Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

The Bard-Priest: Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

And who will write love songs for you
When I am lord at last
And your body is some little highway shrine
That all my priests have passed?

My priests they will put flowers there,
They will kneel before the glass,
But they’ll wear away your little window light,
They will trample on the grass.

— Cohen, “Priests”


Leonard Norman (Eliezer) Cohen, whose surname underlines his descent from intellectual machers and Talmudic scholars, was a priest in the oldest sense of the word: someone who sang to his gods and demons as much to keep them returning to his burnt offerings as to keep them from devouring him.

By all accounts he was a difficult, haunted man, besieged by depression, hard on those who loved him. But he was also immensely aware and self-aware – and far more politicized than most people realize, though he was subtle about it unlike his contemporary peers. His main threshing floor was the struggle within and between persons, his realm the restless night – smoky darkness to match his smoky rough pelt of a voice. His love ballads, shot through with longing, ambivalence and pain, etch themselves on the mind and plexus with fine-tipped acid ink. Yet he also spoke of democracy and resistance, of tikkun, though he never shouted. In my view, he was as deserving of the Nobel as his mirror twin Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan.

Cohen spent formative years on Hydra, one of the iconic Aegean islands, where he met one of his muses and also forged his persona, as enigmatic and “slant” as Emily Dickinson’s. He knew exile and trying to navigate ancient traditions that suffocate while they nourish; he knew the powerful whisper of ancestral demands. And he knew the holy dark, where the profane and sacred become one, where prayers are never answered without a price in blood.

Adieu, shaman, songbird, shaper of dark light. Our world is poorer without your lais.

6 Responses to “The Bard-Priest: Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016”

  1. Asakiyume says:

    Loved, and continue to love, his music and his poetry. I’m so sorry he’s no longer with us in the world.

  2. Athena says:

    My consolation is that he lived a rich life — and that it showed in his work.

  3. Asakiyume says:

    Yes he did–and it does.

  4. intrigued_scribe says:

    His poetry and songs were and are haunting, highly evocative, unforgettable. Profoundly sad loss, even as the heart and soul in his work lives on.

  5. Jan Hall says:

    So save me a place in the ten dollar graves, for those who took money for the pleasure they gave.

  6. Athena says:

    “…Then read me the list of the crimes that are mine,
    I will ask for the mercy that you love to decline.”