A gathering of late work by the poet, singer, and chronicler of life’s more difficult moments.
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) wrote hundreds of songs, all of which began as poems, as well as the novel Beautiful Losers (1966). If his fame dropped nearly to the point of disappearance in the 1980s, it was no accident: He withdrew from the world to become a Zen monk, and he remained so even during the years when, bilked by a manager, he returned to the stage to sing his way back to solvency. This gathering of poems, lyrics from his last four albums, sketches, and notebook jottings is emphatically for the Cohen completist, who will be fascinated by the process of how those random notes morphed into poems and then into such memorable songs as “You Want It Darker”: “A million candles burning / For the love that never came / You want it darker / We kill the flame.” In some instances, Cohen reiterates a Jewish piety that never quite left him; in others, as his editors note, he works themes and symbols that remained present in his work throughout his career, notably the fire that gives this volume its name. The volume, peppered with sketches and notes in the author’s distinctive hand, closes with a speech given on the occasion of receiving a prize from the Spanish government, in which he connects his work to that nation by means of his early devotion to flamenco guitar and in which he protests that the award may be misplaced to some extent, since “poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers….In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often." That he managed to find that place so often, though, is abundantly clear in these pages.
Cohen’s fans will be delighted, and students of poetic and lyrical composition have much to learn here as well.