Book of Mercy #29-40

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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DBCohen
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Book of Mercy #29-40

Post by DBCohen » Thu Jan 03, 2008 10:14 am

A new year, a new thread, second-hand expectations. But who knows? Maybe something good and new is in store for us.
II.29
Bless the Lord, O my soul, who made you a singer in his holy house forever, who has given you a tongue like the wind, and a heart like the sea, who has journeyed you from generation to generation to this impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment. Bless the Lord who has surrounded the traffic of human interest with the majesty of his law, who has given a direction to the falling leaf, and a goal to the green shoot. Tremble, my soul, before the one who creates good and evil, that a man may choose among worlds; and tremble before the furnace of light in which you are formed and to which you return, until the time when he suspends his light and withdraws into himself, and there is no world, and there is no soul anywhere. Bless the one who judges you with his strap and his mercy, who covers with a million years of dust those who say, I have not sinned. Gather me, O my soul, around your longing, and from your eternal place inform my homelessness, that I may bring you forth and husband you, and make the day a throne for your activity, and the night a tower for your watchfulness, and all my time your just dominion. Sing, my soul, to the one who moves like music, who comes down like steps of lightning, who widens space with the thought of his name, who returns like death, deep and intangible, to his own absence and his own glory. Bless the Lord, O my soul, draw down the blessing of authority, that you may invite me to uncover you, and hold you precious till I’m worn away, and we are refreshed, soul and shadow, refreshed and rested like a sundial standing in the night. Bless the Lord, O my soul, cry out toward his mercy, cry out with tears and song and every instrument, stretch yourself toward the undivided glory which he established merely as his footstool, when he created forever, and he made it-is-finished, and he signed the foundations of unity, and polished the atoms of love to shine back beams and paths and gates of return. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Bless his name forever.
Following several pieces written in different styles and keys, here, once again, is a piece clearly written in the key of the Psalms (the last truly “Psalmic” pieces were #20 & 24). It also echoes many themes from the Midrash, the Kabbalah, and other Jewish sources. This is another good example as to how LC absorbed so much of the tradition, and through the alchemy of his poetry created something truly his own (which is, in fact, also the way of the Midrash). It is also a particularly long piece, perhaps the longest in the book, and taking it all in at once is going to be difficult. So what follows are just a few initial observations (although you wouldn’t think so, seeing how long it stretches, for which I apologize).

Bless the Lord, O my soul, - These words are quoted from two famous Psalms, 103 & 104, on which this particular piece is based. The theme of the former is God’s forgiveness and mercy, his justice, and his reigning over the heaven and earth. The theme of the latter is God’s glory in creating and sustaining the universe. Both themes are combined in this beautiful piece by LC.

who made you a singer in his holy house forever, - This takes us back to #1, and see our discussion there. I observed at the time that in the temple “the cohen (priest) was in charge of the sacrifices, while the levi was the singer, but they all belonged to the same original tribe, so by stretching a point LC can also count himself among those ancient singers of the Psalms.” From a different angle, the “holy house” may also refer to the body, in which the soul resides.

who has given you a tongue like the wind, and a heart like the sea, - Both the wind and the sea are conspicuous images in Psalms 103 & 104.

who has journeyed you from generation to generation
– This can refer to the reincarnation of the soul (an idea that appeared in Judaism relatively late, with the Kabbalah), or simply to the idea of tradition, which is carried on and handed over from one generation to the next. Tradition was also a strong theme in Part I.

to this impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment. – Only LC would end such a long, glorious sentence with sweet…bewilderment. Still, in this piece he seems less bewildered and more reassured than usual.

Bless the Lord who has surrounded the traffic of human interest with the majesty of his law, - The law was another major theme in Part I; see for example #5. And it is also the title of a song in Various Positions, the album which forms a kind of diptych with this book. “I’m not asking for mercy”, he sings there, repeating that “There’s a Law, there’s an Arm, there’s a hand”. In this book, in which mercy is a major theme, the reality of the Law is emphasized again and again, and the two are not put in opposition to each other, but as two aspects of the same thing.

who has given a direction to the falling leaf, and a goal to the green shoot. – In the Midrash it is said that not a green shoot ever grows without an angel telling him to do so.

Tremble, my soul, before the one who creates good and evil, that a man may choose among worlds; - This may be based on Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things”, and Deuteronomy 30:19 “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live”. Free choice is a major concept in Judaism, although it was recognized that it is in conflict with God’s omniscience. Rabbi Akiva (second century CE) declared in the Mishnah (Avot 3:19): “All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given. The world is judged in goodness, yet all is proportioned to one's work.” This may have also been in response to some Jewish sects, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls Sect, who believed in predetermination and the election of the just. However, mainstream Judaism realized that this concept usually leads to a dead-end, and that the absence of free choice would make religious life meaningless.

and tremble before the furnace of light in which you are formed and to which you return, - The soul is formed in heaven and returns there.

until the time when he suspends his light and withdraws into himself, and there is no world, and there is no soul anywhere. – Here we come once again upon the Kabbalistic concepts of tsimtsum (contraction), shvira (breaking) and tikkun (mending) (see the discussion in #1, and, recently, in #28). This refers to the grand myth of God having had to contract himself in order to leave a space for the created world, a process that went wrong and requires mending. The logical conclusion of the process is that once the mending is completed, and all the scattered sparkles of light return to their origin, God would withdraw back into himself.

Bless the one who judges you with his strap and his mercy, who covers with a million years of dust those who say, I have not sinned. – God is just, and uses both strap and mercy, not mercy alone. Those who sinned will be punished. Again, the Law is omnipresent.

Gather me, O my soul, around your longing, and from your eternal place inform my homelessness, that I may bring you forth and husband you, and make the day a throne for your activity, and the night a tower for your watchfulness, and all my time your just dominion. – In #28 we found “mercy” and “longing” in the same sentence, as the two ends of a spectrum; here we find these words in consecutive sentences. Here too “longing” – an internal process - seems like the opposite of “mercy” – an external force. This is also evident from the change in tone: earlier, and soon after, the soul is urged to sing the glory of God; here there seems to be an internal process between the speaker and his soul.

Sing, my soul, to the one who moves like music, who comes down like steps of lightning, who widens space with the thought of his name, who returns like death, deep and intangible, to his own absence and his own glory. – This verse, like others in this piece, reads like an alternative version to Ps. 104. As remarked earlier, it is as if the writer had absorbed the Psalm, and he brings it forth again in a new version of his own (it is tempting to write several pages of interpretation on this verse alone).

Bless the Lord, O my soul, draw down the blessing of authority, that you may invite me to uncover you, and hold you precious till I’m worn away, and we are refreshed, soul and shadow, refreshed and rested like a sundial standing in the night. – Soul and shadow – there are always two opposites: good and evil, mercy and longing, and so on (also Yin and Yang, if you wish). Note the beautiful simile (who would have thought that a sundial needs the night to rest?).

Bless the Lord, O my soul, cry out toward his mercy, cry out with tears and song and every instrument, - This also echoes the Psalms (150, for example, also reflected in Various Position: Hallelujah).

stretch yourself toward the undivided glory which he established merely as his footstool, - God’s thrown in heaven is mentioned in Ps. 103:19. The earth as his footstool is in Isaiah 66:1 “Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool”. In other places the temple in Jerusalem, or more specifically the Arch of the Covenant within the temple, is called God’s footstool (Ps. 132:7, I Chronicles 28:2).

when he created forever, and he made it-is-finished, and he signed the foundations of unity, and polished the atoms of love to shine back beams and paths and gates of return. – The imagery here is again taken from Ps. 104: “Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters…” (V. 3), “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever” (V. 5). As for “gates of return” (in Hebrew sha’arei teshuvah) – these are the gates which are always open for the repentant. See also the importance of the gates in #28, as well as #5.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. Bless his name forever. – A fitting ending to this majestic piece of psalmic poetry.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by lizzytysh » Thu Jan 03, 2008 4:27 pm

Hi Doron ~

I scrolled down to see what you wrote about...
who has given a direction to the falling leaf
... [before even reading about the green shoot] because of its beauty and found you had isolated out this with its following comment:
who has given a direction to the falling leaf, and a goal to the green shoot. – In the Midrash it is said that not a green shoot ever grows without an angel telling him to do so.
Again, I feel gratified to know the back story of two such simple, beautiful phrases. I'm again enjoying your substantive and knowledgeable commentary.

Thanks for the continuation.


~ Lizzy
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by Manna » Thu Jan 03, 2008 9:58 pm

who has journeyed you from generation to generation to this impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment.
sounds like orgasm to me. The impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment, that is, in this context. I have often thought our Cohen belongs at least in part to the religion of sex.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by DBCohen » Fri Jan 04, 2008 7:17 am

Thanks, Lizzy.

Evidently, there is great more to find and analyze in this prayer.

Manna,
Having proposed that the “holy house” can also be interpreted as the body, I must accept your intuition about the orgasm as a possible interpretation here.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by lizzytysh » Fri Jan 04, 2008 7:53 am

Yes, there is. I just haven't had a chance to focus on even the rest of what you wrote. Very interesting observation, Manna.


~ Lizzy
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by mat james » Fri Jan 04, 2008 3:44 pm

Not me, not my body
but my soul
Is the singer
And this singing soul of mine transmigrates

For now at least
We have the world of the opposites
But when opposition ceases
We souls cease

Those who do not question
Are lost in meaninglessness

I am lost and homeless
But because you
make me long for you
through that longing which you instil
I will be gathered back in
In to you and your dominion

Not my body
But my soul
Connects with your intangibility
And I write
But my soul is doing the singing
My body can only record
That which my soul is “singing” (visioning)


Bless me with the gift of poetry
And through those poems
I will get to know you better
You who I love
completely

My relationship with you
Is refreshed through the poems I write
And I record that which my soul is singing
And it is singing now
“you are the Light
That shines on my soul
And I, this poet/man
am merely the shadow beneath that soul
yet while my soul sings
though I live in ignorance of your touch
I hear of you through the songs my soul sings
To me
I record, as a poet, those soulful whispers
And so in my darkness and ignorance
I am still refreshed.”
"like a sundial standing in the night."
So soul,
Cry out
and I will record what I can
through my words and poems
through the music I create
and through any instrument
(including my dancing body)
That is capable of expression

My soul
I want you to expand
Through love and by longing
Venture to the alpha and the omega
Of existence
Back to unity
To “it is finished”
(When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.) John 19:30
and he signed the foundations of unity,
and polished the atoms of love to shine back beams and paths and gates of return.
Soul.....Sing us to Union !

Matj
Last edited by mat james on Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:07 pm, edited 3 times in total.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by mat james » Fri Jan 04, 2008 3:49 pm

On the posting above I gave my understanding of the verse, 29.
It is simpler to read as a flowing piece and that is why I posted it as such.
Below is the expanded version for those who wish to follow my thoughts on this lovely verse.
Apart from the similarities that DB Cohen has already pointed out to us,It is also similar in message to Juan de la Cruz's poem "The Spiritual Canticle".

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, who made you a singer in his holy house forever, who has given you a tongue like the wind, and a heart like the sea, who has journeyed you from generation to generation to this impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment.”
Not me, not my body
but my soul
Is the singer
And this singing soul of mine transmigrates

Bless the Lord who has surrounded the traffic of human interest with the majesty of his law, who has given a direction to the falling leaf, and a goal to the green shoot. Tremble, my soul, before the one who creates good and evil, that a man may choose among worlds; and tremble before the furnace of light in which you are formed and to which you return, until the time when he suspends his light and withdraws into himself, and there is no world, and there is no soul anywhere.
For now at least
We have the world of the opposites
But when opposition ceases
We souls cease
Bless the one who judges you with his strap and his mercy, who covers with a million years of dust those who say, I have not sinned.
Those who do not question
Are lost in meaninglessness

Gather me, O my soul, around your longing, and from your eternal place inform my homelessness, that I may bring you forth and husband you, and make the day a throne for your activity, and the night a tower for your watchfulness, and all my time your just dominion.
I am lost and homeless
But because you
make me long for you
through that longing which you instil
I will be gathered back in
In to you and your dominion
Sing, my soul, to the one who moves like music, who comes down like steps of lightning, who widens space with the thought of his name, who returns like death, deep and intangible, to his own absence and his own glory.
Not my body
But my soul
Connects with your intangibility
And I write
But my soul is doing the singing
My body can only record
That which my soul is “singing” (visioning)
…draw down the blessing of authority, that you may invite me to uncover you, and hold you precious till I’m worn away,
Bless me with the gift of poetry
And through those poems
I will get to know you better
You who I love
completely


and we are refreshed, soul and shadow, refreshed and rested
My relationship with you
Is refreshed through the poems I write
And I record that which my soul is singing
And it is singing now
“you are the Light
That shines on my soul
And I, this poet/man
am merely the shadow beneath that soul
yet while my soul sings
though I live in ignorance of your touch
I hear of you through the songs my soul sings
To me
I record, as a poet, those soulful whispers
And so in my darkness and ignorance
I am still refreshed.”
like a sundial standing in the night.
…cry out toward his mercy, cry out with tears and song and every instrument,
So soul,
Cry out
and I will record what I can
through my words and poems
through the music I create
and through any instrument
(including my dancing body)
That is capable of expression

stretch yourself toward the undivided glory which he established merely as his footstool, when he created forever, and he made it-is-finished,
My soul
I want you to expand
Through love and by longing
To the alpha and the omega
Of existence
Back to unity
To “it is finished”
(When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.) John 19:30
and he signed the foundations of unity,
and polished the atoms of love to shine back beams and paths and gates of return.
Soul....Fly to Union !

Matj
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by DBCohen » Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:23 pm

Mat,

I apreciate your interpretation which, as usual, is beautifully expressed. I still think that the duality of body and soul can be found even here, but that’s our usual bone of contention. Could you quote some passages from Juan de la Cruz which this poem brought to mind?

Thanks.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by mat james » Sat Jan 05, 2008 1:01 am

Hi DB,
Here is a link to "The Living flame of Love" ( which I have not mentioned before) but this poem is a great example of the similarities/connections between the two poets work.
http://books.google.com/books?id=BCjN0V ... tXD4MKsiUs
and "The Spiritual Canticle " is linked below. The whole poem is permeated with similarities.
You will notice immediately the connection to the writings of Solomon.
http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual_and_ ... _canticle/

By the way DB, verse 29 suggests to me that Leonard recognises and celebrates the unique perspectives and teachings of that famous Jew, Jesus and that is why he focus' on Love and Jesus' final words on the Cross (according to John, 19:30,
" it is finished "
You say,
I still think that the duality of body and soul can be found even here, but that’s our usual bone of contention.
I also see the "duality" and have expanded my understanding of the "sun-dial" metaphor that points to that duality of body and soul (body being the "shadow" of the soul ) and also to that trinity of body/soul/god, which when sweetly " singing ", approaches Unity
I suppose the French Catholic influences are very apparent to me in this verse in particular with its seeming references to Jesus, with Love as a "path" and Jesus a one of the real "gates" to union with "god". We established the likely link to the New Testament, with the word "gate" in the previous verse, 28.
" I am the gate " in John 10.

But what does verse 29 "mean" ????

We can cross-reference for ever; but what does it " Mean "?
I suggest that I point to the meaning of the verse 29 in my postings above.

And for me, the words of Leonard reduce to this:

God causes us to long for him
this is Love.
through this love for Him
we may just find Him.
living in duality
with the assistance of our soul
as we move into and through Trinity
we become Unity


I await the "slings and arrows" ! :lol:

Matj
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by DBCohen » Sat Jan 05, 2008 5:25 pm

mat james wrote: But what does verse 29 "mean" ????

We can cross-reference for ever; but what does it " Mean "?
I suggest that I point to the meaning of the verse 29 in my postings above.
Hi Mat,

The “meaning” of the poem – that’s another old bone of contention between us. You often argue that it means exclusively what you say it means, while I maintain that it could mean different things, and I also don’t make “meaning” my main priority.

When we were in school, and were taught a poem, the teacher would ask: “What did the poet mean?” This question became notorious as a form of mediocre teaching. The “meaning” of a poem is different than, say, the meaning of an opinion piece. When writing an article you set about to deliver an argument, and must know exactly what you mean. Poetry is not such a cerebral process, and lines may emerge from the sub-conscious. I’m not trying to say that writing poetry is a totally unconscious process; far from it. Writing poetry is a craft and needs long years of honing (being a poet yourself you know all this without me telling you; I don’t wish to lecture you or anybody else, only to express my opinion). But still, unexpected things happen in the process of writing. And a good poem, I always maintain, is the one that has more than one meaning, and can mean different things to different people. Of course, one must demonstrate - and you always do - that what one has in mind as an interpretation can actually be found in the poem – otherwise it would be pure personal associations that are irrelevant to other people. Unlike Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass, we can’t say that “it means what I choose it to mean”; that would really make the reading of poetry meaningless. But the interpretation of good poetry is an endless process, with different meanings for different ages. And while I don’t presume to say what the poet meant, I wish to come as close as possible to the roots in which their poetry is planted; that means putting things in context, and looking at the poem from within that context.

Another point associated with meaning, which seems to be raised in your argument, is that of aim. You seem to say – and forgive me if I’m wrong – that you have a concrete aim in reading this poetry and finding its meaning, and perhaps you also argue that this book was written for this very aim (as for the nature of this aim, you put it much more eloquently than I would be able to, so I will not try to rephrase it). What is the sense, you are asking, in doing all this reading and interpretation if you don’t end up with a clear meaning and maybe even a useful tool? Well, my starting point is different, and therefore my attitude to meaning and aim is also different. For me the main pleasure is the endless process of interpretation, through which I experience this poetry to the highest degree. For you the absolute may be a reality; it may be so for LC too, and perhaps that’s why you find yourself so much in sync with his poetry. I view these things differently, but I can still appreciate his poetry deeply, even if I don’t share all his sensibilities.

Here’s a little story that may or may not be relevant, but it seems like the right time to tell it. Years ago I met here in Kyoto an expatriate American, who turned out to be the great poet and editor of Origin, Cid Corman. On visiting his house he showed me his den, which was packed full with books in total dusty disarray, mostly stacked up in piles on the floor, making it almost impossible to step inside the room. He said that sometimes he can no longer find a book he knew he had, so he goes out and buys a new copy. By contrast he also showed me a neatly stacked pile of cleanly printed pages, about half a meter (two feet) high, which was his selected poetry, titled OF, that for many years he was editing and preparing for print ( he managed to print only part of it before he died in 2004, in his 80th year). On showing me the manuscript Corman said: “once it is printed, it will replace the Bible”. I looked him in the eye: what did he mean by that? Poets can be great ego-maniacs and self-centered, but surely he couldn’t mean that… I let it go, because I felt that he wasn’t stating a fact, but expressing something that can be interpreted in different ways. But perhaps he really believed it, who knows?

It may be that LC wrote BoM as a book of prayers, but surely not to replace the other prayer books, perhaps only to add something to them. Also, not all the pieces in the book are prayers, and although none is written in verse form, we’ve always regarded them as poetry, and as such they should be interpreted. I don’t think he wrote the book with the aim of teaching the world a new or a newly-discovered truth; he was never a guru, and he never had a single disciple. He takes religion seriously, but also playfully. I wish to enjoy the beauty of his poetry, and to understand the sources of his inspiration. For me, this is sufficient.

Now you can tell me, if you wish, why you disagree with me, but since we’ve already agreed to disagree, or so I believe, I hope we can maintain our modus vivendi.

All the best,

Doron

P.S.
Thanks for the links.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by Joe Way » Sat Jan 12, 2008 3:13 am

Hi folks,

This is such a beautiful passage and, Doron and Mat, you've both done such a good job of explicating it and Lizzy & Manna both have had insightful thoughts that I've hesitated to comment until the richness of the words had time to settle.

The first line, "who made you a singer"-as opposed to being a listener? And is this one of the crucial distinctions? (not simply in the roles played according to Jewish custom, but overall in the scheme of things). Surrounding the "traffic of human interest"-is this ordinary traffic as Roshi called LC, "Jikan"- meaning ordinary silence? (As an aside, Jarkko once reported that Leonard said that Roshi used to get pissed off when people made too much of his names since it was more for convenience).

Doron writes:
Bless the Lord who has surrounded the traffic of human interest with the majesty of his law, - The law was another major theme in Part I; see for example #5. And it is also the title of a song in Various Positions, the album which forms a kind of diptych with this book. “I’m not asking for mercy”, he sings there, repeating that “There’s a Law, there’s an Arm, there’s a hand”. In this book, in which mercy is a major theme, the reality of the Law is emphasized again and again, and the two are not put in opposition to each other, but as two aspects of the same thing.
"traffic of human intersest" seems rather mundane when surrounded by "the law." I would like you to speak a little bit more about the notion that law and mercy are not put in oppostion to each other, but are two aspects of the same thing. I've always thought that they were on a continuum with mercy on one end and law on the other-in other words-the adherence to the law constituted a certain justice and the relief for non-compliance constituted mercy as a forgiveness of divine justice.

There is such beautiful imagery here. "furnace of light" which is an oxymoron in Frye's sense, but certainly is a great image with its implications of of the tools of the Nazi's mixed with redemption. "Steps of lightning"-ethereal but substantial. And, of course, the best image, that you've already mentioned, "refreshed and rested as a sundial."

Joe
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by DBCohen » Sat Jan 12, 2008 10:28 am

Joe Way wrote: "traffic of human intersest" seems rather mundane when surrounded by "the law." I would like you to speak a little bit more about the notion that law and mercy are not put in oppostion to each other, but are two aspects of the same thing. I've always thought that they were on a continuum with mercy on one end and law on the other-in other words-the adherence to the law constituted a certain justice and the relief for non-compliance constituted mercy as a forgiveness of divine justice.
Joe,

This is a very sensitive ground that we’re treading upon here; since the time of Paul, Jews and Christians have viewed this question differently, and sometimes grave misunderstandings have occurred. I don’t wish to stray too far into theological deliberations, and rather limit myself to what we find here in this book we’re discussing. As I’ve often said, I view it first and foremost as a Jewish book, written by a Jew who was steeped in his own tradition since childhood, and who was rediscovering it in middle age. On the other hand, as it was demonstrated here by several people, Christian images and ideas also find their way into the book (and can also be found in the other books by LC, and in his songs), and the writer is also influenced by Zen, and perhaps other traditions as well. It is an inclusive book, which was written by an imaginative poet, not by a theologian. It conveys a human experience, but it is not a textbook, a tractate or a guidebook for seekers of ultimate experiences. Because of its nature it may also contain contradictions. With all this in mind, let me try and examine some of what he says about the Law.

The English word “Law” in this context is probably synonymous with “Torah”. In this book LC sometimes uses either of the two words, and sometimes neither, but it is still clear he has the Torah in mind (such as in #3). In #5 (and elsewhere) the Torah is personified, while in #6 he says: “Establish your law in this walled place”. Neither here nor anywhere else in the book, so far as I can ascertain, does “law” appear as the opposite of “mercy”; both are required. The law is part of the heritage which the writer wishes to rejoin. Sometimes it is capitalized – as in “the Law shining” in #7 – and sometimes not. The fence and the wall are also recurring images in the book, and they are associated with the law.

We are discussing here the verse from #29: “Bless the Lord who has surrounded the traffic of human interest with the majesty of his law”; compare this with the verse from #17: “… Our Lady of the Torah, who does no write history, but whose kind lips are the law of all activity”. The language is somewhat different, but the intention is the same. See also in #24: “Now that all men hear each other, let your name be established in hell, and count us back to the safety of your law, father of mercy…”. If you read all these verses carefully, I believe you may agree that “law” and “mercy” are intertwined. The simple reasoning, perhaps, is that law without mercy may be too harsh, and mercy without law is meaningless – but I may be straying here away from what he actually says in the book. Again, this is a poetic book, not a theological one. What I can say with certainty is that he seems to need both law and mercy, and that he does not find them contradictory.

I don’t know if I’ve answered your question satisfactorily, so if you or anyone else wishes to continue this discussion, I’ll try to do better next time. In fact, let me also ask you a question: why do you feel that the “traffic of human interest” seems “mundane” when surrounded by the law?
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Joe Way
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by Joe Way » Sat Jan 12, 2008 8:50 pm

Hi Doron,

You've given a very good explanation that's helped me understand this a bit better which was what I was asking for. From my religious background, "the Law" probably has too many connotations of tablets of Moses and I forget the reference to the Torah which I'm sure is quite correct.

Regarding your question to me-it is simply a matter of language-"traffic" carries with it certain everyday connotations as do the terms "human interest." In fact I would wager that it is the commonality of this language put in opposition to the more dramatic imagery that is offered that packs some of the punch of this verse.

Thanks again for the explanation.

Joe
"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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mat james
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by mat james » Tue Jan 15, 2008 12:19 pm

DB, Thanks for your response to my posting and I’ll make a few comments below regarding them: All my comments though are in the spirit of adventure.
“You often argue that it means exclusively what you say it means, while I maintain that it could mean different things,”
DB, brother, I am not exclusive. XXXOOO. I am a lover.

You also say,
“…and I also don’t make “meaning” my main priority.”
Unapologetically, I do. You are right on this. I am a hopeless searcher of meaning!!!

Even if the author of a poem is blind or confused as to the meaning of the waffle they spew onto a page, be it poem or dream, I will look for meaning. This is my pleasure. Of course I may be way off in my interpretation; and that’s ok. 8)
If though, there is no “meaning” in the work and it is merely a pretty poesy of words, then it is not for me. I can’t waste my life on meaninglessness, I’ll leave that for others who find satisfaction in this painting of pretty or ugly pictures.
If I honestly thought that there was no meaning in Leonard’s work and in this “Book of Mercy” I would move away from the book and the author and judge the man a “time waster” for Mat.
I know that neither you nor I believe that to be the case, so let’s not walk into that wasteland.

You went on to say, about another poet whose work I am not familiar with:
“On showing me the manuscript Corman said: “once it is printed, it will replace the Bible". I looked him in the eye: what did he mean by that?”
It sounds like a take off of John Lennon saying that he was more popular than Jesus.
But Lennon was wrong! It was Muhammad Ali who was more popular than both!!! :lol:
Maybe your poet friend was chasing your humour?
“It may be that LC wrote BoM as a book of prayers, but surely not to replace the other prayer books, perhaps only to add something to them.”
I would speak to this in this manner, DB;
The mystic writers tell us that all books become as nothing to those who experience unity.
(Those “prayer books” become merely reminders, often inadequate, perhaps even a noose or a chain that needs to be wiggled out of.)

Let’s take sex (not even great sex) as an analogy.
One could read books/prayers (karma sutra) on how to do it for a lifetime and it may be great advice and right to the point;
But does it beat a fuck? (as Manna might put it!?)
The same goes with the godquest.
So, maybe Leonard does actually value his own work/life experience more than his or any other inherited scripture, and just maybe, this is “a” direction (note “a”) he is pointing at in his work?

Hi Joe,
I’m happy that you see something in my sparring partner’s work (DB’s) and also mine. Thanks.
You know Joe, once you start talking/asking about “Law”, immediately I move to that quote by Jesus when he says:
“Cursed all you “lawgivers” for you have taken away the keys to the kingdom”
And of course he is right. 8) 8) 8)
It is a delicate slab of ice I stand on here, but what that means to me is that we have the ability to be beautiful already within our own nature, an internal “Way” as opposed to an external “Law”.
Mystics, apostates and poet-ratbags of the highest order go for the “Way”, in all cultures.
Good citizens go for the “Law”.
Bad citizens are lost, in both.
And good citizens will never see the sense in the mystic following his “Way”.
But occasionally bad citizens will reject the "Law" but accept the "Way" and consequently that is why there is hope for those and this black/and lost sheep.

Matj
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Book of Mercy #29-

Post by DBCohen » Tue Jan 15, 2008 3:53 pm

Mat,

It’s always such fun reading your posts. Thanks for the good spirit (and if we ever meet, perhaps we will share a bottle).

Naturally, I have nothing against meaning. In my last post I probably took an extreme position in order to make a point, playing the devil’s advocate, if you will. Meaning is important, although based on life experience I sometimes tend to regard it with suspicion. But there’s much to say in its favor: actually, the great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl made it the cornerstone of his method, logotherapy. His book Man’s Search of Meaning is highly recommended, in case you haven’t read it yet. Frankl argues that the main force that drives us is the need to find meaning in our lives, even under the most terrible conditions (Frankl survived Auschwitz, so he should know something about this), and that without meaning we lose the wish to live. Frankl put the emphasis on the higher function of the human psyche, and I think his view of religion would also appeal to you (Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning). So meaning is something which is often very much on my mind, and I always look for it, but when it comes to poetry, I tend to be more careful.

You say you are not familiar with the work of Cid Corman, which is perhaps not surprising, as he was known mainly in some circles of American poetry, but he was an influential figure all the same – as an editor, broadcaster, and translator, perhaps more than as an original poet, in spite of his great output - and is worth looking up. His books were never popular or easily available. After long searches I found a copy of his best known book, Sun Rock Man (1962), in the Poetry Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, the amazing town of books in Wales. He wrote it after spending some years in Italy, especially in Matera, a poor town where the houses are dug into the rock wall of an ancient canyon. His life there reminded me of LC’s life on Hydra, and I thought I’d quote here a poem which would also remind you of a famous poem by LC (although the meaning is actually different), and would make an interesting comparison. So here’s one for the spirit of a dead poet.
The Kite

at certain points
undefined against sky
the kite
completely free of

any will to rapacity
leans
into the wind
sweeping up the ravine

leans and lies in it
hardly
flicking his wings for
further lofting

sliding upon repose
like a god
brickred and black
dabbling in misericordia

but skilfully bored
swerves from his blind height
down
upon a mouse


Cid Corman
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