Thursday, 8 December 2016

Hymns Old and New -- Anthem


I've been a huge Leonard Cohen fan since I was a teenager in the early 1970s, so I was very sad to learn of his death last month at 82 years old. Apart from being an amazing Canadian poet-singer-songwriter, his spiritual search and questioning always drew me to his music. He had no illusions about the nature of love, spirituality or the world, yet dedicated his passion and heartbreak to all three.

I consider his song Anthem to be a modern hymn in every sense of the word. It is his profound meditation on the Divine and the human spiritual journey.



The birds, they sing
At the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.

Yeah, the wars
They will be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold and bought again
The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
The signs were sent:
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah, the widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up a thundercloud
They're gonna hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
You won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in.

I love every aspect of these lyrics but two images in particular resonate deep within me. First, the very Jungian concept that it is through our imperfections and repressed selves (our shadows) that wholeness and healing (formerly known as salvation and redemption) are achieved. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. Human perfectability is a harmful lie and there's no point in expecting this or holding anyone to that unrealistic standard. Everyone and everything is flawed by its very nature.

And the second image strikes me to the core as well -- every heart, every heart to love will come, but like a refugee. I think the word "love" as used here is code for "the Divine." This image expresses a great and profound truth about the spiritual journey. People sometimes naively think the spiritual journey is all about hearts, flowers and blissful insights but in reality, it's an arduous, devastating and often perilous experience. By the time you arrive at the end of your search, you are indeed like a refugee -- battered, bruised, a survivor of the immense pain and suffering of life but also so very grateful to be safe at last, at long last, in a new home. The spiritual journey is not for the faint of heart.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen. May you rest in peace, your long journey done.

39 comments:

Mark said...

That was a very beautiful song. A modern hymn indeed. I was especially drawn to the bit about imperfections myself. We aren't perfect but it is through those imperfections that we can grow and develop. Everything does have a crack, and it really is how the light gets in.

Miss Val's Creations said...

Beautiful tribute. I was not familiar with Leonard Cohen's work until he passed away. My husband was though. So was added his station to our Pandora list to enjoy. He is a pleasure to listen to.

Bob Slatten said...

Lovely song, nice tribute.

Snap said...

Wonderful tribute ... this is the song I posted on FB when I heard of his death ... my favorite. What a man and what a talent ... he will be missed.

JACKIESUE said...

that song makes me weep..and I weep for the loss of the poet that brought those words to us..

jaz@octoberfarm said...

i love leonard. i always told my husband that given the opportunity, i'd be out the door with leonard in a heartbeat.

Janie Junebug said...

I didn't know anything about Leonard Cohen until a few years ago. I'm glad you shared this song and your excellent interpretation. Thank you.

Love,
Janie

Susan said...

Thank you for this, both the song and your words. I spent last weekend saturated in Leonard Cohen. It was very cathartic.

mistress maddie said...

I have never heard that,song till now. It is quite beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.

Jono said...

A great and gifted man who will be sorely missed. Nice analysis of the lyric.

DEZMOND said...

what lovely lyrics!

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Thank you, Deb. I really needed this right now. I appreciated his voice and the lyrics as much as your words about spirituality. So true. Spirituality isn't a fun, lighthearted process. Yet there's a crack in everything.

Birdie said...

Oh, Debra. This post. It is truly beautiful. I love it. Do you mind if I share it?

Leonard Cohen's voice is like a balm pouring over my brain and soul.

e said...

One of my close friends when we were teenagers was a big Leonard Cohen fan, so I was well versed in his music. I still can't hear Bird On A Wire without thinking of her!

Leonard Cohen was a bard of our time. Brilliant poet, songwriter, and thinker. His music moves something deep within. He left a large body of work, but he will be so missed.

I really love your last paragraph, Debra. Resonant. xoxoxox

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Birdie -- Of course you may share it if you want. I'd be honoured!

Marie Smith said...

He was inspiring, that's for sure. The world is diminished without him.

e said...

I've been a Leonard fan since the age of fourteen, and he will be missed but wow did he leave a musical and philosophical legacy and that the world still sorely needs.

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Debra...oh my gosh...this post! The video, your words, everything...it all gives me chills. So beautiful and so profound.

bj said...

What a beautiful tribute to Mr. Cohen...I really like this song and the meanings behind it.

Magaly Guerrero said...

Insightful tribute, Debra. May we all embrace our imperfect cracks... and welcome love when it comes searching for a home.

Davoh said...

Ah, Debra - is it the 'words', the 'voice', the person; or the song ??

Davoh said...

(um, to clarify the question - i hear music, mostly - but sometime, these days - struggle to hear the words. Yes Deb, once upon a time i happened to be employed as an "audio engineer" ... but remain faithful to the words of any song).

Davoh said...

Thank you, Leonard Cohen. May you rest in peace, your long journey done.

With words like that his journey is not done. How can you dismiss him and his thoughts, history so 'dismissive"?

His words, thoughts aand yes 'music' are not yet "done", dusted, forgotten!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Davoh -- The journey of his personal life on this earth is done. His legacy of words, thoughts and music will live on, however.

Missy George said...

Great tribute..He was truly gifted..wonderful words and so profound..They don't make them like they used to , for sure..

The Happy Whisk said...

We enjoy him a great deal at our house as well. Rest in peace.

Magic Love Crow said...

Debra, I have read your post 5 times now! You really struck something in me. I hope you don't mind, but I have written down your words, in my journal! I've been going through somethings and you post came at the right time!
Rest in peace Leonard Cohen!
Thank you for this post Debra!

baili said...

i found these lyrics inspirational ,deep and touching.
message is divine and universal.
imperfections are cracks from which light gets in but for this one needs INSIGHT to ponder to find and to mend .
for me LOVE was never separate from DIVINE .it is first step to spiritual journey.
glad you shared such magnificent writing

bj said...

thanks for coming by to see all the stockings...by the time I get all those out and hung and my tiny tree decorated, I can't handle any more decorations in that living room....hope you have a good weekend...I am having a pity party because I'm cleaning out our storage closet and I don't like it...:(

bill lisleman said...

"Ring the bells that still can ring " - that's a great idea

Cheryl said...

I am a huge fan of Leonard Cohen. I think my absolute favorite song of all time was Hallelujah.

Jamie Meyers said...

Well done. I had not considered that interpretation of the refugee line before. I like it. His last CD, just recently released, is very good.

dbs said...

What a great Canadian, human. Nice tribute.

Guillaume said...

Great artist and fellow Montrealer. The Future was a revelation to me.

AntiquityTravelers said...

love the notion that a crack lets the light in ... perfection is an imperfect idea for sure

The Captain said...

This year we seem to have lost some real talent. Sad times.

John M said...

Thanks for a very meaningful post.

Lynn said...

I loved Leonard Cohen, too - thankfully, his music lives on. I have a number of his songs in my iTunes rotation.

Fearsome Beard said...

Thank you, this is beautiful.