Drowning men

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
jurica
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Drowning men

Post by jurica » Wed Nov 09, 2005 12:02 pm

Here’s something that bothered me for some time. I wander if someone can make out more from it than me. It’s from one of the most popular Cohen’s songs, Suzanne:

In the second verse:

And Jesus was a sailor
when he walked upon the water /walking on water/
and he spent a long time watching
from his lonely wooden tower
and when he knew for certain
only drowning men could see him /drowning men/
he said “All men will be sailors then
until the sea shall free them” /liberating sea/
but he himself was broken
long before the sky would open /opening of the sky/
forsaken, almost human
he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone /sinking beneath the wisdom/

I’ve marked some motives that I think are important for this particular consideration. Apparently Gods can walk on the water, and humans sink. Like Jesus sank when he was forsaken, almost human. Are these images connected to the last verses’:

There are heroes in the seaweed /drowned men?/
there are children in the morning /will they become sailors only to drown?/
they are leaning out for love /are they leaning towards Suzanne or perhaps the sky that should open?/
they will lean that way forever
while Suzanne holds the mirror /mirror/

There’s also the issue of river vs. sea. In Montreal the river will join the sea. Suzanne takes someone (was this Mr. Cohen’s way of saying: she took me with her, but she’d often take other people too, perhaps all people have their Suzanne that takes them down to…) down to her place by the river, but Jesus drowns in the sea, so do the drowning men (since only they can see him drown), and heroes are in the seaweed too…

Apparently all the drowned are in the sea. Can it not be the usual symbol of life: river that floats forward never to return until it joins the sea. Is the sea death? Final unity of spirits? There you shall meet other ‘drowned sailors’ (the dead) and Jesus (who also drowned, because, as we know he was almost human)…

Another reference may be of interest. It is from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Here also we have a drowned sailor:

DEATH BY WATER

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

***

Now, what does that sinking beneath the wisdom mean? Was wisdom the load that sank him, or was it substance (water) in which he sank? Does it mean that Jesus was drowned because people didn’t believe in him? Because they wouldn’t use their heart or faith, but rather logic and ‘sanity’?

And the last, and to me perhaps the most mysterious image is Suzanne holding the mirror. What is the direction of the mirror? Does she hold it towards the heroes in the seaweed and children, or she’s looking at her own reflection? The later could mean that while other (drowned) people seek salvation, love, wisdom, a magical chart in someone or something else (leaning out for love), Suzanne (here a symbol of perfection and unity with the world) finds the same things in herself.

Hope I haven’t bored you too much, and looking forward to some help.
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Quetzal
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Post by Quetzal » Wed Nov 09, 2005 2:56 pm

Maybe I am too used to surreal poetry, but I do not know if you should be searching for a splicit reason in those images. Take them as they are, but do not expect to practice some taxidermy to find out what Cohen meant, after all, what matters is what they matter to you.

In the case of this song, I believe Jesus represents an image to be loved, while the sea means love itself. Suzanne holding the mirror at the ending is an intriguing image, maybe because you see yourself in her (in some way...or something). Also, keep in mind many classical paintings repressent Cupid holding a mirror, although I am not sure if he's related to Suzanne in this song. It dosen't matter, I like the image, and the ideas the image brings with it. Whatever Cohen meant with it is not important to me.
jurica
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Post by jurica » Wed Nov 09, 2005 4:29 pm

well, it's a matter of taste will you get interested or not in this sort of analyses. noone is pressing anyone to do anything they don't want.

just to comment two things.

one is that i also am searching for my own interpretation. it doesn't have to be the same thing LC meant when he wrote it. i'm just looking for a suitable explanation to store in my mind when listening to the song.

and second thing i wanted to comment was the fact that LC is not a surrealist. in pop music, the surrealist is Bob Dylan. LC is EVERYTHING BUT surrealist. the fact is that surrealists write fast and do not analyse what they wrote, on the other hand, LC rewrites, ponders and consideres every image, word and idea.

to me, taking his poetry as surreal and beyond analyses is not a satisfying solution. i'm not into proving my way is right. i'm just explaining why i'm not happy with 'taking them as they are' and just 'feeling' as opposed to 'undestanding' the song.

but i am glad that different people can enjoy his poems and songs in different ways and for different reasons.

and thanx for your input too.
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Post by C » Wed Nov 09, 2005 7:25 pm

While I'm not sure this is the *intended* interpretation, I've always thought of the "only drowning men could see him" line as somehow pointing out how in many ways you don't realize how good you have it until it's gone.

I watched the movie Fight Club (brilliant movie) a while ago and while not wanting to spoil anything, it has a scene in it where Brad Pitt's character threatens to kill a store worker. When later asked what the point of it was, he answers that the following day would be the best day in that man's life.

And, getting back to the point, maybe Leonard's lyrics hint at the fact that only when we're at the point of losing all (drowning) are we able to see how good everything is (jesus, god, ice cream or anything else...)
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lizzytysh
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Post by lizzytysh » Wed Nov 09, 2005 7:46 pm

In that particular lyric, I see shades of people ["men"] reaching out for Jesus when they're in the most desperate of circumstances. Like so many of Leonard's lyrics, the various interpretations float past and dissipate and then are replaced by other possibilities, which is why I say "shades of."
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Re: Drowning men

Post by Fljotsdale » Wed Nov 09, 2005 8:06 pm

jurica wrote:Here’s something that bothered me for some time. I wander if someone can make out more from it than me. It’s from one of the most popular Cohen’s songs, Suzanne:

In the second verse:

And Jesus was a sailor
when he walked upon the water /walking on water/
and he spent a long time watching
from his lonely wooden tower
and when he knew for certain
only drowning men could see him /drowning men/
he said “All men will be sailors then
until the sea shall free them” /liberating sea/
but he himself was broken
long before the sky would open /opening of the sky/
forsaken, almost human
he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone /sinking beneath the wisdom/

I’ve marked some motives that I think are important for this particular consideration. Apparently Gods can walk on the water, and humans sink. Like Jesus sank when he was forsaken, almost human. Are these images connected to the last verses’:

There are heroes in the seaweed /drowned men?/
there are children in the morning /will they become sailors only to drown?/
they are leaning out for love /are they leaning towards Suzanne or perhaps the sky that should open?/
they will lean that way forever
while Suzanne holds the mirror /mirror/

There’s also the issue of river vs. sea. In Montreal the river will join the sea. Suzanne takes someone (was this Mr. Cohen’s way of saying: she took me with her, but she’d often take other people too, perhaps all people have their Suzanne that takes them down to…) down to her place by the river, but Jesus drowns in the sea, so do the drowning men (since only they can see him drown), and heroes are in the seaweed too…

Apparently all the drowned are in the sea. Can it not be the usual symbol of life: river that floats forward never to return until it joins the sea. Is the sea death? Final unity of spirits? There you shall meet other ‘drowned sailors’ (the dead) and Jesus (who also drowned, because, as we know he was almost human)…

Another reference may be of interest. It is from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Here also we have a drowned sailor:

DEATH BY WATER

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

***

Now, what does that sinking beneath the wisdom mean? Was wisdom the load that sank him, or was it substance (water) in which he sank? Does it mean that Jesus was drowned because people didn’t believe in him? Because they wouldn’t use their heart or faith, but rather logic and ‘sanity’?

And the last, and to me perhaps the most mysterious image is Suzanne holding the mirror. What is the direction of the mirror? Does she hold it towards the heroes in the seaweed and children, or she’s looking at her own reflection? The later could mean that while other (drowned) people seek salvation, love, wisdom, a magical chart in someone or something else (leaning out for love), Suzanne (here a symbol of perfection and unity with the world) finds the same things in herself.

Hope I haven’t bored you too much, and looking forward to some help.
Well, y'all know I don't go in for 'interpretation'. So let's keep it simple, for my simple mind - don't look for anything deep, only the self-evident!:

First off - the TS Eliot quote: Eliot had it from Shakespeare.
I think Cohen would have known both the Eliot and the Shakespeare, and the contexts, and he seems not to have ever been averse from 'borrowing'. :wink:

For the song itself:
Jesus literally walked on water. No problem with that aspect.
'only drowning men could see him': doesn't necessarily mean literal water drowning; could be drowning in grief or despair or just the overwhelming pressure of life. In other words, happy people don't need Jesus, desperate people do.
So, why do we all need to be drowning sailors? Only way we will come to believe? Maybe).
Liberating sea, opening sky: Revelation says "the sea gave up those dead in it", namely, all those who died/were buried at sea. The 'sky opens' according to the bible, at the last trumpet. Which is when the sea liberates it's dead, too. Cohen is calling heavily on Christian concepts and imagery. And, of course, he was killed by 'human wisdom' ('let's get rid of this blasphemer before he causes an insurrection and the Romans destroy us') long before the 'last trumpet'.
The heros in the seaweed are clearly the drowned me, imo, and heroic only by reason of being human and called heros by those who loved them or those made excuses as to why the ships sank, or those who extolled them as seamen war heros.
Children 'lean out for love' quite naturally. Not for any other reason than that they need love. As everyone does. As children of God, humanity is also in need of love from god, so everyone 'leans out for love'.
Mirror. Suzanne shows us how it is. Life, death, love...
She is the mirror he is seeing through, so she is holding the mirror.

And we mustn't forget that she probably represents the Virgin Mary as well, since the church there where they were walking is hers, iirc, and dedicated to sailors.
It all fits.

My two-penn'orth, for what it's worth.
Don't expect me to do this ever again, LOL! :lol:
Only just found this video of LC:
http://ca.youtube.com/user/leonardcohen?ob=4" target="_blank

This one does make me cry.
jurica
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Re: Drowning men

Post by jurica » Thu Nov 10, 2005 1:40 am

Fljotsdale wrote: Don't expect me to do this ever again, LOL! :lol:
too bad - you are good!

not realising how good things are before you lose them is another very good point.

now, back to another obsession of mine. i spent like ages over this poem, and i know it mostly by heart, but i didn't find from where the lines for this were taken. Fljots, can you perhaps remember from where in Shakespeare was which part taken. this is to me the most mysterious part of The Waste Land...

DEATH BY WATER

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead, /is Phlebas a name taken from somewhere?/
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew /this i know is from Bible/
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, /this is, at least inspired, by Indian mythical teksts of Upanshida or something like that/
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

...like i said, this poem is my long time obsession, and your help would be greatly appreciated!
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Ali
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Post by Ali » Thu Nov 10, 2005 3:07 am

Jurica, there is a saying "Drowning Men clutch at straws" it means if somebody is desperate enough, he will reach out for whatever he thinks will see him through his crisis, Perhaps LC meant that desperate Men reach out for Jesus when they need him the most (this all has been said by Flojts, really :) )
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Post by Tchocolatl » Thu Nov 10, 2005 6:26 am

Quetzal I had a cat once, that looked like you very much. A Mayan bird name, though, I think it is, your name?

Fljot, wow, you really did not spoil you time with this one. Great.
(in the sense that it is what I think also, maybe, but ey!)

I think also that "only drawning men could see him" have something to do with, you know, the "crack in everything that's how the light gets in".


"Suzanne takes someone (was this Mr. Cohen’s way of saying: she took me with her, but she’d often take other people too, perhaps all people have their Suzanne that takes them down to…) down to her place by the river, but Jesus drowns in the sea, so do the drowning men (since only they can see him drown), and heroes are in the seaweed too…"

This, I see it in the light of the incounscious symbolim of Jung. As a man the narrator is touched by his anima (explanation : every woman has an animus (male part) and every man has an anima (female part) laying in the uncounscious and when they are reunited, the person becomes more complete. So yes, every man has his Suzanne. The anima is an archetype that has the role of initiator for a man, toward the emotional dimension of the world.

We have also a divine archetype to unified to the entire personality (according to Jung, this would be in fact the purpose of the evolution, that at some point all the archetypes will be reunited in the consciousness and finally the human being unified to G_d (or call it whatever you want - the divine part of the universe, I don't know). I think that in this regard the symbol of Jesus, meant this archetype.

We have also what is it called a shadow, a kind of "no man's land" where we put all what we can not bring to the consciouness for a reason or another, be it "bad" or "good" things, maybe because of ignorance or because it is to difficult to integrate, emotionnaly speaking - it is much more complex, but this gives a good idea, I think. (The trick with the shadow is that it has the bad habit to bounce in the face and at places not always comfortable to live with, and often it is rejected in projection on the surrounding, an/on another person. It is something that it is difficult to face, and usually people try not to do it with all the strenght they have- so sometimes, this explains the extreme experiences some people have to live, they have to be weaker than the force of rejection of the shadow in order to integrete it to the rest of the personality : "only drawning men could see him" - there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in. The people who are willing to try to face consciously their shadow are brave ones. In a way or another, they are "heroes in the seeweed".)

The child is another archetype to integrete. Especially the child is skilled to lean out for Love.

Usually the water is the symbol of emotion in the collective uncounscious.

So, here we go with the river, the sea, the sailors, the drowning men. The emotional world Suzanne help to explore.

Notice what Suzanne does : She shows you were to look among the garbage and the flowers etc. etc. (exploring the shadow) while Suzanne holds the mirror. So the anima is showing all this in the person in the mirror. The heroes in the seeweed, the children, that lean out for Love. Everything. This is all archetypes to integrate in the counsciousness.

Suzanne has other characteristic of the anima : she is half crazy and before she takes him down "to her place" Jesus had sank beneath the wisdom.

So to be unified with the divine it is necessary to follow a guide who is "half crazy", who knows better than the ordinary wisdom that does not allow the divine to be. This is what the anima does.

Just for the little history, and because this subject fascinates me, anima and animus can be the object of projection also, and therefore, one could litteraly meet his/her a. in real life. Interesting ballet it is when it happens.

I don't know if this could be of some help. I just share some little ideas or two. Not that i think this is the interpreation of the song. Just mine. Of course.
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Re: Drowning men

Post by Fljotsdale » Thu Nov 10, 2005 3:22 pm

jurica wrote:
Fljotsdale wrote: Don't expect me to do this ever again, LOL! :lol:
too bad - you are good!

not realising how good things are before you lose them is another very good point.

now, back to another obsession of mine. i spent like ages over this poem, and i know it mostly by heart, but i didn't find from where the lines for this were taken. Fljots, can you perhaps remember from where in Shakespeare was which part taken. this is to me the most mysterious part of The Waste Land...

DEATH BY WATER

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead, /is Phlebas a name taken from somewhere?/
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew /this i know is from Bible/
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, /this is, at least inspired, by Indian mythical teksts of Upanshida or something like that/
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

...like i said, this poem is my long time obsession, and your help would be greatly appreciated!

OOPS! Sorry. :oops: NOT Shakespeare. I was thinking it was from The Tempest, because he uses the speech by Ariel, in the Tempest, about a 'sea-change' (line 48 of The Wasteland, iirc). So, since I couldn't find the lines in The Tempest, I checked out my 'Studen't Guide to the Selected Poems of T S Eliot' by B C Southam, published by Faber & Faber. It says, in part:

... a close adaptation of a French poem by Eliot, 'Dans le Restaurant':

"Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight drowned, forgot the cry of gulls and the swell of Cornish seas, and the profit and the loss, and the cargo of tin. An undersea current carried him far, took him back through the ages of his past. Imagine it - a terrible end for a man once so handsome and tall."

The notes on The Wasteland also refer us to:

Frazer's 'The Golden Bough', part IV;
'Homer's Odyssey', book xiv, where Homer tells the story of a drowned Phoenician trader;
Hayward: "Phlebas, the drowned god of the fertility cults";
A passage in William Morris's 'Life and Death of Jason', book IV, the Song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, which refers to a Phoenician sailor as a victim of the sea.

The notes add that Eliot was familiar with the latter poem and quoted from it in his essay 'Andrew Marvell'.

There are quite a few other references as well, but the above should keep you going for ages... :lol:
Only just found this video of LC:
http://ca.youtube.com/user/leonardcohen?ob=4" target="_blank

This one does make me cry.
jurica
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Post by jurica » Thu Nov 10, 2005 9:50 pm

Tchoc,

thanx for very interesting observations. did you read the jungian analyses of Suzanne that another Croatian guy did some time ago? also very interesting read and a lot of his readings related strongly to your. if you don't remember or didn't read it, perhaps you can find it through search engine? i think you'd enjoy it.

Fljots,

that's a very interesting book you have there. i should have gotten myself one long ago. it may have speared me a lot of trouble.

don't sweat about forgeting where Shakespeare was quoted. one would need a brain of a computer to remember all the quotes Eliot used, realy.
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Post by Tchocolatl » Fri Nov 11, 2005 1:49 am

The only jugian analysis by a Croatian guy I remimber was not about Suzanne, but about the Captain :

viewtopic.php?p=20624&highlight=#20624

Or maybe you are talking about another Croatian guy.

Makera did many comments using the jugian point of view. From her posts, I am under the impression it was a hot way to analyse Cohen's work in the VP board, once upon a time, by some persons there.
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Post by Ghoti » Fri Nov 11, 2005 2:04 am

This verse is the one that first gave me the crazy idea that song lyrics could be just as wonderful as any poet i had ever read. Because of this these lyrics are special to me and this is what i've always understood from them (Though you've made me think about it twice (especially Ali)): This verse is an assault on (Organised) religion. Jesus' tower - Heaven -is lonely but then he realises that men who drown - die - can go to heaven to keep him company so he makes every man mortal (a sailor) so that they can die. The 'sea shall free them' is sarcastic. he himself was broken - almost human this means, in my opinion, that everybody pope, bishop, queen, jesus himself is fallible and that the motives of religion are selfish, destructive and entirely human. i think he's saying that death was created for the amusement of God. Feel free to disagree.
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Post by Kush » Fri Nov 11, 2005 2:54 am

I love the imagery in:

There are heroes in the seaweeds
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
They will lean that way forever.



Image
Seaweeds play very important ecological roles in many marine communities. They are a food source for marine animals such as sea urchins and fishes, and are the nutritional base of some food webs. They also provide shelter and a home for numerous fishes, invertebrates, birds, and mammals.

Large seaweeds can form dense underwater forests, called kelp forests. These forests provide a physical structure that supports marine communities by providing animals with food and shelter. Kelp forests act as underwater nurseries for many marine animals, such as fish and snails. The lush blades form a dense forest canopy where invertebrates, fishes, birds, otters, and whales can find lots of tasty food and a good home. Beautiful sea slugs and kelp crabs can be seen on the blades and stipes of the seaweeds, while other small marine animals like worms find their homes in the the holdfasts. Kelp forests are a huge food source for sea urchins and other grazing invertebrates.
They are truly heroes and they look like children leaning out for love.
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Post by Fljotsdale » Fri Nov 11, 2005 3:08 am

Tchocolatl wrote:Quetzal I had a cat once, that looked like you very much. A Mayan bird name, though, I think it is, your name?

Fljot, wow, you really did not spoil you time with this one. Great.
(in the sense that it is what I think also, maybe, but ey!)
Thank you, Tchoco. :D
Only just found this video of LC:
http://ca.youtube.com/user/leonardcohen?ob=4" target="_blank

This one does make me cry.
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