Whilst Leonard Cohen is known worldwide as a legendary singer/songwriter, it is important to appreciate that he is first and foremost a poet. Recognition as a troubadour of the highest order should not preclude the truth that Cohen's genius as a poet stands the test of time. This small offering (chosen from eight collections, the majority of which are previously published poetry collections) - suffused with shades of Lorca's sensuousness but indubitably the Canadian maestro's own rhythms - is a veritable delight.
What shines out markedly is Cohen's keen grasp of simile and metaphor wrapped up in a lyrical lilt, exploring themes - longing, desire, death, war, separation, loss, redemption - that have dominated his work for fifty years and counting. These poems pulse with a vibrant grasp of life, alert to its mysteries and fragilities. Like all true poets, Cohen is the master of the arresting image, "your eyelashes are the spies of tiny fragile animals" (Beneath My Hands). A distinguishing feature of Cohen's style is his self-mocking sensibility. Conscious of his own limitations, he doesn't shy away from disclosing the challenge the narrator/poet faces when set againts a beauty that can be overwhelming. Sometimes one has to accept that some things are beyond capture; the pen needs to yield, that beauty "cannot be interpreted or praised: it must be met."
Yet for all his implicit evocation of worldly delights, Cohen ever in tune with his religious side, is fully aware of the need for spiritual sustenance, to help us better embrace life. Nowhere is this made more manifest that in the final poem, Embrace. Worldly pleasures have their limits; the presence of the ethereal can help to give meaning and cast aside the fetters of pain that can so often stifle the human mind when faced with the immensity of the universe. To feel this quickening love and step outside the confines of one's Self is to renew the spirit, allow our bodies and minds to sing in harmony once more.
For while Cohen never turns his gaze away from what lies beneath, there is a melodious truth inside his welt-schmertz that, whilst accepting of mortality, crawls out and lets us know, with a twinkle, that this life - with all its thorny contradictions - is a journey that should be enjoyed. Intimacy and spirituality, desire and death, joy and sorrow are inextricably entwined. If life is to be lived fully, it is as well to take note of it paradoxes. It is fitting that this collection of poetical vignettes should end on a relatively triumphant note, in praise of the human spirit and the universe: "I trust you will be strong and free/and tell no tales about his face/and praise creation joyously."
(The drawings included in this collection are equally masterful)
Leonard Cohen is a master of words. He can put them together so perfectly that you feel you have read them before. It is so beautiful to see how some of his work is so truthful and self-reflecting that you feel embarrassed as if stumbling onto his thoughts. All of his poetry is beautiful, and this book has a great selection from a number of collections.