the gypsy's wife

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
johnny7moons
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the gypsy's wife

Postby johnny7moons » Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:52 pm

"whose head is this she's dancing with on the threshing-floor?"

does anyone know what the reference is? severed heads and threshing-floors sound like the old testament to me - am i right?
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tomsakic
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Postby tomsakic » Wed Nov 30, 2005 4:21 pm

I think so. I always referred this image to Biblical motifs also.
I think it's from New Testament, Salome and the head of st. John the Baptist.
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Postby jurica » Wed Nov 30, 2005 9:40 pm

i realy do not have a key to understanding this poem, so the best i can offer is how i feel about it.

there seems to be some killing going on there (i don't feel like going into what it may symoblize):
"the silver knives are flashing",
"ghost climbs on the table",
"These are the final days:
this is the darkness, this is the flood"
...so my guess is that severing the head and dancing with it on threshing floor has something to do with separating the seeds, grain (probably soul) from the rest (probably body), as that's what threshing floor serves for. it may just be an image, perhaps not reference.
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peter danielsen
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Postby peter danielsen » Wed Nov 30, 2005 10:09 pm

Besides the motif of Salome and the head of st. John the Baptist, it might also suggest the image of Judith with a severed head in her hands, in allusion to her killing of Holofernes. (judith 13,7)

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johnny7moons
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Postby johnny7moons » Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:41 am

dancing and a severed head do suggest salome, but according to an online bible i just found, nowhere in the good book do a severed head and a threshing-floor, or dancing and a threshing-floor, occur in conjunction.

puzzling, as it's such an odd image, and it comes up so unexpectedly in the song.
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peter danielsen
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Postby peter danielsen » Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:55 am

The using of different biblical images is typical of cohen, for example

"You're faith was strong
but you needed proof
you saw her dancing on the roof
her beauty and moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to a kitchen chair
she broke your throne
and she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah"

Fist part is the image of David
the second is samson

I believe that the use of images in mutual dependence make the meaningpotentialty of the song explode.

Peter
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Bobbie
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Postby Bobbie » Thu Dec 01, 2005 5:59 am

We're always trying to analyze and figure out... "what did he mean?" I think we tend to forget that Leonard did a lot of drugs and was high much of the time, and with some of the older stuff, probably he doesn't even remember for sure. I don't think there's any figuring it out, at least not for us... we just have to pick out what's meaningful for us at the time we hear it. For me, there's always something different, even if I've heard the song a thousand times. That's the beauty of it. Even Leonard himself has said, in one the Stina interviews, when asked about the meaning of something.. "it was just a joke."

Still, it's fun to speculate, especially while realizing that nothing is set in cement.

B
HelenOE
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby HelenOE » Fri Jul 05, 2013 8:22 am

johnny7moons wrote:"whose head is this she's dancing with on the threshing-floor?"

does anyone know what the reference is? severed heads and threshing-floors sound like the old testament to me - am i right?
Excuse me for bumping up a very old topic, but I just came across it...

this line strikes me as one of those that combines two biblical allusions, to very disturbing effect. Kind of like "Hallelujah" where in the blink of an eye King David turns into Samson losing his hair, and his strength, to Delilah.

I think we've got Salome from the Gospels of Matthew & Mark, who danced before Herod and asked for the head of John the Baptist as a prize, and Ruth, from the Old Testament book of the same name. She did appear on a threshing floor to symbolically ask the owner of the property, and her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, to marry her (which of course he did, and so Ruth became King David's great-grandmother). The image of the virtuous bride-to-be suddenly breaking out in wild dancing and developing a liking for decapitation... yes, very disturbing.

Fun fact, which lots of you probably know and a few of you might not: Ruth is the woman being quoted in the song "Whither thou goest" and she made that famous promise not to a husband, but to Naomi, the mother of her deceased first husband. Her devotion was especially noteworthy because she was a non-Israelite from Moab, and yet was willing to go with Naomi when she decided to return to Israel.
Steven
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby Steven » Fri Jul 05, 2013 7:02 pm

Hi,

I've only envisioned the head as severed in a symbolic sense. The wife's dance partner has paid a high price for
the dance (with "dance" symbolic of the extramarital affair).
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby Tchocolatl » Fri Jul 05, 2013 7:42 pm

The song is the very picture of the femme fatale.
***
"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
holydove
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby holydove » Mon Jul 08, 2013 9:07 pm

In Ancient Greece, threshing floors were also used as dance floors, because they are smooth & flat. The dances were often enactments of stories related to the Greek gods, demigods & heroes.

The part of the grain that is extracted through the process of threshing is sometimes called the "head" of the grain; it is the inner kernel, the part that provides nourishment, & so can also be considered the "heart" of the grain. So one analogy that can be drawn is that the wife's dancing partner has been "threshed" (stomped upon by driven oxen, cut by stone blades, laid upon the threshing floor. . .), & his heart has thereby been "threshed out", or extracted.

Threshing floors have been associated with worship, marital/physical union, spiritual union (of human & God), violence, infidelity & prostitution. Regarding infidelity & prostitution, I think this quote from the Bible could be relevant here: God said to Israel (Hosea 9:1): "You have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved harlots' earnings on every threshing floor". This has been interpreted as referring to the people of Israel being unfaithful to their God by engaging in idolatry and/or worshiping or celebrating the physical universe or material/temporal prosperity. In the Bible, altars & temples were built on threshing floors, & they were the site of holy matrimony; & in daily life, they were often the site of violent uprisings because of conflicts regarding the rationing of the grain & because of tax collectors who came to collect the tax grain (there is at least one documented killing, where a tax collector was knifed to death on a threshing floor). So the threshing floor is a very multi-faceted, explosive image. . .
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby Tchocolatl » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:42 am

Your knowledge always baffled me. I am so very grateful every time that you are willing to share it.

Threshing floor is also strongly associated with judgment.

By the way he is performing the song, he sounds like doing a funeral march. I feel Death and I feel Last Judgment. The image of the femme fatale (can't live with them, can't live without them type of thinking) being a symbol bathing on the roof of the song.

And I see the Gypsy dancing with another woman. Having lost his head in many ways. He does not acknowledge or recognized himself anymore in the mirrors and/or the windows of "this tired old café". (this devitalized old couple's life). "Where is my gypsy wife tonight?" can also mean "with whom I will be involved with tonight" as well.

It can also mean that he does not feel that he is with the woman he fell in love with, that they are not the persons they were in the first romantic moments. Where is my Gypsy wife tonight?

And I see the Gypsy dancing with his wife (this gypsy dances a lot :) ). A danse macabre in which he feels that she is judging him, not really taking care for his reality, and that is making him sinking lower and lower in a depressing mood. In this tired old café. Knifes are flying low. (source : wikikote : French proverb. Literal translation: Knives are flying low. Meaning: Used to describe a conversation in which sarcasm and cross-eye looks are frequent).

Being lead in a union, in a folie à deux that he did not want to live with any "gypsy's wife" : Marital quarrels that is severing him (and her as well) from feeling complete, happy, alive, and well married. As well as the extramarital affairs he is sinking into to find the intimacy and orgasms that he needs, which severing him etc. A dead end in any way you are looking at it.

All this while he sings about the probabilities that his wife can be unfaithful to him. Which is unbarable for him, even if he himself is trapped in the attractions of other "wifes". That is not the same. We know this. When it is us who is attracted to another(s) (this attraction leading to an affair or not) it does not matter at all (for us). When it is our lover, it is a tragedy.

And I read : you not there and I need you and you not there probably because I was not there when you needed me, and what can we do about that? It is a dead end. And we are judged for this, but more excruciating, we are judging and condamning each other, creating orages, rages, disputes, a war, a deadly war.

The images of all these "gypsy's wifes" (and their relationship with the gypsy) are mixed up one in another and are hard to distinguished clearly as being multiple because there is what one is supposed to live in the face of the others to be socially correct, and there is what one is not supposed to talk about but that everyone knows it is part of life (you are doing it, but you don't talk about it) and also, there is lies that you are telling to yourself, and there is lies that you are telling to others, and there is lies that others are telling to themselves and to others.


And where, where, where is my Gypsy wife tonight
I've heard all the wild reports, they can't be right
But whose head is this she's dancing with on the threshing floor
whose darkness deepens in her arms a little more
And where, where is my Gypsy wife tonight?
Where, where is my Gypsy wife tonight?

Ah the silver knives are flashing in the tired old cafe
A ghost climbs on the table in a bridal negligee
She says, "My body is the light, my body is the way"
I raise my arm against it all and I catch the bride's bouquet

And where, where is my Gypsy wife tonight?...

Too early for the rainbow, too early for the dove
These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood
And there is no man or woman who can't be touched
But you who come between them will be judged


I love the violin in this song.

It does a contrast with the tone of the voice. Romance and funeral march.
***
"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
holydove
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby holydove » Tue Jul 09, 2013 8:35 pm

Hi Tchoc,

Thank you for sharing your very interesting impressions, & yes, threshing floors are also associated with death & mourning. As one example, the bible tells of Joseph, along with a large funeral party, mourning the death of his father at a threshing floor.

The lyrical & musical images of the song do indeed evoke a giant soup mix of Love, Death, Lust, Violence, Lamentation, Longing, Sorrow. . .a veritable feast of psychic catastrophe, so beautifully & elegantly depicted. . .& so powerful!
Tchocolatl
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Re: the gypsy's wife

Postby Tchocolatl » Fri Jul 12, 2013 3:56 pm

Where where where is my gypsy wife tonight
I've heard all the wild reports they can't be right.


It really appears to me as an image of the sweet partner turned sour from jalousy.

Where is the sweet heart that I am used to? (Help! I'm facing the giant Alien bug's evil twin)
Do I really witness all this paranoia (I would not have think this possible)


Holydove wrote
The lyrical & musical images of the song do indeed evoke a giant soup mix of Love, Death, Lust, Violence, Lamentation, Longing, Sorrow. . .a veritable feast of psychic catastrophe, so beautifully & elegantly depicted. . .& so powerful!
Yep. Magic potion that can make you run to a zen monastery, sitting still in silence and in lotus for some years. If you ask me. 8)
***
"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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