Have you heard Dear Heather?

Leonard Cohen's recent albums - share your views with others!
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tom.d.stiller
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Post by tom.d.stiller » Fri Nov 19, 2004 9:04 am

Karri wrote:Firstly, the redundancy of "Villanelle For Our Time". The man makes his point clearly enough during the first couple of minutes, why does he insist on "rubbing it in"? With the wealth of material the man has to draw upon, one would think he´d have enough lyrics (original ones, at that!) to fill an album with no need for repetition.
Hello Karri,
what you call "redundancy" is the very essence of the poetic form. A villanelle has 19 lines following this scheme:

A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2

A1 and A2 stand for full lines that rhyme. They are (in the purest form) repeated without change. The lines I represent with "a" rhyme with both of them. The b-lines all rhyme as well (different rhyme).

The real challenge of the villanelle is avoiding boredom. The repeating lines should appear in a slightly different context (though ideally with exactly the same words). The whole poem should continually rise to the final rhyming couplet.

If the poet succeeds this creates an atmosphere of high emotional intensity. The "Villanelle For Our Time", to me, definitely succeeds. Frank Scott created one of the better villanelles. (And LC's rendition is far beyond having to be explicitely praised...)

The first "Villanellas" have been written in mediaeval Italy. Italian, like French, is a language with literally millions of rhymes. English is comparatively poor in that respect. This might explain that the Villanelle is quite rarely used in Angloamerican poetry: Oscar Wilde has written one, there are a few by Edward Arlington Robinson. I remember one by W. H. Auden.

The most famous English villanelle, and probably the greatest, actually to my mind one of the greatest poems of the 20th century, is by Dylan Thomas, who btw died in the "Chelsea Hotel". It goes like this:
DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The Welsh poet wrote this perfect villanelle on occasion of his father's death. Richard Burton rendered it on Dylan Thomas' own funeral. Hearing Dylan Thomas read "Do not go gentle..." started me into poetry.

It may seem quite easy to write a villanelle, but it turns out to be very hard to write even a mediocre one. (I know what I'm talking about, since I tried a couple of years ago. Never before or after have I worked on a few lines for such a long time. Three guesses why I didn't publish it...)

Tom
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Post by tomsakic » Fri Nov 19, 2004 12:37 pm

I disagree with Karri that the repeating isn't neccessary, because I like the effect that the track, which started as a recitation, ends like chanting or more like singing than a recitation. But there's one problem, Tom - if it is villanelle, and it is, after the whole poem is told, why to repeat it again, why to repeat the whole poem which structure itself is already the repeating? Doesn't that contradict to the essential meaning of the villanelle?
That thoight I have on mind for some time, although I really think this song is the heart of the album.
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Post by Jonnie Falafel » Fri Nov 19, 2004 2:40 pm

Tom - expertly and very clearly put.....
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Post by jeannieb » Sun Nov 21, 2004 5:35 am

I guess I have listened to DH at least 30 times. Such a fine balance between exquisitely light and exquisitely sad.

This is the first time I am aware that Leonard is speaking most definitely on a timely and specific topic -- and more than once -- on this album. Arab and Jew. NYC. So many graves to fill. He prides himself on the longevity of his songs. I think he has honed in on the one topic that will consume us for years to come.

I am finding many jokes, mostly poking fun at himself. The Nightingale, is, I think, both joke and portent.

Is it me, or is Leonard saying goodbye to us?
"...and for something like a second, I was cured, and my heart was at ease."
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Post by tom.d.stiller » Sun Nov 21, 2004 7:00 am

jeannib,

he won't "go gentle into that good night", but he feels the cold in advance, like he has prefelt so many things...

it's not the time to say goodbye, and HEY THAT'S NO WAY TO SAY GOODBYE
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Post by Tchocolatl » Sun Nov 21, 2004 7:22 am

Jeannib, I was listening (again) to DH while writing tonight I like it so much.

A goodbye? I don't think so. I just hope it is not. He is suppose to do another one right now. I had the feeling the CD was a kind of biography. What do you think about this idea?
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
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Post by tom.d.stiller » Sun Nov 21, 2004 8:50 am

Tom Sakic wrote:... after the whole poem is told, why to repeat it again, why to repeat the whole poem which structure itself is already the repeating? Doesn't that contradict to the essential meaning of the villanelle?
In a written poem, Tom, I'd agree. But taking into consideration the music, I'd say this repetition, though not covered by the strict poetic form, heightens the intensity. As I listen to the LC recording, I find that the repetition doesn't simply "add the same thing as given before", but rather underlines the structure of the poem. Let's call it by "saying it again" for lack of a better word.
(Actually, the first time I listened to the song, this was helpful for me to get it that it really is a perfect villanella.)
I think it'd be too far-fetched to suggest that LC made the form "recursive", reduplicating through means of performance the very structure of the form, while at the same time intensifying by "repetition"...
That thoight I have on mind for some time, although I really think this song is the heart of the album.
That's my impression as well. The "Villanelle" is the central piece, the axis by which all the possibly "deep-wezzing" interpretations of the rest are given a much more hopeful turn.
"We rise...." - that's not ascension, it's growing, learning, getting better.

Though this is not strictly indicated by the form I recognize a Leonard that rages "against the dying of the lights". (Not by explicitely writing it, of course, but by quoting, and insisting, and by saying things all over again.)
Last edited by tom.d.stiller on Mon Nov 22, 2004 8:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Joe Way » Mon Nov 22, 2004 3:25 am

Hello All,

I've been thinking about Tom Sakic and Tom Stillers observations-very astute as usual.

I think that "Villanelle" is strategically placed next to "On That Day" and that they stand in oppposition to each other.

Consider this:

"On That Day" "Villanelle"

"Wounded New York "The Millions Slain"

"holding the fort" "we rise to play a greater part"

"I wouldn't know" "Men shall know commonwealth again"

"for sins against g-d" "this is the faith from which we start"

"our slaves and our gold" "neither race nor creed remain"

"some people say" "tricked the mass for private gain"

"did you go crazy" "with keener hand and brain"

"I wouldn't know" "from bitter searching of the heart"

And the tone and instrumentation of both are like polar opposites. The repetition of "Villanelle" keeps moving from spoken recitation to song. The beautiful and earthy jew's harp sounds like a gut reaction to the horror. The sophisticated accompaniment to "Villanelle" is time-considered, all those years to put WWII in perspective. Remember that WWII was a central event in young Leonard's life.

A couple of other observations:

"This is the faith by which we start" prefigures the song, "The Faith." It talks of "the sea so deep and blind." The sea is a central figure in Leonard's work harking back to the sailor's church in Montreal where I'm confident some priest used Jesus's walking on water to connect him to that same deep and blind sea. And Leonard, in "Ten New Songs" blesses his remnant fleet and consents them to be wrecked. "The Undertow" advances this metaphor by suggesting that the sinking can begin to occur at an early age "with a child in my arms and a chill in my soul."

Just a quick note to 3cees. I think everyone appreciated your point of view, but this album requires study. When I was young, I would never have been able to appreciate Henry James, for example-I needed a teacher to help me through until I could get to a point of appreciation. The album, Dear Heather, needs a teacher and, in fact, that is its central theme. Those of us who were criticizing "critics" had this in mind and it was not intended as a personal affront-in fact, those who've waded through the early attempts at understanding in an attempt to reach appreciation are to be be commended for the toughness in their souls. There will be more on this later-but Leonard was challenging the whole notion of "song" with this album. Hence, the fact that "Song" doesn't appear in the title. Wait until you read the interview with Sharon Robinson-it will help a bit to your understanding.

Regards,

Joe
"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Post by Tchocolatl » Mon Nov 22, 2004 4:08 am

How interesting this thread is with these analyses of the songs. Joe you certainly stir up my interest for this interview with SR, even if I was eager to read it before.

As I appreciated Dear Heather the first time, and each time I'm listening to it, I postbone from day to day to analyse it. I know there is always a lot of symbols to decipher in his songs, but I let myself enjoy the atmosphere and THE STYLE without too much second and/or third serious thinking, for now. It will come naturally like for the other songs, I guess, some day. Or I'll come and read it here. :wink: Because I also feel the CD is about this. Relaxing and enjoy the present moment.

Another paradox with LC is that even though he is a mass culture success, he is also this kind of artist you have to - you know, the comments of some fans "a window is just a window, so shut it up" - see on what the window opens. It is always like unwraping gifts.
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
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Post by lizzytysh » Mon Nov 22, 2004 5:48 am

Just excellent, Joe 8) . I don't know if "exciting" is the 'correct' word, but reading through the list you've compiled, pairing off concepts and phrases, feels just that. I'm enjoying so much reading both your and the Toms' commentaries here, and the thought that you three have put into them. Thanks.

~ Lizzy
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Post by jeannieb » Mon Nov 22, 2004 7:51 am

"He feels the cold in advance, as he has prefelt before'!

Thanks, Tom. Sure do hope you're right. Amazing "listening"-in to the content experts here on the forum.

Obviusly, I need s teacher,and am happy to have you all.

When and where can we expect the Sharon Robinson interview, and will Leonard be doing any interviewing or appearances?

please please please :wink: .....[/i]
"...and for something like a second, I was cured, and my heart was at ease."
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Post by tom.d.stiller » Mon Nov 22, 2004 8:18 am

jeannieb,
we all need teachers. we all are teachers.
are you a teacher of the heart?
soft she answered "No"
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Post by Tchocolatl » Mon Nov 22, 2004 10:03 am

Tom Sakic: I was certain it was you, but, no. My mistake. Thank you to Jarkko, then.

The other Tom: to go see how a Villanelle is made of was a next step in my wanderings about DH (but when?). So it is done. Thanks a lot.

Jeannieb obviously this bio thing does not appeal to you, well, I'll continue to look that way to see if I can not come back with more substantial comments about this idea or either just drop it (but when?)

Linda, never too late, never too late. I mean you are certainly not boring me. You may be understand why I found certain critics surprinsing. I know this is just a matter of taste but some critics had really really strange comments. Weird. (3-Cees if you read this, I am not meaning you :D and other critics that came with comments that made sens, at least, were logical, in a way or another, like Charles about the technic, an a few others) Ah! yes "it sounds like Leonard" indeed. There is still a lot to say about DH. :D

(urrgg. middle of the night and I have not finish yet :shock: goodbye!)
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
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Post by tomsakic » Mon Nov 22, 2004 12:05 pm

Just to add one note: when I first time heard DH it struck me: it sounds like the new beninning, not the ending!
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Post by tomsakic » Mon Nov 22, 2004 12:12 pm

The interview is coming this week at http://www.leonardcohencroatia.com, http://www.dearheather.com, and http://www.sharonrobinson.net simultaneously!
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