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Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Sat Jun 18, 2016 7:42 pm
by Jean Fournell
Diane wrote:"To the one who was never never equal to the task", offers two possible, and opposite, interpretations:

1. To the one was was NEVER equal to the task.
2. To the one (One?) who was always equal to the task.

Delicious indeed, Diane!

Let me add:

3. To the one who was never [, and who was] never equal to the task
The Non-Existing All-Powerless...

Here a few more associations concerning "As he died to make men holy, let us die to make things cheap".
Still not along Julia Ward Howe's line "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free", nor along Mark Twain's line "As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich" but not quite on daka's line either:
daka wrote:My take on this line is that things only have a value if there is grasping at them. If there is no 'I' no Ego, no 'self' to grasp, there is nothing to be grasped at, therefore it becomes cheap, because it is nor 'desired' .
Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English:
"cheap [...] 2 worth more than the cost; of good value for the money. [...]"
ursula48 wrote:I'm moved to tears by this beautiful poem.... Even if I do not get the meaning of every line, every word.
I do realize how much I miss this man, his magical concerts, his wisdom..............ulla
Whether we understand all the words or not, whether we have half a century of religious or spiritual practice behind us or none at all Leonard Cohen is able to move us to the depths of our reality, different from anything our ego can grasp.

The fact that he moves us there, at no cost, with no prerequisite not even material cost: this poem (and much more of his stuff) is publicly accessible for free , does mean that his "things" are really "cheap".

And "to make things cheap" that way, to make wisdom accessible, is a tremendously difficult job.

Leonard Cohen, to my understanding, is a priest taking his "task" seriously. I do think he "dies" (= fully lives, because he lets his ego step aside) in order to allow truth to speak up "cheaply" the only cost being our willingness to listen, to let our own ego step aside.

The context of the line
"They whisper still, the injured stones, the blunted mountains weep"
also makes me think that the last two stanzas might be a reference to the still very "costly" Civil Rights even today, and a homage to Martin Luther King, who said on 3rd April 1968, one day before he was assassinated ("who knows he will be shot") ... ountaintop:

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

♫John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave♫
♫But his soul is marching on.♫

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:39 pm
by ForYourSmile

Published in

I was hoping about it. But now I perceive a very sad poem. There are cure: one new tour :D The concerts feel very well to Cohen. (In the current century, sometimes in the past they were hard for him)

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:49 pm
by ForYourSmile
WiTS wrote:I was trying to translate this new poem into Chinese to post on my site.

I guess 'As he died to make men holy, let us die to make things cheap' is an update on The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe.

Mark Twain wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated" to comment Philippine–American War. What about Leonard's update? on specific war or just general struggle against life? I vote for life.

and anyone can tell me the biblical reference about 'The the Altar and the Mall', 'the fables of Creation and the Fall' and 'the Palaces that rise above the rot' in the first three lines? Thanks a lot.
I have seen that you have translated the poem in your site. (I have done it in mine, into Catalan. ... .htm#steer). I do not see the relationship with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" where war (die and kill) is justified with religious beliefs... in order to give money and power to others. In addition to Mark Twain, Bob Dylan also made a good update: "With God On Our Side".
Hartmut wrote:I think he's talking not about a war, but about using cheap labor under health-threatening circumstances to produce cheap consumer goods.
I very much agree with what you say, but I'm not sure if it has association with the poem.
hadley wrote: My first thought was that this was about war, though though it could just be me as it reminded me of something I wrote in a song a while ago called Have I got News For You...

"We bombed some place we've never heard of before
It teaches us all new geography
You can only stand back in shock and awe
At just how brazen our puppet masters can be

The oil stocks they started runnin' low
The jets took off for strange exotic seas
Blowin' up dark skinned foreign kids to keep
The price of petrol down for you and me"
Yes!!! Well said! Year by year, month by month, day by day, thought by thought we continue denounced, as we did in 2003: imperialist wars that just try to dominate and steal, petrol for example. We knew it well, they also knew all the pain that they would lead far away from their tribe. But in my opinion the poem has something apocalyptic in a more wide sense.

Diane, I don't understand well that you say. Has it to do with the Boolean algebra where two negations are one affirmation? I understand the logic, but not applied in a text in this way, but I guess that English has differences in this with the languages I know. In my opinion this double negation is an underscore (bold type).
daka wrote:My guess is that Leonard is referring to Judeo/Christian Belief systems and the materialism of the modern days in your first query (altar mall creation fall).
Absolutely agree.

But, I don't think than Cohen, Jikan which was Zen monk among many other habits, is Buddhist. Do not bother with me. (This -and other things- I have spoken with long emails with Jean Fournell :) for me it was an interesting, exquisite and enriching experience, though, as you can imagine, from a profound respect, we remained in our positions. Excuse me but now I can not repeat that debate.)

Some thoughts:
I do not believe in the Redeemer or in his sacrifice. I still believe in the Truth, in the Fundamental Goodness and the Wisdom of the Way. I've done the best I could, for people who will occupy my site with my recognition to those who were here before, I do not know if it's cheap. Leonard Cohen's work was never cheap, many times steered my way, who was always always above the level of the task. And It was great for me, thanks. But now we won't say the Mea Culpa together, I have no reason to do so. (Too much ego for Buddhists?)

Anyway, it is a genuine Leonard Cohen poem, beautiful and deep.

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Mon Jun 20, 2016 11:27 pm
by daka
Hello For Your Smile

Forgive my references to Buddhism but I won't preach Buddhism at all. A few things about Leonard. I do not follow the Zen tradition but I have been told that even though you do not wear the robes you are still a monk. So saying Leonard 'was' a monk may not be correct; I stand to be corrected but that is what I have heard. Perhaps Jean Fournell knows about this? Also one has to ask oneself what is a Buddhist to put the question in perspective. My understanding is that one is a Buddhist if one is following Buddha's teachings. Therefore in order to know if someone is Buddhist you would have to know a) what Buddha's teachings are and b) the extent to which the person is following Buddha's teachings. Just because I say I am a Buddhist means nothing. Buddha's first teaching was the four noble truths: true sufferings, true origins true cessations true paths. Leonard's lyrics, for me, are very clever, creative, subtle teachings or commentaries on the teachings of Buddha; I suspect Jean Fournell understands this. My analogy is, like a cucumber becoming a pickle, one cannot return to being a cucumber. Leonard's Buddhism is and has been based for forty years or more on the grasping of certain wisdoms, and once realized or learned they cannot be unlearned. Phenomena existing as mere name, the absence of an objective external reality, the projection of a subjective reality, the pervasiveness of suffering in our existence, these beliefs underpin the recurring themes in Leonard's work. I promised not to preach Buddhism and I hope my observations are not perceived as a sermon, I am merely trying to clarify some aspects of Leonard's Buddhist training and beliefs that are very poorly understood outside of Buddhism. Leonard in a self deprecating way denies that he is a Buddhist and lumps it in with his other adventures and explorations. I don't believe it for a minute. There is a book called "If You See The Buddha Shoot Him". One would have to understand the Buddhist view of the nature of reality to appreciate the humor and clever twist of this title. I am too wordy this evening. Goodnight.

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Wed Jun 22, 2016 12:21 am
by Jean Fournell
Hello ForYourSmile and daka nice to meet you again!

Eihei Dôgen says:

"To study the Way is to study the Self. To study the Self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe."


"To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things." ... o-do-list/

Leonard Cohen says:

"If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will"


"You got me singing
The Hallelujah song"

All of this is very simple, and very clear.

And like many things which are very simple and very clear, it becomes very difficult to understand as soon as the mind clutches at it in order to observe a dynamic, living system by means of a static, dead framework. (In order to get power over it, to get it under control.)

I'm really sorry that it is so difficult, and that nothing can be done to make it any easier.
I know from experience that there is no switch inside us to make us jump from the "dead"-mood to the "live"-mood. When the world is bricked up in a Kafka-like fashion, when there is no way to escape. When "interdependence" and "constant becoming" are incomprehensible.

Life itself is something totally different, and Life's very existence seems impossible in the "dead"-mood.
Life is the great koan.

Now if we want to know what a zen-monk is, I'm afraid we would have to take the number of individuals concerned, multiply it with the average number of motivations per person, and then puzzle over the resulting mountain of contradictory notions.
To no avail, of course.

In what concerns Leonard Cohen's ordination, I don't know any more than what Sylvie Simmons says in her Cohen-biography "I'm Your Man". (Nor would I be willing to dig into his private life.)
And from Sylvie Simmons' description, it would seem that one day Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi said something like "It's time for you to get ordained", and that Leonard Cohen answered something like "Ok", and that they proceeded.
If things are more complicated than that, maybe time simply isn't ripe...

"Steer Your Way", to me, speaks of the mental evolution of the one who is spoken to. Addressing a person first (possibly the own mind, if it weren't for the third stanza), then the own heart (in the last stanza).

An evolution
- from Ancient Testament religious automatisms, with political power as a God-given phenomenon overturned by Thomas Hobbes in his 17th century "Leviathan", based on the assumption of a fundamentally bad humanity,
- through spiritual automatisms, with 18th century enlightenment Jean-Jacques Rousseau claiming a naturally good (male!) humanity critiqued in "Dialektik der Aufklärung" (Dialectics of Enlightenment) by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer,
- through the resulting hell, as shown by 20th century blind progress automatisms a hell which even a bodhisattva may prefer not to be sent to (just like Jesus begged: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done"),
- to living, responsible action inside the real world with no automatism to lean on; just full personal responsibility, and no certainties.

Responsible, non-violent action, which legally abolished the caste-system, segregation and apartheid, inequality between women and men...
(Nobody is perfectly non-violent: the "Non-Existing All-Powerless" wasn't meant as a joke.)

Showing that the law can be modified, however deep-rooted its basic assumptions might be. Because the law is human work, forever imperfect, and yet (or therefore) always perfectible.

But then I'm biased in my perception, biased by my own expectation that Leonard Cohen's next album will be about human law: ... 30#p349122
In fact I don't even know whether this poem will indeed be among the songs on the next album...

Far more important:

Let me bow to the "blunted mountains" and to those who stood on their tops: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela.

And to the many, many nameless "injured stones" (with whatever ideological or religious or spiritual background) who marched with them and who "whisper still", and who are marching on!

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Tue Jun 28, 2016 8:36 pm
by Goldin
A Russian translation by Vladimir Korman (Владимир Корман):

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Tue Jun 28, 2016 11:54 pm
by lizzytysh
Loving how much discussion has been generated in such a brief time on this poem/song. Substantive speculative comments. Too brief a time available at the library for me to say more :? .

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 11:24 am
by Goldin
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought

So strong, so clear... brilliant!

Just a thought of today: exactly a month ago the poem has been published. How long should we wait for a song?..

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 2:46 pm
by jarkko
Hi Roman
I'm sure we all are looking forward to hearing the song!
Here we go again with my traditional P-word... Patience, just a pinch of it!

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 3:03 pm
by Goldin
Year by year, a Pinch of Patience... Ok, Jarkko, thanks - Practice makes Perfect: the Patience we have!

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 5:10 pm
by rike
re: patience
Yes, but how long is a pinch?

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Tue Aug 09, 2016 4:52 pm
by lizzytysh
Steer your way, O my heart, though I have no right to ask
To the one who was never never equal to the task
Who knows he’s been convicted, who knows he will be shot
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought
This is powerful.
Astonished to think anyone could consider this "mediocre" for Leonard... especially, the "thought by thought" aspect.

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:49 pm
by rizing82
Hi. I'm new to Cohen, can't believe I haven't dig into his music.
Steer the way hits me deeply. So here is my take on the song.

"Steer your way past the ruins of the Altar and the Mall"
- My view on this is, to stay away from the Altars (religions) which gone corrupted, and mostly serve as ego trips. (my religion is better and has more truth than others). Also altars have become the means to control people by fear.
Staying away from the mall, as staying of capitalist worshiping of money, as the new "churches". As to stay away from religion as control, and from the materialistic believing and clinging to money and possessions.

"Steer your way through the fables of Creation and The Fall"

- Don't let the fables of the fall turn you in the way of religious guilt, and keep the guard that you don't take guilt and punishment into your core, heart and outlook on life. As fables, not the truth, but story invented to teach a lesson, not the words written in stone and real representation of history, on which many argue in order to egoistically "be right". When we "buy" the fables we end up arguing on which religion is best, yours or mine, when fables are taken literally.

"Steer your way past the Palaces that rise above the rot"

- Stay away from the ruthless people which gain wealth on treason, steeling and making others unhappy. Wealth which was retrieved by suffering of others. Greed, jealousy, and ruthless exploitation of others. "Rize above the rot"

"Year by year, month by month, day by day, Thought by thought"
- I see this as warning of hardens of the way, you have to steer it constantly, not to fall into traps mentioned in the song. Omen how it is easy to slip away into traps. Description of the hardness of the steering/the way.

"Steer your heart past the Truth that you believed in yesterday, Such as Fundamental Goodness and the Wisdom of the Way."
- Warning to stay of idealistic naivety of the world, which will make your hurt, deceiving ideas that keep us suffering locked into the I'm suffering and it is justified, and it justifies me.

"Steer your heart, precious heart, past the women whom you bought"

- Stay away from the women with no substance, even no soul, which you have idealistically bought, bought their stories, and woman which end up draining you.

"Steer your way through the pain that is far more real than you
That's smashed the Cosmic Model, that blinded every view
And please don't make me go there, though there be a God or not"

- I see this one as of the human fear of ultimate ego death, lust for existence, survival, fear of facing the shadow, ultimate fear and uncertainty of death. Will and zest for life, which is so strong that even the certainty of God's existence doe's not kill, wishing to keep the ultimate fleshy will for life.

"They whisper still, the injured stones, The blunted mountains weep

- line is about injured world, which whisper the truth in the silence, and weep for the human fate and situations in which we are.

As he died to make men holy, Let us die to make things cheap
Reference to the Jesus, and not following him. He died to "redeem" people, and bring them back to the holiness (being whole), and back to connection to God. A call for following Jesus, by making things cheep, taking away the materialistic view of world. A call to die to our self, with the goal to break another earthly connection and obsessions of material and possessions.

"And say the Mea Culpa, which you probably forgot"
-" A drop in the flood does not feel responsible for the flood", a call for seeing our influence and not stirring the water, to see that each of us are responsible for the world, each in his own way, and that we all have our share of guilt for the situation in the world.

Steer your way, O my heart, though I have no right to ask
To the one who was never, never equal to the task
Who knows he's been convicted, who knows he will be shot

- This one I'm pretty clueless about. Some notion of Leonard not feeling worth for asking God/Jesus for help. But it is pretty loose impression.
Anyone willing to take on this part of song in discussion, I'm happy to talk about.

"They whisper still, the injured stones, The blunted mountains weep
As he died to make men holy, Let us die to make things cheap""

- In this one I see also a notion of world weeping for what it seems useless sacrifice made by Jesus, and a call to make progress following Jesus's way, by dying to kill the materialistic greed.

I will be happy to discuss about it more with ones who are interested.

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2016 4:43 pm
by rizing82
lizzytysh wrote:
Steer your way, O my heart, though I have no right to ask
To the one who was never never equal to the task
Who knows he’s been convicted, who knows he will be shot
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought
This is powerful.
Astonished to think anyone could consider this "mediocre" for Leonard... especially, the "thought by thought" aspect.
This song is so above the anything described by words. If you want songs which fit in wordily concepts and easy melodies and cheerful tones then you can call it mediocre.
But there is so much wisdom and aspects of this song that it is incredible. Even by putting the Leonard out, and watching the lyrics alone.

In "Anthem", lyrics say "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." I feel that this song is made from the very deep bottom of that crack, with such immerse truth, which is poring out.

As you spoke about "thought by thought" part.
That parts rings to me like poetic and practical description, guidance, kind of "for dummy's" instruction for understanding and following Jesus words “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Again, still there is also the Buddhist way of seeing that part.
Guide to steering your way away from attachments as the cause of suffering.

I'm not quite musically learned, but I can agree that music part of the song is not something grandiose, only part of music which goes with the tone of song, and can be artistically "hard", or considered good, bad are the underlying violin passes.

Passes which deeply remind on "devil went to Georgia".

it might be a project of my seeing the song, but I don't think they are pure coincidence. I feel like fiddling violin passes ad the part not spoken in "thought by thought" part, the part of hardness of that path, of the pain of dying to self. Like musical sub note to the lyrics, which adds, one might say dark note, but again realistic and complete view of message.

I feel like putting that part in lyrics was too "gloomy" and would be giving the pessimistic note to the song, but it is still said by violin, as part of whole message, freed from ideals said in "truths believed yesterday"...

Re: New poem "Steer Your Way"

Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2016 6:03 pm
by Bennyboy
The ancient stones and blunted mountain are surely about the old genitals still having a little life in them yet, despite earlier statements to the contrary.