Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Leonard Cohen's posthumous album (2019)
tobefree
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by tobefree » Mon Nov 25, 2019 9:49 pm

Does anyone have any background information for the lines, "meeting Christ and reading Marx ... go tell the young messiah what happens to the heart"? In the poem version in The Flame it is, "meeting Jesus, reading Marx ... go tell the young Messiah what happens to the heart." Thanks.
DennisBerlin
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by DennisBerlin » Wed Dec 04, 2019 4:11 pm

Do you mean information on the meaning or on the slight change?

As for the change I can only surmise it's been a reason of polishing the line.

"Meeting Christ and reading Marx" just flows more smoothly.


Greetings,
Dennis
tobefree
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by tobefree » Wed Dec 04, 2019 6:15 pm

Hello Dennis,

and thank you for your response. I think your suggestion makes good sense. But mostly I am looking for background information on the meaning of the line.

Thanks,

Dave
lazariuk
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by lazariuk » Mon Dec 30, 2019 6:35 pm

tobefree wrote:
Wed Dec 04, 2019 6:15 pm
Hello Dennis,

and thank you for your response. I think your suggestion makes good sense. But mostly I am looking for background information on the meaning of the line.

Thanks,

Dave
Hi Dave
The term background information is very vague. Are you wanting to know who those people are etc.
I’m thinking that probably you are wanting to know what the verse means. If so I can maybe help.
First I need to know if you want me to do your thinking for you and just tell you what it means or would you prefer that I just ask some questions that I think can demonstrate that you are quite capable of understanding it’s meaning using your own thinking.
Which would you prefer?
Everything being said to you is true; Imagine of what it is true.
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Jean Fournell
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by Jean Fournell » Tue Dec 31, 2019 6:05 pm

lazariuk wrote: would you prefer that I just ask some questions that I think can demonstrate that you are quite capable of understanding it’s meaning using your own thinking
It should be fascinating to witness your maieutics, O Socrates.

As for understanding, it being meaning (la compréhension c'est (de) la signification) :
lazariuk wrote: understanding it’s meaning
well, it is, isn't it.
(Or is it?)



My apologies for this bit of troll-feeding.



Dave, your question is pertinent.

Methinks we can rather safely surmise that the poem version, as posted here on the forum and published in "The Flame", is a later development, and that the song is older. My understanding is that Leonard Cohen did not have the strength left to sing the new version.

In the following I'll try to show in how far the first stanza is "more finished" in the poem as compared to the song version. Here the differences in bold italics:

I was always working steady
But I never called it art
I got my shit together
Meeting Christ and reading Marx
It failed my little fire
But it's bright the dying spark
Go tell the young messiah
What happens to the heart

I was always working steady
But I never called it art
I was funding my depression
Meeting Jesus reading Marx
Sure it failed my little fire
But it's bright the dying spark
Go tell the young messiah
What happens to the heart

The word "shit" in S1L3 is not very meaningful. The problem is not that it's a four-letter word, obviously, but that it is hardly any better than a placeholder would have been (I'm using a capital X as a placeholder for a stressed syllable, and a small x for an unstressed syllable):
I got my X together

In the song "In My Secret Life", Leonard Cohen has much better already:
I do what I have to do
To get by.


Now in the poem version, with
I was funding my depression
he has found a good, meaningful line in replacement of the placeholder word and even of the whole line.

In S1L4, "Meeting Christ" sounds very much like some kind of meeting the Christian evangelical saviour and henceforth living with upturned eyes which would most definitely be a gross misunderstanding.
Leonard Cohen is not Bob Dylan, and he never had any reason to convert to Christianity.

The line
Meeting Christ x reading Marx
is pretty similar to the previous one: The word "and" is quite meaningless. Like "shit", it is hardly more than a mere filler word where the solution has not yet been found. Progress in the creative process then lead to
Meeting Jesus reading Marx
where the problem of the missing unstressed syllable is solved in a meaningful fashion, both avoiding the evangelical misunderstanding and sounding poetically "full".

In the following line, S1L5, the addition of "Sure"
Sure it failed my little fire
not only completes the rhythm, but also introduces and underlines the opposition which is continued by "But" in S1L6. The failure is seen as a relative failure; and no longer as an absolute one, then followed by an afterthought.

The use of such filler material is a common necessity in translation. Here the overall importance lies in the task of offering the meaning to readers who otherwise have no access to the original. The second important point then is to reproduce as closely as possible the rhythm of the original.
The rhyme of a poem speaks rather more to the reason, and it can be worked out rationally the rhythm however speaks rather more to the heart, and therefore it should be reproduced wherever this can be done. That's what justifies the use of fillers in translation.
But in poetry, such makeshift solutions are not exactly the hallmark of an accomplished creation, of course. They help building the structure, the skeleton as it were; but once these things are in place, the real, hard work has to be done: finding the exact expressions, those which cannot be altered any more.
That job requires to be "working steady"…

Let me say it again: Your question is pertinent, Dave.
Maybe you can use some of the above in your own way of reading this absolute masterpiece.
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
tobefree
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by tobefree » Wed Jan 01, 2020 2:57 am

Thank you for your thoughtful response Jean.

I agree, the changes from the song to the poem show a poetic improvement. You have helped me appreciate this poem even more. Thank you!

And I also agree that Cohen was certainly not declaring to be an evangelical Christian. From what I know if he claimed anything it was that he was of the Jewish Faith, even after he was ordained as a Buddhist Monk. But even so, Jesus is a constant theme throughout his poetry and music, which I think is worthy of our attention and discussion.

One of his first published poems was For Wilf And His House, in Let us Compare Mythologies.

When young the Christians told me
how we pinned Jesus
like a lovely butterfly against the wood,
and I wept beside paintings of Calvary
at velvet wounds
and delicate twisted feet...

Wilf is short for Wildred, and Wilfred posted the following on this site about this poem:

"Sorry that this may seem so late a reply, but I have only just been made aware of this discussion. I am the ''WILF'' of the title and *his house' refers to the (then) house of the Student Christian Movement at McGill University in Montreal where Leonard Cohen was studying. At that time I had charge of the house and Leonard was a friend of mine. The house still exists as an institution but is now known as 'The Yellow Door' and has a different purpose. Wilfred."

For Wilf and His House is the first poem in Selected Poems 1956-1968. The second poem is Prayer for Messiah, and after you read the poem it is hard not to see Jesus as the one being referenced. So when Happens to the Heart, says, "go tell the young Messiah what happens to the heart," who could this be other than Jesus? Especially when on page 190 of The Flame we find these words of Cohen,

"I'm sitting here alone
on Christmas day
I know, I know
it shouldn't be this way
I've been calling up some people
but everybody's out
& I've been praying to the one
it's all about."

My guess is that Leonard Cohen started "meeting Jesus" in the Catholicism of Quebec and his nanny. But also at McGill when "comparing mythologies" with Wilfred, and then on throughout his life. And these "meetings" seemed far from trivial. They seemed profound, resulting in a lot of beautiful poetry and lyrics, and even resulting in prayer. Susanne Verdal of the song Suzanne mentioned in an interview that they prayed to Jesus together.

I could say more, but this is something of what I understand behind the words "meeting Jesus" and "go tell the young Messiah." So I was wondering, do you Jean, or does anyone have any other information that might further support, or contradict, my understanding here? And does anyone know if there was a time when Cohen studied Marx, either at University or afterward, and how this might be related to "meeting Jesus"?

Thanks again,

Dave
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Jean Fournell
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Re: Happens to the Heart - song and video released

Post by Jean Fournell » Wed Jan 01, 2020 10:11 pm

tobefree wrote: "go tell the young Messiah."
Here I'm sorry, but I must disagree. There is an important typo in that quote. This is what the poem says in S1L5-8:

Sure it failed my little fire
But it's bright the dying spark
Go tell the young messiah
What happens to the heart

And this is what it says in the end, standing alone and in italics:

Sure it failed my little fire
But it's bright the dying spark
Go tell the young messiah
What happens to the heart


When the poem was published here on the forum, within a few hours changes were made which means it was still in the works. But "messiah" was never spelled with a capital M.
If it were, I'd have to agree that it should refer to Jesus as a trainee before he started teaching; but since this is not the case, methinks it refers to any one of so many messiahs.

For the Christians, Jesus is the one Messiah, as for many Buddhists Siddharta Gautama is the one Buddha and such phenomena easily lead to godlike veneration.
But Leonard Cohen was a zen monk; and in zen, the historical Buddha is honoured, of course, along with all the other buddhas and bodhisattvas, past, present and future but not venerated, and with perfectly clear operating instructions:
"If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!"

Now I'm a thorough atheist, and I know little about monotheism, belief, prayer and such things. But a messiah, as far as I can see, should be something like a Jewish parallel to a bodhisattva.
After enlightenment, a person might become an arhat (a saint, hinayana, Small Vehicle, personal salvation) or a bodhisattva (a messiah, mahayana, Great Vehicle, all sentient beings).
(Not that anybody could choose, of course it just happens the way it happens. Such things are not under our control.)

• A bodhisattva is someone who stays behind with all sentient beings in their suffering, transcending this suffering unconditionally.
• Jesus has salvation for those who believe in him (and thus for humans only) an anthropocentric restriction, with the necessity for belief as a second restriction.
• Marx has the international solidarity of the working class a new restriction to one single social class inside humanity.

So we can say that over the past 2500 years the scope underwent a dire narrowing (in those respective minds).
But even so, all three of them can still be understood as opposed to
my ego, my family, my village, my province, my country, my nation, my empire
as different from others' egos, families, villages, provinces, countries, nations, empires;
and the two of them as different from the rest of the world.

Now as it happened, Leonard Cohen became a bodhisattva in the aftermath of August 1999. And in this context, we can see him as a bodhisattva contemplating Jesus as the physical, practical, spiritual side and Marx as the theoretical, ideological, material side of a depressingly narrow-minded world.
As such, he is well placed to know how important it is that a "young messiah" be told "What happens to the heart":
"Otherworldliness", or detached aloofness, is not enough in the transcending business "What happens to the heart" happens in the here-and-now reality, where we've got to get our hands dirty.

In this way of looking at the song/poem, "Meeting Jesus" should not be seen as a parallel to meeting the Buddha.
It rather seems to me that the hereditary priest, Cohen, descendant of Aaron, is meeting the hereditary king, Jesus, descendant of David the two of them as equals.
With the difference nevertheless that the priest has gone beyond the world of miracles: "It's over now, the water and the wine" (Treaty). He has reached the tenth Ox-herding Picture which Jesus merely was "awarded" posthumously, by his followers.
Jesus, for our priest, at one time was a kind of foxhole radio (as described in "Treaty"), transmitting "the mind of God / Which doesn't need to be" for us to listen not to him (Leonard Cohen), but to it (in "Listen to the Hummingbird").
Until there was no need for the radio any longer.

Maybe this can be taken for at least some small bit of "background information"…



From the very first reading of the poem it was clear to me that "the dying spark" was inviting us, here on the forum, to accept the mission to "Go tell the young messiah" (or bodhisattva) what he (Leonard Cohen) has taught us. He visibly trusts us to be able both to recognise a "young messiah" when we see one and to understand what he or she needs to learn.
I wrote it before, but let me once again modify a couplet from "Last Year's Man":

I want to thank you, Leonard Cohen,
for teaching us so well.
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
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