The voices in Nightingale

Leonard Cohen's recent albums - share your views with others!
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Post by Tchocolatl » Wed Dec 22, 2004 3:08 am

Elizabeth, it is sad. Sadness is part of life. It is sad like any other sad problem : super-obesity of the youngest generations (Pure McD*n*ld babies) the pollution of the oceans, etc. etc. etc. All sad. Action is the sole solution. Burial in denial ("stupid Dodo birds, you know") of responsibility only makes the problem worst. And more sad. Action is usually an happy end for problems, fortunately. Regarding the shrinking of the forests, there are little actions we can do every day. Little actions + little actions = big result.

Tom I was not talking about the Rain Forest, altough it could have been. I'm talking about the forest of my own country.

I am aware that this trees interpretation is extremely far from Mr. Anderson. Because of my wanderings, though, I wondered if Carl Anderson was a friend of forests in a way or another. I'm am still searching for an answer.
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Post by tomsakic » Wed Dec 22, 2004 12:28 pm

The poem which Leonard used for the song were written at least 30 years ago? I hardly believe Leonard did even know Carl Anderson; I think he just helped Anjani in her worst moment with the poem, and she connected that Romatic lines with Anderson's voice (and heard the melody immediatelly, as she said). But I really suspect he knew him well. So, Anderson as the clue to the reading of this song (except fot the mimetic/referential dedication to the late singer who had voice like nightingale=the metaphor is simple) is as far away as forests I believe - maybe the forests are even more close!

You said "forests" :D so I simply took the rain forest as the mostly wide known forest-problem. Of course it can be every forest; but I'd rather take "forest" as general idea (if the song is about the forests - it is not about the particular forest; I would be too referential); so then the Amazon forest immediately comes to mind as main pars pro toto (synecdoche - well, I needed 15 minutes to find out how to write that in English!)
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Post by Tchocolatl » Wed Dec 22, 2004 4:21 pm

:D Ah!... one whos look too much at the tree does not see the forest. :D

I went again on the site of Carl Anderson did not found anything about him being concerned by forests of any sort. Trown this hypotesis to the garbage (with some others :D ). But. BUT!! I found that he has a twin brother who died very young, and that he said having energy for both because he inherited his brother's. The twin voices on Nightingale... hum... :roll: Oh! I'll have a little vacation too! :wink:
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Post by linmag » Sun Dec 26, 2004 4:13 pm

When I read Anjani's comments about this song, I was very surprised to find that it was written so long ago. It is very much in the style of a folk song, and the English and American folk traditions are littered with songs in which lusty lads and likely lasses go skipping off into the woods to 'hear the nightingale sing', nudge nudge, wink wink :wink: . With this in mind, I saw the song as Leonard's fond 'farewell to all that', especially the lines "Though you are singing somewhere still/I can no longer hear you".

Do I remember someone saying the songs on this album were simple ones, with nothing behind them?

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Post by tomsakic » Mon Dec 27, 2004 11:37 am

linmag wrote:Do I remember someone saying the songs on this album were simple ones, with nothing behind them?
Well, it's Zen 8)

I believe somebody wrote that it's so simple that he achieved the unexplicable simplicity of Japanese drawings. (Leon Wieseltier or Pico Iyer)
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Post by Joe Way » Mon Dec 27, 2004 9:22 pm

Well, better late than never, I'm finally getting around to responding to Lizzy's request for some thoughts on "Nightingale."

Leonard once signed a letter to Jack McClelland, "Goodbye, forever/Leonard Cohen/The Jewish Keats" so we know that Leonard is certainly familiar with John Keats and most certainly one of his most famous poems, "Ode To A Nightingale" to which Tom was kind enough to post a link.

But before we do a brief comparison, I think that it might be helpful to look to some of the conventions of Romantic Poetry as I think that many elements in Leonard's songs and poems continue this tradition. One of the chief characteristics of Romantic Poetry (RP) is the existence of differing realms-a notion that goes back to at least as far as Plato. Of course, the Judeo-Christian tradition has its own realms of Heaven, Earth, Hell etc., but, to the Romantics like Byron, Keats and Shelley-the realms were more rooted in Greek and Roman myth. There is also the difference between the "seen" and the "unseen" also sharing poetic tradition with many genres. Within these realms there is movement. There are themes of ascent and themes of descent. If you notice, DH uses many of these ascent/descent themes in several songs.

One of the RP conventions is the ability of the narrative poet to transcend these realms and move from the "seen" world to the "unseen." Often it is special conditions like moonlight or casements that allow for this glimpse into another realm. I think it is important to note that this realm is a "higher" realm where truth and beauty reside.

The narrator in Keats' Ode is wrestling with the problem of mortality. Having been given a glimpse of the immortal through this very uncommon bird, whose songs in ancient days were heard by "emperor and clown," the poet descends back into the mortal world where his body will become a "sod." Can there be a more bleak rendering of oblivion?

The whole passage is worth quoting here:

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
    I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
    To take into the air my quiet breath;
        Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
        While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
            In such an ecstasy!
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain--
          To thy high requiem become a sod.
 Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

I think the important difference between Keats' version and Leonard's is the direction of the movement.

"Though you are singing somewhere still, I can no longer hear you."

Although this can be argued, it seems that in this case, the nightingale has ascended to that higher realm leaving the poet back here in the mortal realm with, at least, the chance that someday he will follow. It has also been turned into a song and that, of course, allows for the influence of music. It is like the difference between reading Shakespeare and seeing it performed on stage where the dramatic action and the movement between realms can be visualized.

Shakespeare often would indicate the change in realm by moving the action to the woods (generally when staged this would be at a higher level than the action taking place in the town). Music, too, can alter this state by changing from a minor to a major mode or by increasing the tempo. Leonard once spoke of "Here It Is," by observing, yes, it is a song about death but I've given it this jaunty little melody.

I think as has already been spoken that the poem given to Anjani was in this spirit of consolation and points to the possibility of ascending to that higher level whatever it is. And, perhaps, like the poet we've all been given little glimpses of it at times-and it is sweet and it is good.

Hope this helps and isn't too confusing. Also please accept my own consolation on the death of your friend.

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Post by lizzytysh » Tue Dec 28, 2004 4:35 am

Thank you, Joe, for your Nightingale thoughts. As you reliably do, you've added so much detail, texture, and depth to the discussion. Thank you for your posting of that passage. Reading it brought some comfort regarding my friend. I'm feeling cheated right now, for the years lost that I would have had with her in friendship.

Tom ~ I'm so glad you got it fine. Such a small piece of paper to make it all that way. To those who didn't receive one [I think of Pete and Paula and Joe, right off the top], it's because your addresses hadn't ended up yet where they needed to be in the address book I took with me.

~ Lizzy
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Post by linda_lakeside » Tue Dec 28, 2004 6:08 am

Hello Joe Way and all,

I don't know if you've put your thoughts down re: There For You, anywhere, if so I missed them. Sorry. I just wanted to hear someone else's take on it. I don't think I'm hearing it the same way everyone else is. A project for the future, perhaps.
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Post by tomsakic » Tue Dec 28, 2004 11:10 am

Great contribution about Nightingale, Joe :wink:
Thank you, Lizzy. I'm glad the card arrived because it's so far; usually I don't get the mail from such parts of the world (last Christmas I got card from Maldivi, and I was thinking that my friend is there on Xmas holiday - it came out that she sent it in July!) - - I'm sorry about your friend; I hope you'll be OK.

Linda, "a project for the future": we're writing and collecting all these analysis of the DH songs for the site, under the working title Old Ideas: Notes for Dear Heather. There For You was discussed on the forum earlier.
What do you think by "I don't think I'm hearing it the same way everyone else is"? I must say I don't see There For You as the song about G-d primary. I can take Joe's and others' position on it as the song about the G-d, and it can be one of its level like always with Leonard's love song (at least after 1980), but the profane/mundane motifs are to prominent for me to read it only like the G-d love song. I think the primary reading must be the wordly one. At least it starts like that:

When it all went down
And the pain came through
I get it now
I was there for you
Don’t ask me how
I know it’s true
I get it now
I was there for you

It can be argued that later the song progress to more sacred motifs like

I walk the streets
Like I used to do
And I freeze with fear
But I’m there for you
I see my life
In full review
It was never me
It was always you
You sent me here
You sent me there
Breaking things
I can’t repair
Making objects
Out of thoughts
Making more
By thinking not


Moods of glory
Moods so foul
The world comes through
A bloody towel
And death is old
But it’s always new
I freeze with fear
And I’m there for you

and particularly, as Joe and jurica noted in previous posts:

Eating food
And drinking wine
A body that
I thought was mine
Dressed as Arab
Dressed as Jew
O mask of iron
I was there for you

Now, dressed as and mask of iron reminds me on very mundane love song I'm Your Man ("I'll wear a leather mask for you"). Dressed as Arab, as Jew is, on the contrary, the proof for the religious reading of the song (we're wearing the various masks for the same and only G-d?). Also, the death - the same one as in Here It Is I presume - the body that is not mine, but driven by divine force, and particularly freeze with fear, which is of course the known fear from G-d.
Well, it seems that in the end it is the song for/about G-d :? Or can I still stick to the opinion that Leonard - like in The Law or Hallelujah - combines inseparably the sacral and the profane images? That main line There for you is driving me to the picturing this song as the song for some kind of love to which Leonard was always inclined, even through different woman. (Hell, I'm back to the divine, metaphorical love!). I cannot say I don't see Marianne there (it reminds me on poem Days of Kindness. "Perhaps a miracle is possible. Perhaps a miracle is at hand. It seems that as the poet-lover ages, he grows kinder." Maybe in the retrospective the poet simply clames "I was there for you"; maybe he sees that now but he did not see that when the days of kindness where at work.

So, it's not so far from Ten New Songs, which all songs are submerged in metaphorical meanings. They are all songs about Love: not only love, but the Love. Judith Fitzgerald connected that with Dante, but I'll rather claim Petrarca. Leonard's poetry has been connected to Petrarchism and troubarouds, he was called "the last troubadour", and such kind of poetry - particularly in Petrarca's Canzoniere - progress from the cortly, mundane love for the lady (the ladies'/lady's man, plus remember Leonard's affectation with that title not only in the infamous album/book titles, but in songs like Leaving Greensleeves) to the divine Love for the Our Lady (Of The Harbour? Of Solitude?). It's natural in Leonard's progress as a poet (with stations like Book of Mercy) I think, and then it's hard to separate mundane love from the Love (Itself?). The same is with There For You I would say. It is the Ten New Songs song, like The Letters.
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Post by jurica » Tue Dec 28, 2004 2:09 pm

Tom Sakic wrote:They are all songs about Love: not only love, but the Love. Judith Fitzgerald connected that with Dante, but I'll rather claim Petrarca.
very impressive, Tom. you realy pinned what I always felt about this song and wasn't realy able to formulate into words.

the song is about Love. whatever you choose to call it - you can give it a woman's name, a man's name, a G-d's name, but in the end - it's always Love.

and you are more than right about Petrarca and Dante!
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Post by Tchocolatl » Tue Dec 28, 2004 6:11 pm

How I enjoy to read the results of your researches, guys! :D I am learning so much, reading you.

Regarding the recurrent theme in the work of LC, like Love and love, I'have always see this this way : LC is a man of symbols, i.e. the Unified Hearts that is use again and again here and there - and again on DH, comes from the David Star, which symbolizes the union of macrocosm and microcosm in the Universe.

Also Bar Mitzvah is stressing this idea that (adult) human body is a channel for G_d and that one must work to infuse G_d will and power into the material world.

For the basic symbols in the work, I repeat, artists are often more in touch with the collective uncounscious than others, and render the meaning of/and symbols in their different ways.

Finally, even though many people could said basically the same thing (took into the collective uncounscious, and, therefore, talking to us very deeply), the forms are differents. It could be Dante for Judith Fitzgerald, Pessoa for me (just an example), Petrarca for Tom&Jurica, etc. etc.

That is why the same ideas come to many artists. It is easy to observe.

For the form, the Romantic period, as Joe stressed it, is a form that fits well.

Tom, Linmag it was Pico Iyer. But I am not so sure that the songs are not pointing to anything. I was listening DH last evening and the peaceful atmosphere it renders is strong enough to make you relax and just this. But there is more if you go further. I think Pico relaxed too much while listening DH for the first time :wink: :wink: (nudge, nudge)

Tom, Tom, and others I really think this song would be a great ecolo song in regard of the forest's problem, even though it was not in the author mind to do so (and who knows? But him). :D
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Post by Joe Way » Tue Dec 28, 2004 10:12 pm

Great contributions on "There For You"-Tom, Jurica and Tchoco!

I've been rethinking it a bit myself and have been looking for an article or an interview that I saw awhile ago-it was titled something like "We are creatures of a will that is not our own."-I can't find it and have asked Marie for help because Jarkko says it is not on his site. At any rate, I did find this in Marie's interview with Anjani from a while back.

"Q: What's the best advice Leonard ever gave you?

"Don't worry, it's not your fault."

A couple of years ago when I was in a spiritual twist, Leonard gave me a few books by Sri Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and Ramesh Balsekar. Their beliefs ran so counter to what I thought at the time. They discounted karma and free will (there is only God's will). Ramesh stated it was futile to purposely seek the state of consciousness described as enlightenment; because "...the sage has the total, absolute conviction that neither he nor anyone else is the doer of any action, that all action is the divine happening through some body-mind organism and not anything 'done' by anyone."

Surprisingly, contentment arises from accepting that you have no direct influence upon your situation; because it's God's play and God is directing and acting all the parts. What you experience is manifesting exactly as written by the Hand that Guides. There is no individual fault to assign or personal doership involved, as everything in existence is an element/extension of God.

It's like a boat ride at Disneyland. You may think you're steering the vessel because you feel it responding when you turn the wheel. But the wheel is not attached to the rudder, it's just there for you to pretend you're at the helm! The ride is preplanned and at no time will you stray off-course.

This doesn't imply you have to like what's happening in your life or that you don't do what you can to improve the situation. But this awareness can help you to accept your state of affairs with equanimity, without assigning blame or guilt to it.

It took me a while to assimilate this information and let go of my spiritual aspirations for something more grandiose. It also dawned on me the more plans I made for the future, the more apt they were to fall apart. Conversely, if I encountered a persistent desire and said to myself, "Thy will be done," more often than not it would spontaneously, effortlessly happen. Eventually, I was quite relieved to stop thinking about my evolution as if I had some say so in the matter. I began to enjoy the immense gift of life without feeling guilty about it or wondering if there was something more I should be doing.

We are trained from birth to nurture our individuality/ego. For most souls, the spiritual path is not a major cause for concern. But some become disillusioned with the status quo, enough to search for something more. Of those seekers, very few will come to accept not being in control of anything or anyone, much less themselves. Strangely enough, that surrender is what leads to ultimate freedom, because there truly is nothing to do or control! When you step off the merry-go-round and stop looking to have some influence on the scene, all you are, all you experience is God everywhere, in all creation.

I was deeply affected by this revelation...that as far as the spiritual experience goes, the individual doer has nothing to do with it. Along with a few cosmic insights, that realization mitigated the (self-imposed) pressure to seek. I wish I could explain this dynamic half as eloquently as Ramesh does, so if any of this is resonating within you, pick up one of his books."

I orginally assumed that the narrator in the song was meant to be the voice of G-d, but now I'm thinking the opposite that it is the narrator addressing G-d. I don't mean to suggest that Leonard is saying that everything is pre-determined, but we have this notion that we are always in control but even in Judeo-Christian Cosmology, we are the created certainly not the creator.

Leonard talks about this a little in an interview from 1993 discussing "Anthem"

"Forget your perfect offering" that is the hang-up that you're gonna work this thing out. Because we confuse this idea and we've forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the garden of Eden. This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect. And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together, physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that's where the light gets in, and that's where the resurrection is and that's where the return, that's where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things."

"You sent me here,
You sent me there.
Breaking things I can't repair.
Making objects out of thoughts
Making more by thinking not."

I think that "control" has been an issue for Leonard and one he has sought in his Zen years on back. I think that this helps him to relax a little bit and has enabled him to continue his work.

I confess that I am rather ignorant about Petrarch other than knowing he was a source for some of Chaucer's work and followed Dante in working in the vernacular. I am inclined to believe that the Romantic elements and Courtly Love are important to all of Leonard's recent work. In fact, I read a little something from Northrop Frye that I think applies. He talks about reading a work by J. L. Borges:

"One of my predecessors in the Norton Lecture, J. L. Borges says, in a little story called "The Gospel According to Mark," 'generations of men, throughout recorded time, have always told and retold two stories-that of a lost ship which searches the Mediterranean seas for a dearly loved island, and that of a god who is crucified on Golgotha.' The Crucifixion is an episode in a biblical epic. Borges is clearly suggesting that romance as a whole provides a parallel epic in which the themes of shipwreck, pirates, enchanted islands, magic, recognition, and the loss and regaining of identity, occur constantly, as they do in the last four romances of Shakespeare."

Well, ok, there aren't any pirates or shipwrecks in DH, but I think that the themes fit more generally into romance than the Biblical.

Keep up the good work. Linda, I'm anxious to hear your "take" on "There For You."

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Post by Joe Way » Wed Dec 29, 2004 7:18 am

Our wonderful friend, Marie, has found the article that I was looking for and now I post the passage that originally caught my attention. I hope that it further explains Leonard's world view.

- In this sorrowful landscape that you describe, what is the proper place and role for a human being?

-- Our role consists of looking for our place and our role. But ultimately we all must face the feeling of defeat.

-- Defeat of what or opposed by whom?

-- Defeat of your aspirations, your intentions.

-- What intentions fall to defeat?

-- All.

-- Is this truly what you believe?

-- Yes, although I sing in the song ("A Thousand Kisses Deep"): "And summoned now to deal / With your invincible defeat." We live our lives as if they are real, although we know they are not. We live our lives (as it says in the title) a thousand kisses deep, that is, with an essential intuitive knowledge. But that knowledge sometimes evaporates. When that happens and one lives life thinking it is real, it is painful. But if one lives as if it is real, it is not easy, but simple and clear.

-- What should be our objective then, to live a simple life?

-- I would not dare say what should be the objective of a human being because it is not revealed to us. To know our purpose or the significance of our existence is not within our reach. Our objective, if there is one, is to relax our search for meaning, because it is not attainable.

-- We must accept that it is not revealed to us.

-- We have nothing to do.

-- "It is in love that we are made; / In love we disappear." Love is our essence?

-- Yes, but it is not personal love.

-- What is it then?

-- It is impersonal. It is not ours. We are the expression of love. Our birth is an expression of impersonal love. And our death is a return to that impersonal love.

-- Why do you say it is impersonal? It unites people.

-- Because it is not romantic. Nor possessive. It is a general love, in the sense that it is extended to all. It is absolute.

-- Then why are we walking around so mistaken in our belief that love is romantic?

-- Because we are made to think this, to think that it is real, that it is ours, that we have it, that we direct it and that we control it.

-- In another song you sing, "That I am not the one who loves - / It's love that seizes me." ("You Have Loved Enough") We are the instruments of love in this life?

-- Yes. It is very complex and beautifully designed, but we are instruments of a will that is not our own. However, the intention and the purpose of that will, we cannot know."

I think this helps explain, "The Faith" also.

Although Leonard says that this is not the "romantic" notion of love, I think that he means that it is not concerned with the personal love of a man for a woman etc. I don't think that he is talking about the romantic style of poetry and literature. I still get the sense that Leonard is still searching for that magical island, like Hydra must have appeared to him in his youth. There are many identities of Leonard that we've seen through out the years and we still journey with him on this romantic quest.

Thank you, Marie, for helping me find this and for all your wonderful work on your website that helps us better understand the delightful work of LC.

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Post by tomsakic » Wed Dec 29, 2004 12:05 pm

I think that we agree. First of all, I forget that you actually told that the G-d is the narrator in There For You, I never consider that; I just didn't think it's adressed to G-d, but now I am 8) I agree about "control" issue, that's the main issue, and it's connected with that notion that "the poet grows kinder with the age" and my notion stated above. Ramesh Balsekar has been mentioned in many TNS interviews by LC himself, he named some of his books when someone asked for the reading recommendation in the Sony chat, and there were some of his books in Leonard's house when one of the interviewer described it.

The impersonal Love :wink:

As for Petrarca, well, that's strange to me, because I have an impression that he's more important to the history of literature than Dante. (It's always the Italian Renaissance trinity Dante-Petrarca-Boccaccio) Someone told me that the American school system is crazy about Dante, but Petrarca is, I would say, more important in issues of influence, poetry schools etc. I see that we agree about courtly poetry and romantic love, well, that all comes from Petrarca (I believe that Romanticism is also indebted to him). We cannot talk about love poetry, romantic love, and troubadours without Petrarca at all (well, his influence is more like Shakespeare's I would say; and Milton - well, does anyone actually read that?!) And to understand Cohen without cortly love of troubadours/ minnesanger/ chansonieurs (?) is very hard. The complete process is taken from early medieval troubadours poetry from Provance, and canonized by Petrarca: the first seeing, the love, longing, the final settling of the heart and soul in the impersonal Love; from the lady to Our Lady. Also the image of the poet with mandolin/guitar under his lady's window etc.

That romantic quest is more like the spiritual quest, and it was such from very beginning (so word "romantic" is not, hmm, best I'd say :D ) That island is some kind of final settlement where heart will be at ease. But that's known to all of us who know Leonard's work.
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Post by tomsakic » Wed Dec 29, 2004 12:18 pm

Maybe we need pick up some of Balsekar's books. We ough to do so after TNS already - I came so far that only found out he isn't translated into Croatian despite dozens of alternative/religion/new age books which are printed mothly in such small country like Croatia, and never found money/time to buy it in English from amazon.

I found his site. He resides in Bombay - I believe that LC goes there for his teachings?
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