Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
holydove
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Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by holydove » Fri Aug 28, 2009 9:40 pm

As I see Leonard has been including this song (Lover, Lover, Lover) in recent setlists, I thought this might be worth mentioning. Several months ago, as I was listening to this song, I was struck by how it seemed reminiscent of the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, and how the song seemed like a "Leonard version" of Rumi's poetry. The next day, I happened to look through the booklet that came with the Field Commander Cohen CD, and on the back, where LC gives thanks to various people, embedded in the many names of the people he thanks, is the name "Jalaluddin Rumi"!
For those who may not know, Jalaluddin Rumi was a revered Sufi master and poet who lived in the 13th century. He wrote thousands of poems, and always addressed God as lover in his poems. Rumi's poems were set to music, and the "whilrling dervishes" would dance/whirl to the sound of the poems being sung with the music. They would allegedly attain states of divine ecstasy through this practice of whirling to the sounds of the poetry and music. (To this day, there are still people who perform Rumi's poetry in this manner).

Although LC often addresses God as lover, this song seems to me particularly reminiscent of Rumi's poetry, and I am presuming that LC's giving thanks to Rumi has a specific connection to inspiration for this song.

I just wondered if anyone out there knows anything more about this, or if anyone cares to comment further?
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mutti
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by mutti » Sat Aug 29, 2009 6:33 am

Rumi is one of my favorite poets..after Leonard of course.
I haven't read the booklet you talk about but love that he acknowledges Rumi.

Years ago on our wedding invitation we put a quote from Rumi as follows:

"In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do
and that sight becomes this art".

Mutti
1988 Vancouver
2009 Victoria/Seattle/Almost Red Rocks/Las Vegas/San Jose.
2010 Sligo x 2/Victoria/Vancouver/Portland/Las Vegas x 2.
2012 Austin x 2/Seattle/Vancouver/Montreal x 2.
2013 Oakland x 2/New York City x 2/Winnipeg...
holydove
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by holydove » Sat Aug 29, 2009 8:29 pm

O Mutti, thank you, that poem you posted is so beautiful, I felt a ripple through my bones when I read it. . .Rumi has been one of my favorites too (as you said, after Leonard, of course!); I had a wonderful book of Rumi's poetry that I read throughout the '80s &'90s and now, after some years and several moves, I have not been able to find it. Now that Leonard and you have reminded me of this amazing, divine teacher and poet, I am longing for his poetry again, so I will have to find another copy of that (or some other) collection of his poems.

It's very exciting to me, too, to discover that Our Sweet Leonard also feels a connection to J. Rumi. . .

Meanwhile, here is something from one of Rumi's poems that I found online:

". . .If once in my life I spent a moment without thee,
From that time and from that hour I repent of my life.
If once in this world I win a moment with thee,
I will trample on both worlds, I will dance in triumph forever.
O Shamsi Tabriz, I am so drunken in this world,
That except of drunkenness and revelry I have no tale to tell."
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lizzytysh
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by lizzytysh » Sat Aug 29, 2009 11:20 pm

How exciting, holydove, two things... that this is showing up on Leonard's setlists means that I may actually see him perform it at one of the two concerts I have yet to attend. I love this song! I, too, love Rumi... and that's the other thing, that Leonard thanked him, which means as you have conjectured that it may, in fact, relate to this wonderful song.

Two of my [many] favourites of Rumi is:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I will meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

Rumi
The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
I went to see Coleman Barks speak on Rumi and recite his poetry. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Coleman's soft 'Southern accent' is perfect for Rumi's poetry, and his presentation is sublime.

Mutti ~ Such a beautiful verse to have as part of your wedding.


~ Lizzy
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
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mutti
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by mutti » Sun Aug 30, 2009 2:30 am

Lizzy thanks for posting those 2 Rumi poems...
They are beautiful..
Mutti
1988 Vancouver
2009 Victoria/Seattle/Almost Red Rocks/Las Vegas/San Jose.
2010 Sligo x 2/Victoria/Vancouver/Portland/Las Vegas x 2.
2012 Austin x 2/Seattle/Vancouver/Montreal x 2.
2013 Oakland x 2/New York City x 2/Winnipeg...
DBCohen
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by DBCohen » Sun Aug 30, 2009 3:10 am

holydove,

LC first mentioned Rumi – and also Attar, another Sufi poet – on the cover of Recent Songs (1979) in connection with “The Guests” and “The Window”; the same year he also told Harry Rasky about the influence of Rumi on him when writing “The Guests”. And since Field Commander Cohen (2001) includes the tour of 1979, with material mostly from Recent Songs, LC repeated his thanks to Rumi.

In such cases it is worthwhile to use the “search” function on the Forum. If you do that, you’ll find all the above information, as well as earlier discussions of Rumi that took place some years ago. Many people are not aware of the fact that the Forum is a huge store of information, and that many aspects of LC’s work have been already discussed several times. There’s nothing wrong with starting a new thread, but it is sometimes more interesting and rewording to pick up an old one and add to it.

Now, about “Lover, Lover, Lover”, personally I fail to see how it is connected with Rumi, but I may be wrong. LC wrote this song when he was singing to Israeli soldiers in the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War (1973). Originally, the first line was: “I saw my brothers fighting in the desert” (and this too was already discussed several times on the Forum). He later changed the lyrics and made the song less specific, but some of the original imagery has been left. Basically it is a dialogue between the poet and his dead father about their joint heritage, and as often is the case with LC, love becomes the second theme of the song. That’s how I understand it, but I’ll be glad to be shown other interpretations.

And a word also about Coleman Barks and his “translations” of Rumi. Barks built a big career on Rumi, but he does not read Persian, and his “translations” are made from earlier English ones, mostly by A. J. Arberry and R. A. Nicholson. In this process of retranslation he also allowed himself much freedom to “reorganize” the poems or parts of them in any way that seemed right to him. There is always something of the translator in the translation, but in this case it is very difficult to know where Barks ends and where Rumi begins. I don’t know which translations of Rumi LC was using, though, and I’d be grateful if anybody could inform me on that (initially probably not Barks, who started publishing his versions in the 1980’s, I believe).
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by holydove » Mon Aug 31, 2009 6:06 pm

DBCohen, there is alot in Lover, Lover, Lover that indicates that it is a conversation with God (even if it it started out as something else); in particular, these lines, where God says TO HIM, or even to all of us: "I never turned aside, I never walked away. It was you who built the temple, it was you who covered up my face" - for what reason would LC say this to his father or fellow soldiers; how would that make sense?!- however, this is very much Sufi ideology and very Rumi-like, the teaching being that by creating "holy places" and valueing any sort of "religious paraphernalia", you are focusing on something that is hiding the true face of God; whereas the purpose of the Sufi path is to attain a direct connection with the essence of the ultimate Truth.

Also, the lines, "You may come to me in happiness, or you may come to me in grief, you may come to me in deepest faith or you may come in disbelief" - again, why would he say this to his father or fellow soldiers? - however, again, it is a vital Sufi teaching, that in whatever way you move towards God, He will meet you where you are, even if where you are is a state of grief, or of disbelief in Him.

And, DBCohen, I am sorry if I offended you with the crime of creating a new thread; I have spent many hours reading previous conversations (even from several years ago), about topics that interest me, and have never seen anything about Rumi in my previous searches, maybe I didn't look in the right place; I don't always have time to search endlessly.
But thank you for the info about the search function. . .

And TO SWEET LIZZY: thank you so much for the poems, they are exquisite! I have always thought that in the song, "The Guests", "the guests" refers to, among other things, emotions; because it is a teaching of Tibetan Buddhism and Zen, to welcome all one's emotions, embrace them, and then let them go ( easier said than done, of course!there are many techniques for this practice). It's interesting that Rumi is saying the same thing in the poem you posted; although not surprising that this is also a Sufi teaching.
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Inna
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by Inna » Mon Aug 31, 2009 8:32 pm

The same motif based on Rumi/Sufi philosophy appears also in the song "The Faith," in which LC repeats: "Oh love, aren't you tired yet?" clearly referring to G-d.
"climb on your tears and be silent, like the rose on its ladder of thorn."
Paris 07/07/09, Tel-Aviv 24/09/09, Salzburg 27/07/10
Lilifyre
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by Lilifyre » Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:06 am

Hi all. First let me apologize for not searching before posting, but sometimes the older threads are just too full and complex to read in their entirety. I'll also apologize up front for cross posting. I posted the words below on another thread and then realized that they probably would fit here better. I've heard of Rumi and somewhere in my past have actually read some of his poems, but I'm not especially familiar with his culture or the bulk of his writings. However, the song "lover lover lover" is one of my new investigations into the world of Leonard Cohen.

Lover lover lover has been one of the songs I haven't had as a favorite, never took the time to really listen to it until now. In listening to it just now, I realize that here again is a Leonard Cohen song with multiple layers. The first impression that I get is a man singing to a woman who has left him. He's making excuses for his failures...

I asked my father,
I said, "Father change my name."
The one I'm using now it's covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame.



But if you look a bit deeper, "lover" is synonimous with god. Leonard seems to use those two words almost interchangebly (lover/love and god). Father in this song could refer to both god and a physical human father.

I've learned NEVER to say I don't like a certain song of Leonard's. I like some more than others, but as soon as I say I don't like one, I give it another listen and find a depth that I hadn't imagined before.

Lili
Lili
"Well, that's my story
I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
DBCohen
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by DBCohen » Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:42 am

holydove,

If you read my earlier posting carefully you’ll see that I was trying to be helpful and, I believe, polite, so there was really no call for your irony.

I just wish to clear up a few points regarding “Love, Lover, Lover”. As for the lines:

“I never turned aside,” he said,
“I never walked away.
It was you who built the temple,
it was you who covered up my face.”

I don't see why these lines must come from the mouth of God, as you say, but cannot come from the mouth of the poet's father. The dialogue alternates in the first four stanzas of the song as follows:

1. [Poet] I asked my father, I said, “Father change my name...”
2. [Father] He said “I locked you in this body…”
3. [Poet] “Then let me start again,” I cried…
4. [Father] “I never turned aside,” He said…

Now, I don’t deny that a dialogue with a dead father may carry the double-meaning of a dialogue with God, but in the present context this possibility is not very convincing. I can’t see God saying “it was you who covered up my face”, but I can very much see a dead father saying that. I do believe that a good poem (or song) may have more than one meaning, but I also believe that such meanings must be demonstrated from within the poem.

And as for the last stanza of “Love, Lover, Lover” that you quoted: it is from the 1979 tour's version. In the original album’s version the last stanza is:

And may the spirit of this song,
may it rise up pure and free.
May it be a shield for you,
a shield against the enemy.

Please note that in the liner notes attached to the original album, this fifth and last stanza, unlike the four earlier ones, does not include quotation marks. I believe that here the poet is adressing his audience directly, after quoting the conversation with his father in the first four stanzas. This stanza also has the strongest and most obvious connection to the circumstances in which the song was originally created.

By replacing the last stanza LC has changed the meaning of the song considerably. Indeed, the new stanza sounds much more like something put in the mouth of God:

You may come to me in happiness,
or you may come to me in grief,
you may come to me in deepest faith
or you may come in disbelief

The change may have been effected by LC’s spiritual state at the time of the tour, or by the different reality of 1979 as compared with 1973. However, while not denying the possible influence of the Sufi poets on this last new stanza (but not at all on the original version), this is not necessarily the only possibility. The influence of Hassidism, for example, could also be the source.
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by Lilifyre » Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:44 pm

DBCohen wrote:holydove,

If you read my earlier posting carefully you’ll see that I was trying to be helpful and, I believe, polite, so there was really no call for your irony.

I just wish to clear up a few points regarding “Love, Lover, Lover”. As for the lines:

“I never turned aside,” he said,
“I never walked away.
It was you who built the temple,
it was you who covered up my face.”

I don't see why these lines must come from the mouth of God, as you say, but cannot come from the mouth of the poet's father. The dialogue alternates in the first four stanzas of the song as follows:

1. [Poet] I asked my father, I said, “Father change my name...”
2. [Father] He said “I locked you in this body…”
3. [Poet] “Then let me start again,” I cried…
4. [Father] “I never turned aside,” He said…

Now, I don’t deny that a dialogue with a dead father may carry the double-meaning of a dialogue with God, but in the present context this possibility is not very convincing. I can’t see God saying “it was you who covered up my face”, but I can very much see a dead father saying that. I do believe that a good poem (or song) may have more than one meaning, but I also believe that such meanings must be demonstrated from within the poem.
To DBCohen, I would disagree with you on this. If I may explain.... Your quote: "I can’t see God saying “it was you who covered up my face”, but I can very much see a dead father saying that."

Actually, I can see those words coming from either god or a father. In fact, my first impression on hearing the lines:
“I never turned aside,” he said,
“I never walked away.
It was you who built the temple,
it was you who covered up my face.”

was that it came from god. This is such a typical Jewish dialogue with god. It harkens back to Midrashic stories of Abraham reasoning with his father about destroying the idols, or the Midrashic story of Abraham pleading for the life of Isaac, or even god's scolding of Moses for destroying the first tablets brought down from Sinai. Wasn't there a story in the Midrash about Moses being the only one who could look upon the face of god? It was man who "covered up" the face of god because it was too awesome to gaze upon.

I'm not that familiar with Rumi, but I do have a fairly good grasp of Midrash and Bible. Perhaps I'm seeing this from a totally different perspective, but that's the beauty of good poetry and Leonard Cohen poetry in particular. Leonard so often uses his poetry/lyrics to express several meanings at once. I'm sure it stems from his early Jewish education, which I understand was quite extensive. Even his songs with an obvious Christian symbolism (i.e. Joan of Arc) are more Jewish than anything else. It's the multi-layers of his work that I have referred to in other threads. He's had many influences to his work...certainly Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist...and he draws from all of those. Maybe it's the listener who chooses what the poetry says, for we all have our own influences and preconceived ideas that we bring to the experience of listening. I see Jewish, Hollydove sees Rumi, you see father and son. We are all correct and we are all wrong. That's the beauty of it all.

Lili
Lili
"Well, that's my story
I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
holydove
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by holydove » Tue Sep 01, 2009 4:36 pm

Lilifyre, thank you for your input. I don't think your perspective is so different; in Rumi's poems, he has conversations with God and he addresses God as lover; in the Bible, Moses, Abraham, and others have conversations with God; whether God is being approached in Sufi, Jewish, or Christian form doesn't matter much to me; LC's dialogue with God could be seen as Sufi or Jewish in nature, and I agree, that is part of his genius.
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by DBCohen » Wed Sep 02, 2009 2:39 pm

Lilifyre,

Thank you for your response, but I’m afraid I remain unconvinced. For me it is a matter of context. We all know that LC excels in expressing feelings and thoughts related to religion, but this does not mean that God has to be dragged into anything he writes or says. He has other themes, often clearly defined. Would you say he is talking to God in “Famous Blue Raincoat”, for example? Or take “It Seems So Long Ago, Nancy”; the father in that song, who is even sitting in the House of Honesty (he happened to be a judge in real life), does he have anything to do with God? I’m looking at the list of songs on the album New Skin For The Old Ceremony, on which “Lover, Lover, Lover” first appeared: the great majority of the songs have nothing or very little to do with religion, but rather with love or politics or both.

You’ve mentioned Moses as one who “covered up” God’s face. I’m afraid I can’t accept that either. In the Bible (Exodus 33:22-23) it is God who covers Moses’ face so he could not see God’s face, not the other way around. I don’t know of a Midrash that says otherwise. I’ve heard of God hiding from man, and of man hiding from God, but not of man hiding God (except in the case of Rachel, who hid her father’s idols in the camel’s saddle, but this is hardly relevant to our song). I can’t see a man covering god’s face unless he is Nietzsche, and he’s saying that God is dead, but I’m sure it’s not something LC would say. Naturally, I may be wrong, but I would need more evidence to change my mind.

Now please let me apologize. I really neither like nor wish to argue, and yes, everybody is entitled to their own opinion and to gaining whatever they can from a song. It’s only that I think that careful attention is required in reading poetry. As I’ve said before, it’s a matter of context, and the context here, in my view, is quite clear.
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by Lilifyre » Wed Sep 02, 2009 7:31 pm

DBCohen, thank you for your response. Yes, you are as entitled to your opinion as any of us are our own. As to what exactly LC meant when writing "Lover, lover, lover", well we'd have to ask him that and I suspect he'd say to let the words speak to you as they will. As to the other songs you mention from the same album, I'm not talking about them. What they may or may not mean seems to me irrellevant to the topic at hand. Where we disagree is your statement:
I can’t see God saying “it was you who covered up my face”, but I can very much see a dead father saying that.
I'm saying that TO ME it seems more likely that it would be a statement from god rather than from a dead father.

You say:
We all know that LC excels in expressing feelings and thoughts related to religion, but this does not mean that God has to be dragged into anything he writes or says.
I'm not "dragging god" into anything. I'm simply saying that is what I see. So let us agree to disagree. You feel as you do based on your own experiences. My reaction to the same words is likewise, based on MY own experiences.

Lili
Lili
"Well, that's my story
I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
DBCohen
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Re: Lover, Lover, Lover & Rumi

Post by DBCohen » Thu Sep 03, 2009 2:26 am

Lilifyre,

I believe we now agree to disagree, so we can let the matter rest.

All good things,

D B Cohen
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