Cohen is an alumnus of Herzliah High School in Montreal. Jewish themes are found throughout his work in such songs as “Story of Isaac” and “Who by Fire” which is based on the Unetaneh Tokef high holiday prayer. He observes the Sabbath while on tour. Seeing his work on the page finds that Cohen spells the word God with a hyphen following Orthodox Jewish practice. He also spent five years living in a Zen Buddhist monastery, but he sees no contradiction with his Judaism. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.” (Source: 2009 NY Times article)
Montreal’s ubiquitous Catholicism has also influenced Cohen as he describes in his prose poem, “Montreal”:
We who belong to this city have never left The Church. The Jews are in The Church as they are in the snow. . . . The Church has used the winter to break us and now that we are broken we are going to pull down your pride. The pride of Canada and the pride of Quebec, the pride of the left and the pride of the right, the pride of muscle and the pride of heart, the insane pride of your particular vision will swell and explode because you have all dared to think of killing people.
Leonard Cohen Poems and Songs includes some of the psalm like prose poems from his 1984 Book of Mercy. In my New York Journal of Books review I quote “All My Life”:
All my life is broken unto you, and all my glory soiled unto you. Do not let the spark of my soul go out in the even sadness. Let me raise the brokenness to you, to the world where the breaking is for love. Do not let the words be mine, but change them into truth. With these lips instruct my heart, and let fall into the world what is broken in the world. Lift me up to the wrestling of faith. Do not leave me where the sparks go out, and the jokes are told in the dark, and the new things are called forth and appraised in the scale of the terror. Face me to the rays of love, O source of light, or face me to the majesty of your darkness, but not here, do not leave me here, where death is forgotten, and the new thing grins.
Starting today Leonard Cohen Poems and Songs is available at book stores and on-line book vendors.
For more info: David Cooper