Analysis of Suzanne

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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Analysis of Suzanne

Postby jurica » Sun Oct 06, 2002 11:26 pm

WARNING: only for those of you that are both patient and forgiving as to let me touch holly ground with my dirty fingers, but I need to do this...

...I'll try to explore symbolism of a song that seems to be an all-time-favorite for many of us, an the one that has been commented on in every possible way - Suzanne.

We all know well enough what this song is about: Suzanne was a friend of Leonard who lived in Montreal, and he was in love with her, but couldn't have her because she was a wife of a friend of his, but what interests me is why I like it so much? What makes me feel like I feel when I listen to it.

Unlike Bob Dylan who is some kind of modern surrealist who writes whatever crosses his mind with little or none conscious control, Leonard rewrites and reviews every word several times until he is certain that was what he wanted to say, and the way he wanted it to be said. Still I'll try to prove that Suzanne has another side to it, the one even Mr. Cohen may not be aware.

Sigmund Freud found symbols in dreams that all people share, and claimed that these visions are a way into their subconscious feelings and needs. One of these symbols is water, a word you could call a key-word of the song (river, boats, sailor, water, drowning, harbour, seaweed --- all draw the same picture), and it symbolizes a child in the womb. Swimming out of water symbolizes being born, and drowning should be a wish to escape from this world back to safety of mother's womb.

We could easily agree that Leonard Cohen is great modern romantic, and we know that romantic poets have a need to run away from this world, to go somewhere far and exotic... Or to find safety in themselves. Could it be that Leonard searched for solace and peace in some sort of mother-person woman? A woman who is stronger than him, and fits in this world more firmly? Did he feel Suzanne could protect him in a way only mother protects her child - asking nothing in return but love?

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.

--- words in bold should prove my point: they all give impression of passivity - Suzanne does things, and Leonard is just being. The only time he tries to do something --- And just when you mean to tell her That you have no love to give her --- she stops him by getting him on her wavelength --- even here he uses a word that can be related to water!

The song continues with a vision of Jesus walking on the water. Leonard himself said that he relates Jesus to people he loves. I'm not sure what to think about this Jesus. It could be his mother - a person who walks upon the water (therefore walks in reality and needs no shelter), Suzanne herself, or even Leonard himself (he was in real world before he felt free to give himself in to her), but I think it should be Armand. Didn't you get the impression he was missing from this picture? Leonard HAD to feel SOME way about him. Suzanne's husband was a sailor (a man who can walk upon the real world, strong and authoritative as the Son of God himself), but he spent a long time being lonely in his tower (he doesn't have nobody, although he is up above other man, therefore - lonely on a tower), and dreaming of drowning in the sea (which is Suzanne's caress). This is why he is broken long before the sky would open. But, unfortunately for Leonard, he sank beneath Suzannes wisdom like a stone.

Now we're back with Leonard as Suzanne takes him to the river. For a moment Suzanne and Our Lady of the Harbour are the same person --- a mother showing her son where to look among the garbage and the flowers. She shows him heroes in the seaweed (people who were strong and independent --- heroes --- until they felt they couldn't fight no more, and, paradoxically, found women to protect them. That's why they are in the seaweed - under the water.) and children in the morning who are leaning out for love (children who haven't yet found that kind of love, but still lean out for their mothers' hands), but they will lean that way forever, perhaps because Suzanne is taken? Is that why she holds the mirror?

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.

--- did she really touch his body just the same? Guess she must have when she heard the song, if not before!

On the end, I'd like to emphasize that I don't claim to perfectly understand Leonard's mind or this song... But I beg of you to prove my thoughts wrong by writing better essay, which will enlighten both me and other interested people.

For any comments or debates, an email is:

:?: :idea: :?:
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Postby Paula » Mon Oct 07, 2002 12:10 am

WOW I can really relate to your version of events. I will have to print this off at work tomorrow to really think it through.

Your perception of Suzanne rings true. I will have to think about it and respond tomorrow. Really incredible thoughts
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Postby lizzytysh » Mon Oct 07, 2002 5:52 am

Hi Jurica,

You've shed an entirely different light on this song for me. You're right with how prevalent the water theme is in it. The way you connect it with your theory [including Freud] is extremely interesting. It doesn't strike me [as you've already noted] that Leonard had your interpretation in mind when he wrote it, but it sure seems to have merit as a subconscious rendering. I really enjoyed reading this ~ a lot! Great job. How long have you been working on your interpretation of it?
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Postby Paula » Mon Oct 07, 2002 3:12 pm

Although you or I cannot know for certain the prelude nor the subliminal thoughts to the writing of Suzanne. Whether or not your observations are correct they are extremely feasible. I shall never be able to listen to it again without your theories coming in to play.

I am extremely impressed by the Croatian contingency, both you and Tom Sakic come across as being extremely well versed both in Mr Cohen and matters generally.

I don't know what your first language is but I assume it is not English and you have my complete admiration for both your mastery of a language that is not your mother tongue and your appraisal of an English written missive which in my humble opinion is both incisive and thought provoking.
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Postby Linda » Mon Oct 07, 2002 4:21 pm

From the book Various Positions it tells a little about the song on page 125. Cohen explained that the opening verse of his song was more or less reportage: "Suzanne takes you down/to her place by the river/you can hear the boats go by/ you can spend the night beside her". Verse two represented the religeous symbols of Montreal, a city filled with religious iconography. "And Jeusus was a sailor/when he walked upon the water/and he spent a long time watching/from his lonely wooden tower...forsaken, almost human/ he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone." Cohen summed up verse three as the "compassionate attention that a man looks to receive from woman".

That is where my image comes from when I listen to the song.

I was mpressed with your interpretation of the song also Jurica, my reaction also was " WOW" well put. Paula's statement of you and Tom are my sentiments also, Tom has been answering questions on this board for a long time, and I respect him very much.
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Postby jurica » Mon Oct 07, 2002 10:44 pm

Thank you all for reading material as long as this, and for all complements (even for my command of English language? - it's not my mother tongue, but I've been learning it ever since 4th grade and haven't stopped yet), and I hope I'll encourage more discussions of this kind.

The more ways we find possible to interpret Leonard's music the more valuable poet he'll seem to people who are just starting to ponder upon him, don't you think?

Thanks again!!!
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Tea and oranges

Postby Gaia » Sun Oct 13, 2002 8:57 pm

Hello Jurica,

Your point of view is still relevant, but you can find interesting the story about Suzanne :

"LEONARD COHEN: At a certain point, I bumped into Suzanne Vaillancourt [?],
who was the wife of a friend of mine, they were a stunning couple around
Montreal at the time, physically stunning, both of them, a handsome man and
woman, everyone was in love with Suzanne Vaillancourt, and every woman was in
love with Armand Vaillancourt. But there was no... well, there was
thought, but
there was no possibility, one would not allow oneself to think of toiling at
the seduction of Armand Vaillancourt's wife. First of all he was a friend, and
second of all as a couple they were inviolate, you just didn't intrude into
that kind of shared glory that they manifested. I bumped into her one evening,
and she invited me down to her place near the river. She had a loft, at a time
when lofts were... the word wasn't used. She had a space in a warehouse down
there, and she invited me down, and I went with her, and she served me
Comment tea, which has little bits of oranges in it. And the boats were going
by, and I touched her perfect body with my mind, because there was no other
opportunity. There was no other way that you could touch her perfect body
those circumstances. So she provided the name in the song."
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Postby jarkko » Mon Oct 14, 2002 12:04 am

Read also the interview with Suzanne Verdal-MacCallister
(ex-Vaillancourt) at

PS. looks like I have a typo on that page!!! The midi playing in
the background is of course Suzanne and not Nancy - have to
fix it!!!! :lol:
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Postby Janem » Mon Oct 14, 2002 7:00 pm

Jurica, I think you deserve an A+ on your analysis of "Suzanne!"

I also loved Leonard's comment posted by Gaia.

It might be fun to add some Carl Jung into the mix, Jurica. Jung's idea that all men have a feminine side or Anima (just as all women have a male side,the Animus) seems relevant. The Great Nurturing Mother is one of the faces of the Anima. Until a man integrates that face into his own personality wholly, he will repeatedly seek and project it outside the self, in women to whom he is attracted. In fact part of the attraction is that she seems to manifest the Anima in the particular way that he seeks.

Or something like that, anyway! :) It works with your analysis, yes?


ps I visited the interview site suggested by Jarrko and it is fascinating, and is Suzanne ever gorgeous, after all these years!
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Postby jurica » Tue Oct 15, 2002 1:56 pm

Thanks, Janem,

I'll have to read some C. Jung it seems. You proved it is worth. And it realy adds to the picture.
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While Suzanne holds the mirror

Postby Gaia » Tue Oct 15, 2002 9:14 pm


Thanks for the link!


I saw Armand Vaillancourt when he was around sixty years old, and believe me, even at this age, he was the most beautiful man I have ever see until this day. Not just because is feature, is body, was monstruously perfect (I say perfect), but also for the vitality and grace and simplicity that irradiated from him. (I think that he was a little bit shy because I look at him so intensely, but... well... but I did not want to be... I was just stunned, well, anyway, I stopped).

Suzanne and him must have made a really amazing couple, dancing together.


I would not dare to judge your analysis more than to say it is very interesting to me. If you like Freud, you may love Carl Gustav Jung (I do).
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The Lost Art of Beautiful Seduction

Postby Janem » Sat Oct 19, 2002 2:26 am

Gaia wrote:one would not allow oneself to think of toiling at
the seduction of Armand Vaillancourt's wife.
I am fascinated by this phrase, "toiling at the seduction of..." To my product-of-the-post-feminist-world ears, it sounds so quaint, and so . . . well, seductive!

So, like, a man would actually toil at the seduction of a woman? How dreamy.

It is like reading of knights errant and lady loves in a medieval romance! Where everyone, Armand and Suzanne and Leonard, is beautiful and creative and seductive (even when chivalrously refraining from seducing--which reticence is another appealing concept.) And creatively seductive and seductively creative.


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Postby George.Wright » Sat Oct 19, 2002 2:37 am

Yes it's true, men dream about the ultimate seduction,
a holy grail, a quest
and will use all of their charm (feminime side included for clues)
to obtain so great a quest
and be noble and sure
for the chastisty of one so pure
like a knight from an old fashioned book
and you can sure see history permutated with these figures
and it is the great urge that made us diffrent
when the good divided from the start
the cyclonic spark coupled in the ark
that settled on wooden bark and tree
floated away from Gallilee
and settled on a Turkish mount
and tempted us away from the fount
and christined the sinner be!!!
I am a right bad ass, dankish prince and I love my Violet to bits.
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Postby Andrew McGeever » Fri Oct 25, 2002 4:52 am

I've just viewed this correspondence, and have some points to make.

1. "Suzanne" appeared, eventually, in a collection of Leonard's poetry published in 1966. It was called "Parasites of Heaven". Not his best poetry.
The poem was entitled "Suzanne takes you down".

2. "Suzanne" was first released by Judy Collins , on her album "In My Life", at the end of 1966. Her next album, "Wildflower" contained more Cohen originals, not one of which was the song which launched her into
pop-stardom....."Both Sides Now".

3. On April 30th, 1967, Judy Collins was playing at an anti-Vietnam war benefit in New York. In the middle of her set, she introduced Leonard Cohen. He tried to sing "Suzanne"; got stage-fright, walked off, and was persuaded by Judy in the wings to return on stage. He did, and sang the song from start to finish.

4. The attempted template of Freud/ Jung on this poem/song does disservice to Leonard Cohen: you don't need early 20th century pseudo-science to criticise a poem...use your intelligence, your imagination, your critical faculties, if they exist.

5. The reference to Bob Dylan summed up the lack of critical faculties on the part of the writer. Can I quote "Unlike Bob Dylan who is some kind of modern surrealist who writes whatever crosses his mind with little or none (sic) conscious control.....". Please don't dismiss the work of one of the most important singer/songwriters with such a cheap swipe. Listen to "Sara", which is , arguably,a superior song to "Suzanne".

6. "Leonard rewrites and reviews every word several (sic) times". All writers do it: it's called writing. It isn't new; that's what they do.

7. That's all for now,

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Postby Kush » Fri Oct 25, 2002 7:11 am

Whether superior or not to Suzanne, Sara and Suzanne certainly make a remarkable pair. Two songs to two women about unrequited love, by two of the finest songwriters.

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