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English, Poem

I heard of a man … Leonard Cohen


Baby, I’ve been waiting,
I’ve been waiting night and day.
I didn’t see the time,
I waited half my life away.
There were lots of invitations
and I know you sent me some,
but I was waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
I know you really loved me.
but, you see, my hands were tied.
I know it must have hurt you,
it must have hurt your pride
to have to stand beneath my window
with your bugle and your drum,
and me I’m up there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
Ah I don’t believe you’d like it,
You wouldn’t like it here.
There ain’t no entertainment
and the judgements are severe.
The Maestro says it’s Mozart
but it sounds like bubble gum
when you’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
Waiting for the miracle
There’s nothing left to do.
I haven’t been this happy
since the end of World War II.
Nothing left to do
when you know that you’ve been taken.
Nothing left to do
when you’re begging for a crumb
Nothing left to do
when you’ve got to go on waiting
waiting for the miracle to come.
I dreamed about you, baby.
It was just the other night.
Most of you was naked
Ah but some of you was light.
The sands of time were falling
from your fingers and your thumb,
and you were waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come
Ah baby, let’s get married,
we’ve been alone too long.
Let’s be alone together.
Let’s see if we’re that strong.
Yeah let’s do something crazy,
something absolutely wrong
while we’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
Nothing left to do…
When you’ve fallen on the highway
and you’re lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you’re doing
of course you’ll say you can’t complain –
If you’re squeezed for information,
that’s when you’ve got to play it dumb:
You just say you’re out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.


Young Leonard wrote poems of his own, sang folk songs, and studied (poorly) at McGill University. In 1956 he published his first volume of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, and dedicated it to his father. In a 50th anniversary edition he wrote, with typical self-deprecation: “It’s been downhill ever since.” Around that time he also experienced the “mental violence” of depression for the first time. Decades later, when the worst was behind him, he described it as “the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse”.

Curious and impatient, Cohen moved to New York, London, Israel, Cuba and Greece, where he bought a house on the bohemian idyll of Hydra. More poems. Two novels, one of which a critic called “the most revolting book ever written in Canada”. A few prizes. A truckload of LSD. He talked about writing songs for years before finally knuckling down to it as “an economic solution to the problem of making a living and being a writer”. It was more sociable than poetry, too: he sold his first songs to the folk singer Judy Collins; met Nico and Jim Morrison; jammed with Hendrix. When he wrote, he would play around on the guitar until he felt a catch in his throat. That was when he knew he was on to something. “I certainly never had any musical standard to tyrannise me,” he once said. “I thought that it was something to do with the truth, that if you told the story, that’s what the song was about.”

When the chief executive of Columbia Records heard that A&R man John Hammond wanted to sign Cohen in 1967, he reportedly said: “A 32-year-old poet? Are you crazy?” But Hammond, who had launched Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, didn’t give up. During the first recording session for Songs of Leonard Cohen, he shouted encouragement: “Watch out, Dylan!”

At the time, Bob Dylan was rock’n’roll’s pre-eminent poet. Cohen really was a poet but he wasn’t rock’n’roll. Steeped instead in literary discipline, French chanson and Jewish liturgy, his work suggested old-fashioned patience. To Dylan, a song was a lump of wet clay to be moulded before it sets fast; to Cohen it was a slab of marble to be chipped into shape with immense dedication and care. Cohen never stopped being a poet or lost his reverence for words. You’ll find some erratic musical choices in his back catalogue but not a single careless line; nothing disposable. Years later, he said he had only one piece of advice for young songwriters: “If you stick with a song long enough it will yield. But long enough is beyond any reasonable duration.” When you sense that a songwriter has spent that long finding the right words, the least you can do is pay attention.

The making of Songs of Leonard Cohen became a maddening slog but these songs – Suzanne; So Long, Marianne; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye – would make him the so-called “bard of the bedsit”, an intellectual adventurer who looked for glimmers of light in the dark places. As Bono once said: “He finds shades in the blackness that feel like colour.” Robert Altman loved the songs so much he built his 1971 movie McCabe & Mrs Miller around them.




Poem 50  from “Book of Mercy”

I lost my way, I forgot to call on your name. The raw heart beat against the world, and the tears were for my lost victory. But you are here. You have always been here. The world is all forgetting, and the heart is a rage of directions, but your name unifies the heart, and the world is lifted into its place. Blessed is the one who waits in the traveller’s heart for his turning.

If you want a lover
I’ll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I’ll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I’m your man


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.


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