You know who I am (Songs From A Room)

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
User avatar
mat james
Posts: 1746
Joined: Sat May 27, 2006 8:06 am
Location: Australia

Re: You know who I am (Songs From A Room)

Postby mat james » Tue Aug 06, 2013 2:31 pm

These lines bring into mind a Tarot interpretation: "...well I am the one who loves
changing from nothing to one" - The Tarot card number zero and the Tarot card number one.

The interpretation is more complete when the interpretation of the Fool and the Magician are linked to the meaning of these song lines. :idea:


Your Tarot interpretation fits beautifully, Timbelius.
And we could take it further; for The Fool, in the Tarot is the true morphing hero of the pack.
Or, as they say, the whole Tarot pack is the journey(s) of the Fool.
Our Fool-ish friend in the Major Arkana of the pack, is the only "one" who does not take himself seriously. In my view, the Fool can choose to morph into any of the Major cards depending on the situation he finds himself in and what character type (Major Arkana picture card) he perceives is required at that particular time. "Every picture tells a story", so to speak.
"situation" is represented be the Minor Arkana; for example Eight of Pentacles.
The Fool is you and me. By adopting the archetype "Fool" we are choosing freedom; we can masquerade as whatever we like, or perceive is required. Today the Magician, tomorrow the Hanged Man and yesterday, Death. We can endure with Strength and wander in quiet peace as The Hermit.
With the Fool at the helm, we can sail any archetypal ship!
Or, as Cervantes implies;
"I am I, don Quixote,
the Lord of La Mancha,
my destiny calls and I go
may the wild winds of fortune
carry me onward
whither so-ever they blow
onward to glory I go!!!

So I am with you on this "one", Timbelius.
The Fool changes to Magician and back to "One" ...Fool; and onward through the whole crazy psychological/mythological/mystical diaspora.

It works for me ;)

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Aug 02, 2013 1:18 am

Re: You know who I am (Songs From A Room)

Postby Timbelius » Wed Aug 07, 2013 6:18 am

I just wanted to show this picture Image - here is something about the fool's journey. The cards zero (the Fool) and the no. 1 (the Magician) are placed on opposite sides of the Kether (the Crown). By circulating between zero and one the fool passes the Crown every time. :)
Posts: 32
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2015 1:44 am
Location: Santa Rosa, Calif. USA

Re: You know who I am (Songs From A Room)

Postby Mkevenson » Fri Nov 06, 2015 5:40 am

Sorry to be so late to the party. I have searched before I asked this question. What is the generally accepted understanding of the line , " I need you to kill a child" ?
I have read this entire thread and many others on Google but ....... ?

User avatar
Jean Fournell
Posts: 222
Joined: Thu Jun 20, 2013 4:09 pm
Location: Provence

Re: You know who I am (Songs From A Room)

Postby Jean Fournell » Mon Nov 09, 2015 9:52 pm

@ Mark:
Well, I have no idea whether there is any such thing as a "generally accepted understanding" of that line. And I doubt that there can be (or should be) any such thing. A piece of good poetry, like any other good piece of art, is a trigger for ongoing reflection in the mind of the beholder. (And this song is good poetry.)

But as a starting point, I might perhaps suggest "Story of Isaac", six songs earlier on the same album.

And thanks for reviving this thread. I've had my two cents strolling about in the conscious part of my mind now and then, but no paper and pen handy to scribble them down; or paper and pen handy, but those two cents strolling about elsewhere; and so nothing ever came of it...

@ Tarot:
In the "Tarot de Marseille", The Fool ("Le Fou") is numberless in most cases, or else he is numbered XXII.
Numberless, he would perfectly fit the idea of being able to take the place of any other card, as a Jester / Joker / Wild card.
As number XXII, he would eventually emerge from his "Pilgrim's Progress" through the other arcana as the one he really is as the fool we indeed all are.

@ "I am the one who loves changing from nothing to one":
This "... loves changing ..." seems an ongoing (or at least oftentimes repeated) process to me as opposed to something like who once did change from nothing to one. Everlasting Expansion-Contraction of the Universe versus one initial Big Bang. Or call it: He keeps doing it, all the time. The dialectics of nihilism and somethingism.
(Shall we skip considerations concerning the erectile parts of the human anatomy?)

Because God, if He is to be perfect, must necessarily and simultaneously:
- exist
- non-exist
- both exist and non-exist
- neither exist nor non-exist,
and probably quite a few more things but these four items can be taken for certain, even in our limited way of understanding.

@ "You know who I am":
This is the delicate question of our being or not being above God (or the world).

Does it mean "You are above Me, so as to judge Me" ?

Or does it mean "You have understood that it is fundamentally impossible for you to be above Me, for you to judge Me and you have integrated this comprehension, this "Tat twam asi", to such an extent that you are free, really and fundamentally free" ?

At first view, this question would seem easier for atheists, and more difficult for believers. Not postulating anything like God, the ones like me would seem less tempted to talk about Him, or use Him for our calculus:

When Mansur Al-Hallaj (857 or 858 922), the "Jesus of Islam" as some call him, dances through the streets of Baghdad, shouting "Ana l-Haqq" (I am the Truth) or "There is nothing inside my cloak but Allah", he is fully trapped inside the illusion that he the one who is actually speaking! can be absent and have given up the place to Allah. He must be totally unaware of the obvious fact that his ego, which is saying these things, is very much present inside that cloak indeed, and extremely bloated too.

When Eihei Dogen (1200 1253) says
"To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized (or: certified, or: enlightened depending on the translation) by myriad things (or: by all beings of the Cosmos). When actualized (or: certified / enlightened) by myriad things (or: by all beings of the Cosmos), your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly",
he precisely postulates the alterity which Al-Hallaj omits. It is "myriad things" (or "all beings of the Cosmos") who are above ourselves and it is not we who talk about God.

(More correctly: "myriad things" and we ourselves, instead of forming a linear hierarchy, are forming a circle of the stone-scissors-sheet kind, or a checks-and-balances system, as the US-Americans call it. The problem of infinite regression does not arise.)

Seems easier for atheists.

But then there is Joan of Arc (about 1412 1431) too, a believing Christian. When her murderers were still trying to prove her to be a heretic, they asked her whether she was in a state of grace. If she says "no", she admits that it was not God who sent her to war; and if she says "yes", she puts herself above God (like Al-Hallaj does).
(For us today this is a double-bind question for them it was sin against the Holy Spirit, and they knew that Jesus had declared that such sin won't be forgiven. They knew that they would be damned for this.)

Joan of Arc, an uneducated peasant woman, about 18 years old, answers: "Si je n’y suis, que Dieu m’y mette. Si j’y suis, que Dieu m’y garde." (If I'm not in it, may God put me there. If I'm in it, may God keep me there.)
(They still murdered her. Without proof of heresy, since there was no heresy. One more sin against the Holy Spirit.)

Joan of Arc has access to her real position. She does not put herself above God and/or the Cosmos, she is free. She knows who He is.

As a matter of fact, I think it is a personal question rather than a question of believing or atheism. Putting oneself above oneself is a human tendency, it is our logic running away with us. (And it is what they call "original sin".)
Koans like "What was your face like before your grandparents were born?" may help in training oneself not to be "ex-alted", "beside oneself", "out of one's mind" but Joan of Arc had no such training, and yet "she clearly understood".

@ "I am the distance you put between / all of the moments that we will be"

At first glance, "the distance ... between ... moments" is passing time, with the "moments that we will be" being located in the non-passing dimensions of time; potentiality being at the degree of certainty (by "that we will be"), and the "moments" in the dimension of eternity.

But since it is the "you" who puts the "I" (= distance) between the moments or is it that the "you" creates the "I" (= distance + being-put-between-moments) ? , there seems to be a lot more to it, which I haven't figured out yet.

@ "If you should ever track me down
I will surrender there
and I will leave with you one broken man
whom I will teach you to repair."

Tracking down God is what Al-Hallaj does, and what they try to have Joan of Arc do. In a negative sense, it is also what hiding from God in Eden is, behind a bush or tree or what. This is "original sin", our putting ourselves above what we cannot be above, our constant falling into the trap of the Epimenides paradox. Our intrinsic illusion that we can have "the whole world in [our] hand" and God along with it, if we are believers.

If we do such a thing, such a tracking Him down, the "I" of this song, in His mercy, understands why we do it. And He goes along with us, "surrender[s]" to the role we want Him to play. But He does not remove us out of causality. The result of our action is that we don't have the real world in our hand, nor the real God, but that we only obtain some by-gone sparkling, like a sip of beer at the bottom of a left-over glass the morning after.
Although Leonard Cohen's "I" is much kinder than my logic: it's not stale beer we get, but "I will leave with you one broken man".

How to avoid the association:
"But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone" ?

That "one broken man" is all that's left of "the whole world [(plus God)] in [our] hand", and He is willing to teach us to repair him. Not some Christian miracle of resurrection, it is our work that will repair that "one broken man" once we will have learned from Him how to proceed. How to use our logic including putting ourselves above things where this is adequate , instead of being abused by that logic run wild.

(Whether that teaching works? Let's have a look at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival:
"Kristofferson later commented to Cohen biographer Ira Nadel in the 1996 book Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen that the Canadian singer "did the damndest thing you ever saw: he Charmed the Beast. A lone sorrowful voice did what some of the best rockers in the world had tried for three days and failed." "
Quoted from: ... n_album%29)

Well, yes, after all I think it's easier for atheists to live in peace with God. He and I dwell in our respective worlds and stick to our respective business each, and none of us is making a nuisance out of Himself or himself if He exists, that is, and if I exist.
I guess that for believers it might actually be somewhat more difficult indeed.

@ All:
Thanks for your patience...
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
Posts: 32
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2015 1:44 am
Location: Santa Rosa, Calif. USA

Re: You know who I am (Songs From A Room)

Postby Mkevenson » Mon Nov 09, 2015 10:27 pm

Jean, thank you for the effort and your brief explanation of, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". ( my interpretation)
I guess one day I will just have to ask Mr. Cohen.

I don't really understand the main body of your reply, but perhaps it is because I don't read poetry :oops: , I do love the songs tho, and listen all I can.

The thread may be revived? ;-)


Return to “Leonard Cohen's poetry and novels”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests