You Are Right, Sahara

Everything about Leonard's 2006 book of poetry and Anjani's album
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Diane
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You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Mon Nov 20, 2006 3:14 am

I love to read this piece, ever since I first saw it on the Blackening Pages. I love the way it flows, and I love the way it ends with that koan-like "Is it you who are waiting, Sahara, or is it I?". Anybody have any comments on it?
You are right, Sahara. There are no mists, or veils, or distances. But the mist is surrounded by a mist; and the veil is hidden behind a veil; and the distance continually draws away from the distance. That is why there are no mists, or veils, or distances. That is why it is called The Great Distance of Mist and Veils. It is here that The Traveler becomes The Wanderer, and The Wanderer becomes The One Who Is Lost, and The One Who Is Lost becomes The Seeker, and The Seeker becomes The Passionate Lover, and The Passionate Lover becomes The Beggar, and The Beggar becomes The Wretch, and The Wretch becomes The One Who Must Be Sacrificed, and The One Who Must Be Sacrificed becomes The Resurrected One and The Resurrected One becomes The One Who has Transcended The Great Distance of Mist and Veils. Then for a thousand years, or the rest of the afternoon, such a One spins in the Blazing Fire of Changes, embodying all the transformations, one after the other, and then beginning again, and then ending again, 86,000 times a second. Then such a one, if he is a man, is ready to love the woman Sahara; and such a one, if she is a woman, is ready to love the man who can put into song The Great Distance of Mist and Veils. Is it you who is waiting, Sahara, or is it me?
Last edited by Diane on Mon Jan 17, 2011 2:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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lizzytysh
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Postby lizzytysh » Mon Nov 20, 2006 5:21 pm

Even though "There are no mists, or veils, or distances," I imagine a blend of Sahara dancing with veils and the ecstatic dancing of Sufis, as I read it... and I love how with each slow sweep of the veil, the transformations take place, as one is born into the next. "But the mist is surrounded by a mist; and the veil is hidden behind a veil; and the distance continually draws away from the distance." I love how this for me imparts the image of unattainability. Yet, in the end, The Traveler has evolved into "The One Who has Transcended The Great Distance of Mist and Veils." It flows as the veils conceal and then reveal all of the evolutions.

I really enjoy reading it, too, Diane... and agree on the koan-like ending. Thanks for bringing it here 8) .


~ Lizzy
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Postby Tchocolatl » Tue Nov 21, 2006 2:57 am

Seems to me that the quest for truth can be very dry at the end.

How beautiful piece this is, thanks to have bring it under the spot Diane!
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Postby DBCohen » Wed Nov 22, 2006 3:12 pm

The image of the veil has many sources in mythology, literature and art, but I think Leonard Cohen may have been influenced here by a specific source, which is a passage in Sefer HaZohar or The Book of Splendor, the major theosophical composition of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. (In passing, let me warn you against the New Age version of Kabbalah, championed by the like of Madonna, and which has very little to do with historical Kabbalah). This book was compiled in Spain, in late 13th century, although it is attributed to a sage of the former millennium. In this specific passage the Torah (a term referring to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible specifically, and to Jewish law and teaching generally), is likened to a beautiful maiden secluded in an isolated palace, and revealing herself only to her true lover. The passage is very long, so I will quote only a few parts of it (from the selected English translation edited by Gershom Scholem):

“So it is with the Torah, which discloses her innermost secrets only to them who love her. She knows that whosoever is wise in heart hovers near the gates of her dwelling place day after day. What does she do? From her palace, she shows her face to him, and gives him a signal of love, and forthwith retreats back to her hiding place. Only he alone catches her message, and he is drawn to her with his whole heart and soul, and with all of his being. In this manner the Torah, for a moment, discloses herself in love to her lovers, so as to rouse them to renewed love. […] And when he arrives, she commences to speak with him, at first from behind the veil which she has hung before the words […]. Then she speaks to him behind a filmy veil of finer mesh, she speaks to him in riddles and allegories […]. When, finally, he is on near terms with her, she stands disclosed face to face with him, and holds converse with him concerning all of her secret mysteries, and all the secret ways which have been hidden in her heart from immemorial time.”

LC is undoubtedly familiar with this passage. Let me also point out section 3 in The Book of Mercy, which is arguably LC’s most Jewish book (those unfamiliar with Jewish sources may not be aware how often does LC lift images or quote directly from various traditional sources in that book, including from the Hebrew Bible, the Prayer Book, the Mishnah, and Kabbalistic teachings). That section in The Book of Mercy seems also to allude to the same passage from The Book of Splendor.

And finally, why “Sahara”? Is it somehow derived from “Zohar”? Or from “Torah”? I’m not convinced myself. However, mixing images from different sources is common in LC’s writing, so “Sahara” may come from a different place altogether. If somebody has a better idea, I’d be glad to hear it.

Sincerely,
D. Cohen
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Postby lizzytysh » Wed Nov 22, 2006 5:56 pm

“So it is with the Torah, which discloses her innermost secrets only to them who love her. She knows that whosoever is wise in heart hovers near the gates of her dwelling place day after day. What does she do? From her palace, she shows her face to him, and gives him a signal of love, and forthwith retreats back to her hiding place. Only he alone catches her message, and he is drawn to her with his whole heart and soul, and with all of his being. In this manner the Torah, for a moment, discloses herself in love to her lovers, so as to rouse them to renewed love. […] And when he arrives, she commences to speak with him, at first from behind the veil which she has hung before the words […]. Then she speaks to him behind a filmy veil of finer mesh, she speaks to him in riddles and allegories […]. When, finally, he is on near terms with her, she stands disclosed face to face with him, and holds converse with him concerning all of her secret mysteries, and all the secret ways which have been hidden in her heart from immemorial time.”
This section resonates with Leonard's path in songwriting and life, and seems very much what would inspire him to pay homage in a poem... or song.

Interesting conjecture on what may be the origin of Sahara's name. Thank you for the rich reading, D.Cohen :D . You're a wonderful addition here and with your Jewish heritage bring even more to the table 8) .

~ Lizzy
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Postby Simon » Wed Nov 22, 2006 7:02 pm

DBCohen wrote:(those unfamiliar with Jewish sources may not be aware how often does LC lift images or quote directly from various traditional sources in that book, including from the Hebrew Bible, the Prayer Book, the Mishnah, and Kabbalistic teachings
DBCohen, at the begining of the year we had a thread about possible interpretations of LC's Hallelujah, for which we felt we were missing the input of someone familiar with the Kabbalah. I would be very curious to have your insight on the topic. You can access the thread by clicking the topic below. If you can spare the time, feal free to revive this thread.

THE FAILED MESSIAH – A BROKEN HALLELUJAH >>>

Extracts from that thread:
Simon wrote:I know very little about the Kabbalah and I'd be very curious to learn what interpretation jewish mysticism gives of the story of David and Bathsheba. Intuitively one feels that there has to be something of that nature buried deeply in the song. The first degree of interpretation seems to work too for a lot of people around the world. The fact that it is so widely covered may be due precilely to its multi-layered quality. How else could we understand the universal appeal the song seems to have.
Cosmoline wrote:If only we had a Hebrew scholar handy!
Cohen is the koan
Why else would I still be stuck here
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lizzytysh
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Postby lizzytysh » Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:23 pm

Excellent idea, Simon and D.Cohen 8) .


~ Lizzy
DBCohen
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Postby DBCohen » Thu Nov 23, 2006 3:57 am

Thanks, Simon. I'll look it up and see if there is anything I can add to that thread. Might takae a few days, though.

DB Cohen
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Postby Tchocolatl » Thu Nov 23, 2006 4:15 am

DBCohen, where were you all my LC's fan life?
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Postby DBCohen » Thu Nov 23, 2006 4:46 am

Where was I?
Hiding in my room,
all alone in the House of Mystery,
or so I believed,
with my back turned and eyes wide shut.
But now I’m gathered safely in, it seems,
or am I?
For all the way down to the line, we’re by ourselves.

(Sorry for the presumption),
D. B. Cohen
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~greg
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Postby ~greg » Fri Nov 24, 2006 4:25 am

"Sahara" is arabic for "desert", "barren",
(so that "Sahara desert" means "Desert desert".)

And it may be false-etymology, but I have always thought
that Sarai/Sarah (Abraham's wife) must be related to that,
in that "Sarai" was famously barren until she was 90,
and bore Isaac, and became "Sarah".

And they both laughed at God's promise to them about that.
So it seemed to me when I read "You are right, Sahara"
--in the context of the "Book of Longing" -- that it was probably
more musing on being old (--Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born,)
and possibly a very personal thing to Anjani:
"Is it you who are waiting, Sahara, or is it I?"
~~~~

Dylan has a song to his wife, "Sara", on his "Desire" album.

And there's also a song, "Oh Sister", on "Desire",
that goes:
"Oh, sister, when I come to lie in your arms
You should not treat me like a stranger...."

But that, I am very sure, is just a reference to the strange story
of Abraham essentially pimping his wife (Sarah) off in Egypt as his half-sister
in order to save his own neck.
(Which I don't think was meant to be taken litterally, either:
My guess is it was just a mangled reference to the Egyptian
custom of Pharohs marrying their sisters.)

~~~

("86,000 times a second"?
--maybe a mangled reference to the speed of light,
--since it's pretty close to 186,000 miles/second)
DBCohen
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Postby DBCohen » Fri Nov 24, 2006 9:46 am

Thanks for your input, Greg. “Sarah” is indeed an interesting option.

One correction, though. Sarai becomes Sarah when Abram becomes Abraham on making the covenant with YHWH in Genesis 17, while Isaac isn’t born until chapter 21.

D. B. Cohen
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abby
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby abby » Mon Dec 27, 2010 11:36 pm

Last night when I was in bed I was reading Book of Longing and got to wondering about Sahara. Before blurting out my question, as I've done in the past, I searched the name in the forum and came upon this thread that gives me more to think about than an answer. Thank you, DBCohen. And thank you ~greg, if your spirit haunts this also bodiless room.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby lizzytysh » Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:45 am

Oh, you've caused me to miss ~greg, Abby.
I'm glad to see him summoned like this.
Thanks.


~ Lizzy
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Mon Jan 03, 2011 12:24 pm

Hi Abby,

I'm glad to see this old thread revived. Please share with us any new thoughts.

And as Lizzy says, Greg is greatly missed.

Doron

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