A Song of Thanks to Leonard Cohen


In one of Cohen’s last albums, “Old Ideas”, he discloses his essential being as a mouthpiece of Eros:

Going Home

I love to speak with Leonard

He’s a sportsman and a shepherd

He’s a lazy bastard

Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him

Even though it isn’t welcome

He just doesn’t have the freedom

To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom

Like a sage, a man of vision

Though he knows he’s really nothing

But the brief elaboration of a tube

This song came shortly before he died. Note that it is the voice of the other that speaks through Cohen, as Cohen. This other is Eros! Cohen’s song is disclosing the reality of the union of Eros and an ordinary human being. Cohen knows that the task of the human being in service to Eros is not to interpret or seek meaning; he is simply to “say what I tell him.” Surrender! This wisdom recapitulates the wisdom of Parmenides who is told by the goddess:

I will do the talking and it is up to you

To carry away my words once you have heard them[1]

To be a servant of Eros is to live the erotic life. What does this look like? Cohen tells us a story that is instructive, from 1967: [2]

I was on a tour by myself in Edmonton Canada, around ’67. Walking along one of the main streets of Edmonton; it was bitter cold and I knew no one and I passed these two girls and they made me stand in the doorway with them. Of course I did. Later we were in my hotel room to sleep together. Of course I had all of these erotic fantasies of what the night might bring. We all went to bed together and I think we jammed into this small couch in this little hotel and it became clear that that wasn’t going to be the evening at all. At one point in the night I found myself unable to sleep and I got up and the moonlight was bright and reflected off the snow. I wrote that poem [Sisters of Mercy] by the ice-reflected moonlight while these women were sleeping. It was one of the few songs I ever wrote from top to bottom without any revision. The words flowed and the melody flowed. By the time they woke up the next morning, at dawn, I had the completed song to sing for them.[3]

He was thirty-three at the time—imagine! Cohen talks of how “Sisters of Mercy” came about. He meets two young women and they go to his hotel room. They go to bed. His head is filled with erotic anticipations (“of course” as he says). Yet it became clear that it wasn’t going to go the way he thought. You immediately can see how power and control over women is just not where Cohen is at! He gets out of bed while they sleep and composes the song by the light of the moon. A true servant, he simply follows the prompting of Eros no matter where it leads: follows, not controls! Amazing! Eros could equally have led to a delightful erotic interlude with his companions but not tonight! Instead Cohen followed Eros to another place of beauty, the ice-reflected moonlight where he participates in an Eros-founded creative act. But such choices are not based on an either/or logic, for what does Cohen first think of doing with this song? He returns it to his muses! There are no silly incriminations (you led me on, etc.)—just beauty, love, and desire.

Who are the Sisters of Mercy? Leonard, their voice, tells us:

Oh, the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone

They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on

And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song

Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long

Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control

It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul

Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned

When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned

Well, they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them

They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem

If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn

They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon

Don’t turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon

And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night

We weren’t lovers like that and besides, it would still be all right

We weren’t lovers like that and besides, it would still be all right


a mouthpiece of Eros has now gone

but surely his voice lingers on

sonorous tones swelling the uttered deep

reverberate beating wings

the night enclosing its own

[1] Peter Kingsley. Reality. The Golden Sufi Center. 2003, p. 56.

[2] With thanks to Eva Rider for posting the video on Depth Psychology Alliance, 21/11/16

[3] https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/11/15/leonard-cohen-wbai-interview/