(Poem #481) Who By fire
And who by fire, who by water, who in the sunshine, who in the night time, who by high ordeal, who by common trial, who in your merry merry month of may, who by very slow decay and who shall I say is calling? And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate, who in these realms of love, who by something blunt, and who by avalanche, who by powder, who for his greed, who for his hunger, and who shall I say is calling? And who by brave assent, who by accident, who in solitude, who in this mirror, who by his lady's command, who by his own hand, who in mortal chains, who in power, and who shall I say is calling?
from 'New Skin for Old Ceremony', 1974; also appears on 'The Best of Leonard Cohen' (1975), which I'd recommend to Cohen tyros. I spent most of yesterday listening to Leonard Cohen's spine-tinglingly deep monotone and bewitching lyrics while reading Neal Stephenson... ooh (on both counts). I sometimes wonder if it's quite fair to run Cohen and Dylan and the like on the Minstrels - after all, there's definitely more to their art than just words on the printed page; by considering their lyrics as examples of poetry, we rob them of what gives them much of their power (the underlying music) while at the same time minimizing the many constraints under which they were written. I've mentioned these points before, of course . What makes it worse, though, is the fact that I have no really objective way of judging whether, for example, today's poem is actually a good one in its own right (and one that'll appeal to an audience who haven't heard the song - not _you_, Gentle Reader, but others less musically-knowledgeable <grin>), or if it's just an adequate set of lyrics, granted power and immediacy by the music it's set to. I wish I knew... As usual, your feedback would be appreciated. thomas.  The relationship between poetry and song lyrics has been talked about quite a bit on the Minstrels; check out the essays accompanying Sting's 'The Soul Cages', poem #114 and Richard Thompson's 'Taking My Business Elsewhere', submitted by Amit Chakrabarti; Hi Amit!), at poem #299 [Minstrels Links] Footnote  above (is that an oxymoron, by the way?) has links to a couple of examples of song lyrics; here are some more: poem #112, poem #227, poem #119. In a sense, moving from the spoken (or sung) to the written word is a kind of translation; some of my favourite examples of translated poetry are listed at poem #472. There's more about Cohen at poem #116. And finally, 'The Music Crept By Us' is Cohen at his morbidly funny best: poem #339 (Thanks to Zenobia Driver for suggesting that one). [End Note] All this meta-commentary about music and lyrics has left me without a great deal to say about the poem itself. Suffice to say that I find Cohen's ironic catalogue of ways to die pithy, yet not so direct as to be devoid of feeling or subtle meaning. The counterpoint provided by the line 'and who shall I say is calling?' is also very skilfully done; it's even more effective in the song.