantic idea, which we can't make last forever, to a human responsibility towards children, an ineluctable responsibility, even if these very children will move away. Then the verse, "Now I look for her always…" is in fact, and concerning my case, about a songwriter's work. Here there is this vision of the woman, neither the mother nor the wife, but another feminine presence that touches all the others and is responsible for the songs. "I lie in her arms, she says, When I'm gone, I'll be yours, yours for a song." It's the feminine Muse. The last verse deals with the street, with "going back to the world," with friends. I like this passage, "Yes, and here's to the few who forgive what you do, and the fewer who don't even care!" But obviously this cannot protect us from the idea of what has been lost and will never be back. So the singer is trying to come back his way but the mother, by saying to him again and again, "Go back, go back to the world," keeps him alive."
{Interview 1985 (french magazine "Paroles et Musique") Rob from Wales.}

What am I up to this time?

This song, “The Night Comes On”, is a very haunting song.
We all have an interpretation lurking just below our conscious thought.
Rob’s extract above from a Leonard Cohen interview says it all I suppose, but I want to look further. As always, I expect there is more.
I will ponder this for a while longer; have your say before I start… on the “Mystical” .

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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TineDoes
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby TineDoes » Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:11 am

Mat: Yes it is a haunting song. Look forward to reading the explanation that is lurking below your consciousness.

This song touches me deeply.
‘The Night comes on’: The night has such a pull, the night is seductive, the night tempts. The night to my mind is the idea of the peace and comfort of death.
These lines, as I hear them, somehow seem to connect with, though seemingly contrary, the lines from the book of longing:
‘Desire the horse, Depression the cart’
This drag of depression on all the phases of his life as depicted in the lyrics, manifests in a longing for the night: ‘I want to cross over, I want to go home’.
But the ‘mother', the creative force keeps saying, 'it is not time yet'.
"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
imaginary friend
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby imaginary friend » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:07 am

Then the verse, "Now I look for her always…" is in fact, and concerning my case, about a songwriter's work. Here there is this vision of the woman, neither the mother nor the wife, but another feminine presence that touches all the others and is responsible for the songs. "I lie in her arms, she says, When I'm gone, I'll be yours, yours for a song." It's the feminine Muse.
'Now I look for her always...' is my favourite verse in this velvet song. Leonard's songs are a repository of references to the female 'creative force' (TineDoes). Lady Midnight (to me) is entirely about this muse-metaphor, and a fair part of Boogie Street is too. I even find her in some of Leonard's Book of Mercy psalms... do not smite me for this remark, please Moses (or Mat) (or Doran)

Over to you Mat BBG-Mystic...
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mat james
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby mat james » Sat Apr 23, 2011 5:11 pm

Hi Tine and I.F.
Thanks for commenting.
‘Desire the horse, Depression the cart’ does link well to this song Tine.
And, “I look for her always” is the way out of the cart and onto the saddle, so to speak, I.F.

I will splash a few ideas on the page for discussion/debate:
So, I put the position that this song is about insecurity and hope.
(Insecurity and doubt being all things masculine (for young Leonard) and hope and security being all things feminine.)

“And the night comes on”
What “night”?
“Now I look for her always”
And who is “her”?

Insecurity and hope; Father and Mother, respectively.

Masculine insecurity?
Leonard feels vulnerable and insecure in this song. He knows he has to go through a pretty dark and miserable time. (finding his Way)
For me, it is a similar mood to Jesus’, when praying in Gethsemane, where Jesus sweats blood and asks God; "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (I'll enter the Dark Night, "if it be Your will")
It is the mood of a man who knows he must run the gauntlet; so despite his anxious fears, he will move into that "night".

"I'd like to pretend that my father was wrong. But you don't want to lie, not to the young"
Life has taught Leonard’s father, and therefore Leonard himself, to mistrust people. …and perhaps this is the basis of his insecurities.
“the father represents this idea of a war forever fought.” (Leonard Cohen)
And what is he, Leonard, to do?
…Remain forever insecure?
So he carries these insecurities into his marriage and family relationship and his music and writing.
The Dark Night is his way out.

“…And they hide, they hide in the World.”

It seems there is a sense of hopelessness. His father (and perhaps history) taught him how to survive by mistrust, his children teach him to “hide” in the world. Yet he wants more from life than these basic survival mechanisms. He knows there is more; another way of living; and he longs for it.

Maternal comfort (“I look for her always”)
The “night” is the feminine principle, the safe mother; the womb of God. (Gaia, in Greek Mythology or Mary and "Our Lady Of The Harbour", Montreal Chuch)

“...In one's life the mother represents an authentic sense of protection, the life that strengthtens.” (Leonard Cohen)

…Now I look for her always
I'm lost in this calling
I'm tied to the threads of some prayer (Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now...and at the hour of our death, Amen. {The Hail Mary Prayer})
Saying, When will she summon me
When will she come to me
What must I do to prepare
When she bends to my longing
Like a willow, like a fountain
She stands in the luminous air
And the night comes on
And it's very calm
I lie in her arms and says, When I'm gone
I'll be yours, yours for a song
…And the night comes on
It's very calm
I want to cross over, I want to go home
But she says, Go back, go back to the World

And the night came on
It was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, Go back to the World

“I look for her always”
I’m lost in this calling
I’m tied to the threads of some prayer”

It is the feminine principle that satisfies his need for security; so
“Now I look for her always”
Leonard looks for this security in the comfort women bring to him; the soul, the mother, the lover(s). He looks to his Soul for the spiritual comfort she brings to him also; because his G~d is slightly autistic, a hard task master and just can't quite connect; can't make the grade; is neither human nor humane.
Only later in his writing do we find a more satisfying relationship between Leonard and his G~d.
Only after he has been through that Dark Night (Cruz, Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists) which he sings of, and only after he has "sought and found" and experienced the Unification of Gaia and JHWH (Book of Mercy: and the merciful Love that he has been searching for) does he no longer "long" for divine Love, but mercifully "bond" to a Loving God.
"Love went on and on until it reached an open door, then Love itself was gone" (Because he had at last become "love itself" also; Unity: End of the Mystic journey and "the dark night of the soul".)

“She stands in the luminous air”

(His muse(s), his mother, his woman/women,...and his Soul.
And his muse-ic.
All vehicles to Unity

MatbbgJ
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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mat james
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby mat james » Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:03 pm

" under the marble and the snow"

For some reason I felt an impulse to interpret this line anew; particularly the word "snow".
"marble" = history (Egypt, Greece, Rome and all that ...)
"snow" = Winter/ discontent

"Now is the Winter of our discontent." (Shakespeare's Richard the 3rd)

8) Great image Leonard, whether you intend this interpretation or not :)

What do you think???

Mat
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby Cate » Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:32 pm

because his G~d is slightly autistic -
:)

I like it. It makes sense to me.
The heavy weight of our history and of ancestry and the darkness of the winter.


The image that comes for me is more of a first layer one.
I see death - he is literally under the ground with a marble grave marker above him.

It seems that the narrator in the song has moved across time or life spans (reincarnation?) . To me the 'she' seems like god herself, but Mother works as well as I would think the feminine form of god would be very Motherly – safe and warm. I think that he wants to be there again with her and her call is for that other world even while he is in his earthly one.
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TineDoes
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby TineDoes » Tue Jun 28, 2011 1:42 am

Mat, Wonderful reading your interpretation.
Cate wrote:The image that comes for me is more of a first layer one. I see death - he is literally under the ground with a marble grave marker above him.
This is also the image that I see when hearing the lines "under the marble and the snow".
"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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mat james
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby mat james » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:10 am

"Now I look for her always
I'm lost in this calling
I'm tied to the threads of some prayer..."

:D
That is so Leonard
:lol:

8)
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby MaryB » Tue Aug 09, 2011 9:36 am

Oh dear. After all your erudite intepretations, I still hearken back to the fact that so much of his background in music stems from his mother singing all the old folk songs while he was in his youth. These eastern European songs had so much basis in soldiers going off to war.

For every line that is interpreted mystically, I still see this song, in my simplistic approach, as being a song about war, the soldier having to deal with killing of fellow human beings, him seeking solace in words of wisdom his mother would have given him (if she were still alive), that his father had to go through this ordeal at one time as he himself has to now, and that he has to reconcile the fact that he has to deal with his wife, children, friends, and his own conscience in light of the the atrocities he had to commit in the 'noble' cause of a war.

Whatever the interpretation, it is a profoundly beautiful song.

Kindest regards,
Mary
1993 Detroit 2008 Kitchener June 2-Hamilton June 3 & 4-Vienna Sept 24 & 25-London RAH Nov 17 2009 NYC Feb 19-Grand Prairie Apr 3-Phoenix Apr 5-Columbia May 11-Red Rocks Jun 4-Barcelona Sept 21-Columbus Oct 27-Las Vegas Nov 12-San Jose Nov 13 2010 Sligo Jul 31 & Aug 1-LV Dec 10 & 11 2012 Paris Sept 30-London Dec 11-Boston Dec 16 2013 Louisville Mar 30-Amsterdam Sept 20
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mat james
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby mat james » Tue Aug 09, 2011 2:27 pm

You know Mary, you are right, I am sure.
My secondary views, mystical and all that jazz, are not the source of his work; of that I am sure.
Leonard begins with the human experience; the mystical is a later adaptation, I suspect: and it is for some silly reason, the one that I like to dwell on.
In his earlier recordings the every-day is ever-present.
In latter years I suspect Leonard saw the Universal in his outpourings; and so, like Solomon, directed those emotions to the Divine.

All good things to you; "Miss Inspiration"; you and your gender are the "muse"; and I am some wayward soul who twains for Unity.

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby MaryB » Wed Aug 10, 2011 8:11 am

Mat,

You are very kind to allow me my 'musings'. I just had to get it off my chest and finally found the courage to do so. Not an easy thing to do as I read all the learned and intelligent interpretations of his words here. Everyone here has taught me so very much and constantly make me re-examine his works as you have just again done so when you said the below;
mat james wrote:In his earlier recordings the every-day is ever-present.
In latter years I suspect Leonard saw the Universal in his outpourings; and so, like Solomon, directed those emotions to the Divine.Mat.
How very true.

As he has said, something along the lines of, 'my words are what they mean to you, the reader'. Maybe that is part of the fascination with his works - we can so easily take what he has written and adapt it to our own meaning and personal situations.

There is no right or wrong - just the beauty and craftsmanship of his poems and lyrics.

I love following this topic and threads and I am sure that many others do likewise. I hope that the graciousness of your reply to my post give them the courage to participate.

Warmest regards,
Mary
1993 Detroit 2008 Kitchener June 2-Hamilton June 3 & 4-Vienna Sept 24 & 25-London RAH Nov 17 2009 NYC Feb 19-Grand Prairie Apr 3-Phoenix Apr 5-Columbia May 11-Red Rocks Jun 4-Barcelona Sept 21-Columbus Oct 27-Las Vegas Nov 12-San Jose Nov 13 2010 Sligo Jul 31 & Aug 1-LV Dec 10 & 11 2012 Paris Sept 30-London Dec 11-Boston Dec 16 2013 Louisville Mar 30-Amsterdam Sept 20
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby holydove » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:13 pm

Hi Mary & Matt;

Just my humble opinion: I don't think it has ever been an "either/or" situation with Leonard's work. For me, the mundane & the mystical are always simultaneously present in just about every poem & song he has written, & that is a vital part of Leonard's very unique genius &, for me, a very significant statement about the nature of reality: that is, the inextricability of the mundane & the mystical, sex & spirituality, matter & spirit, etc.

As for this particular song/poem:

I agree that the "marble" would be a tombstone, & he is at the graveyard, possibly under the ground, communing with his dead mother. Seeing as he is frightened by the "thunder & lightning" (intense emotional turmoil, perhaps seen as a manifestation of divine wrath) in his life, & the night, in contrast, is "very calm", & he wants it to "go on & on", it is clearly something comforting,& a kind of escape from the turmoil of the world, & it could be death, or it could be a kind of merging of his being with the feminine principle, or both of the above; in which case, "night" & "mother" in this verse, are not necessarily two separate things. He is communing with his mother & with the night, which are both manifestations of the feminine principle. For the ancient Greeks, night was the mother of the gods, as the world & all that exists was born out of darkness. I think the "night" encompasses all 3 forms of the feminine principle, each of which appear in the first verse(as mother), third verse (as lover), & fourth verse (as muse). But these forms are not really separate from each other, each one encompasses the others.


His "mother" tells him to "go back to the world"; & his son & his daughter "hide in the world". I don't think this means that the children teach him not to trust, but that they draw him back into the world, not only because he feels responsible to them, but because their existence gives him a reason to want to be in the world; they lead him away to the "great surprise" - perhaps, the gift of love & joy which they bring to him.

And Matt, these 2 beautiful lines are among my favorites too, so forgive me, but I must quote them again: "Now I look for her always/ I'm lost in this calling/ I'm tied to the threads of some prayer. . " I just love those lines! They encompass the 3 major themes of his life: "her", "this calling", & "some prayer". That is just too perfect to even comment on, so I will leave it as it is!!
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mat james
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby mat james » Fri Aug 12, 2011 11:21 pm

I read all your comments with great pleasure..."I'm tied to this calling" :)
You are all very patient with me ;-)

"Here's to the few who...
..................................care"

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby TipperaryAnn » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:22 pm

mat james wrote:I read all your comments with great pleasure...

Mat.
And so do I . LOVE this song - I see it in simple terms as a resume of LC's life: mother, father, "wife", children,friends, and always longing...
Some of the interpretations of the first verse surprise me; to me it seems clear that he comes to his mother who lies in the cemetery "under the marble and the snow", missing her and afraid. She tells him he cannot join her yet, he must go back to the world, but she will be with him. I came to know this song, and the album "Various Positions", shortly after the death of my own mother, and found it strangely comforting.
Forget your perfect offering -
There is a crack in everything...
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Re: The Night Comes On

Postby MaryB » Mon Aug 29, 2011 9:32 pm

TipperaryAnn wrote: Some of the interpretations of the first verse surprise me; to me it seems clear that he comes to his mother who lies in the cemetery "under the marble and the snow", missing her and afraid. She tells him he cannot join her yet, he must go back to the world, but she will be with him.
But of course - makes logical sense to me. Why didn't I see this before? Thanks for this TipperaryAnn.
1993 Detroit 2008 Kitchener June 2-Hamilton June 3 & 4-Vienna Sept 24 & 25-London RAH Nov 17 2009 NYC Feb 19-Grand Prairie Apr 3-Phoenix Apr 5-Columbia May 11-Red Rocks Jun 4-Barcelona Sept 21-Columbus Oct 27-Las Vegas Nov 12-San Jose Nov 13 2010 Sligo Jul 31 & Aug 1-LV Dec 10 & 11 2012 Paris Sept 30-London Dec 11-Boston Dec 16 2013 Louisville Mar 30-Amsterdam Sept 20

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