Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I've been very busy doing what summers always make me do: re-read. I've fished out the Chronicles of Narnia for my son and for myself The Dark Is Rising series (I don't have Silver On The Tree; Aishwarya, you listening?)

But this post by Rahul reminded me of something that was given me as a gift a long time ago.

At the Institute, for a few months, at least, the crustimony proseedcake after dinner was to gather under the Wisdom Tree (I know, right?) and confab. One editor, I discovered, had a taste in books that chimed with my own. So we hung out a fair amount, and a month or so later, when my birthday rolled around, I was delighted to get, as a gift, a xeroxed copy of Leonard Cohen's Poems 1956-1968.

And to think I'd forgotten about it for the last 14 years!*

Here's the last poem in the edition I have:

You Live Like A God

You live like a god
somewhere behind the names
I have for you,
your body made of nets
my shadow's tangled in,
your voice perfect and imperfect
like oracle petals
in a herd of daisies.
You honour your own god
with mist and avalanche
but all I have
is your religion of no promises
and monuments falling
like stars on a field
where you said you never slept.
Shaping your fingernails
with a razorblade
and reading the work
like a Book of Proverbs
no man will ever write for you,
a discarded membrane
of the voice you use
to wrap your silence in
drifts down the gravity between us,
and some machinery
of our daily life
prints an ordinary question in it
like the Lord's Prayer raised
on a rollered penny.
Even before I begin to answer you
I know you won't be listening.
We're together in a room,
it's an evening in October,
no one is writing our history.
Whoever holds us here in the midst of a Law,
I hear him now
I hear him breathing
as he embroiders gorgeously our simple chains.

Now I'm going to have to fish out one of my precious finds from the pavement, a copy of the naked i: fictions for the seventies, which has a piece by Cohen in it. Summer has its compensations.

*Come to think of it, our year at the Institute was a very Leonard Cohen year. At least two song picturisations were Cohen; many evenings were spent listening to Cohen and Bach. No, Kuntal?


Kuntal said...

beautiful poem!

Yeah yeah ... I guess we were all tripping on Cohen, Kieslowski, among the other "regulars" like Ozu, Ghatak and the "immortal Russian" ... no wonder we needed an outlet which came in the form of planchet, so ably conducted by Charu and perfectly pronounced by Girish S!

equivocal said...

It is of course mandatory to quote here Paul Muldoon's famous lines about Leonard Cohen in Hay: "his songs have meant far more to me / than most of the so-called poems I’ve read." And Muldoon goes on to say about these lines:
"It does seem a little excessive, I suppose, but I’m going to stick to it. I’d say ‘Suzanne’ or ‘Bird on the Wire’ or ‘Joan of Arc’ are much better constructed, are built to withstand more pressure per square inch, than most poetry we meet in most magazines and, alas, find collected in most slim volumes. . . . Cohen has a fine ear, too, something that’s rare enough even among quite highly respected poets."

km said...

Stop making me jealous, you filmschool grad. Some of us had to read books with diagrams and equations in college, you know?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Funnily enough, though Cohen was a poet first, I like his lyrics better than his poetry (what I've read of the latter, anyway).

Has anyone read his novels? I tried "Beautiful losers": extraordinary language, but rather gruesome (I don't think I even read the last section of it).

km - you didn't read your textbooks right. There could have been poetry in them, as in Whewell's mechanics book.

Some textbooks have intentional literary references... my favourite was Ziman's book on solid state physics: the chapter on the Fermi surface opens with the quote "Thou comest in such a questionable shape."

Space Bar said...

kuntal: i'd forgotten about the planchet!

equivocal: thanks for the link!

km: ok, why're you jealous?! now if i was actually continuing to do cinema and hobnobbing with - say - martin scorsese or someone that would be different.

rahul: this book has the 'lyrics' of Suzanne somewhere towards the end. Ought to check which came first, but with Cohen it's not only a hard call, I think it really doesn't matter whether you call them poems or lyrics.

And what a fantastic way for a science book to begin!

sharanya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Ah. Leonard Cohen.

Easiest way to get me to.. well... better not say perhaps. :)

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Sharanya - cf. the last line in this article?

Aishwarya said...


I don't suppose you're an Ebook person? I only have three of the Dark is Rising books (and not Silver On The Tree) on-shelf, but I have the entire series on the laptop.

My copy of Poems 1956-1968 was bought in Daryaganj for rs 10. I use it when I need to write. :)