Montreal residents sing Leonard Cohen from their balconies during coronavirus self-isolation
(Credit: Rama)

A selection of poems brought to you by Leonard Cohen

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”—Leonard Cohen.

Today, March 21st, is World Poetry Day 2020.

The idea, brought forward and declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1999, promotes the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world.

The purpose of the event, according to UNESCO, is to “give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements.”

In honour of the event, we did what all people should do in search for inspiration… turn to Leonard Cohen. “I always thought that poetry is the verdict that others give to a certain kind of writing,” Cohen once said of the art form. “So to call yourself a poet is a kind of dangerous description. It’s for others; it’s for others to use.”

He added: “I think the term poet is a very exalted term and should be applied to a man at the end of his work. When he looks back over the body of his work and he’s written poetry then let the verdict be that he’s a poet.”

Here’s a selection of our favourite Cohen poems:

Poem (“I heard of a man …”) from “Let Us Compare Mythologies”

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.

My lady can sleep from “The Spice-Box of Earth”

My lady can sleep
Upon a handkerchief
Or if it be Fall
Upon a fallen leaf.
I have seen the hunters
kneel before her hem
Even in her sleep
She turns away from them.
The only gift they offer
Is their abiding grief
I pull out my pockets
For a handkerchief or leaf.

Waiting for Marianne from “Flowers for Hitler”

I have lost a telephone
with your smell in it
I am living beside the radio
all the stations at once
but I pick out a Polish lullaby
I pick it out of the static
it fades I wait I keep the beat
it comes back almost alseep

Did you take the telephone
knowing I’d sniff it immoderately
maybe heat up the plastic
to get all the crumbs of your breath

and if you won’t come back
how will you phone to say
you won’t come back
so that I could at least argue

I Wonder How Many People in This City from “The Spice-Box of Earth”

I wonder how many people in this city
live in furnished rooms.
Late at night when I look out at the buildings
I swear I see a face in every window
looking back at me
and when I turn away
I wonder how many go back to their desks
and write this down.

Song (“I almost went to bed …”) from “The Spice-Box of Earth”

I almost went to bed
without remembering
the four white violets
I put in the button-hole
of your green sweater

and how I kissed you then
and you kissed me
shy as though I’d
never been your lover

Beneath My Hands (“In my hands, your small breasts …”) from “The Spice-Box of Earth”

Beneath my hands
your small breasts
are the upturned bellies
of breathing fallen sparrows.

Wherever you move
I hear the sounds of closing wings
of falling wings.

I am speechless
because you have fallen beside me
because your eyelashes
are the spines of tiny fragile animals.

I dread the time
when your mouth
begins to call me hunter.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want to summon
the eyes and hidden mouths
of stone and light and water
to testify against you.

I want them
to surrender before you
the trembling rhyme of your face
from their deep caskets.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want my body and my hands
to be pools
for your looking and laughing.

Summer-Haiku from “The Spice-Box of Earth”

For Frank and Marian Scott


and a deeper silence

when the crickets


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