The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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anneporter
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby anneporter » Thu Feb 05, 2009 6:40 pm

Peter,
Interesting food for thought.
Thanks,
Anne
patw2
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby patw2 » Sun Dec 13, 2009 5:50 am

I've always heard this ultra-literally -- in my mind's eye I see the NBC peacock logo, and the letters "KIA" -- every night, or every week, or however often, when I was young, and this song was new, the TV news stations kept a running update on the numbers of Americans killed in action in Vietnam. I still shudder when I see "KIA" on license plates.
Lilifyre
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Lilifyre » Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:39 am

This song, "The Story of Isaac" has special meaning for me, both as a Jew and personally. This is one of the portions of the Torah that is always hard to contemplate as it rolls around each year. Most Jews agree that the story is meant to teach that we are not to sacrifice our children. That this was a trial of sorts for Abraham to see how blindly he would follow the will of the divine. I've listened to many Rabbis try to make sense of the story with mixed reactions for years. It remains a troubling Biblical story.

However, this song and the story behind it, took on a new meaning to me within the last year or so. I was sexually abused by my older brother many years ago, after the death of our mother. I've only recently come to terms with this event since his death 3 yrs ago. It was something that I kept locked away in the darkest part of my psyche. I told no one until after my brother's death. I won't go into details, but just that with the help of a good therapist and a very loving, understanding partner, I'm finally coming to terms with what happened.

This story as written in this song, speaks very clearly to me. My brother was very narcissistic. He was the "peacock" who spread his "deadly" fan....his vanity, his seduction, his self-importance. Those who commit such perverted acts as the seduction of a family member or a child are the "peacock". They are blinded by their own vanity and believe laws and decency do not apply to them.

The verse:
A scheme is not a vision
and you never have been tempted
by a demon or a god.
brings me back to the Biblical story and causes me to ask, what if Abraham had refused when told to sacrifice his son? In the tradition of Midrash, I have to ask, did Abraham pass or fail this test? Yes, he was stopped from actually killing Isaac, but what if he had said, "NO! I will not kill my child. No god who demands such a sacrifice is not the god I will follow!" Would history have been different? Would there be less killing in the world today? Abraham was an imperfect man. We learn from his imperfections. What would we have learned if he had been a bit more questioning? I suppose we'll never know that. Perhaps Abraham was the first "peacock", the first to be so vain that he presumed he had been ordered by his god to kill his own child instead of doing what was right. Historically, we know that many cultures practiced human sacrifice. Isn't it rather arrogant of the spiritual leaders of such cultures to tell others they must give their lives to appease their gods? Are these the mindless, egotistical, arrogant "peacocks" who spread their deadly fans?

So many questions and so many possible answers. We are left with the story we were given. An imperfect, arrogant person who thought he was granted a divine vision, failed to question the rightness of his "orders".
You who build these altars now
to sacrifice these children,
you must not do it anymore.
Lili
Lili
"Well, that's my story
I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
GinaDCG
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Location: West Virginia, USA

Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby GinaDCG » Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:11 pm

Lilli,

Wonderful post! As a Christian I have heard many sermons on this topic -- all the way from childhood when, in a moment in the Methodist service called "the children's sermon," I'm sitting at the feat of the pastor in front of the congregation and he asks us kids: "Do you think G-d wanted Abraham to really kill his son?" All us kids froze. This sure sounded like a loaded question to us. Since in our small town, as "the doctor's kid" I was appointed to be the question-answerer I finally coughed out "I don't know." And to my astonishment the pastor said "I don't know either." Wow! That swept over me with a force that causes me to still remember that church meeting so many years ago.

But for me "I don't know" is the answer. The story is there in the Bible and it is one of the most problematic stories of them all. Obedience to G-d is good. But killing one' own child? That goes against the internal conscious G-d programmed into us.

What if the story is there because it is problematic? War -- which is the most obvious sacrifice of one's children -- is not meant to be an easy answer. But, to paraphrase Obama's Nobel speech (and no-- I do not think we should escalate in Afghanistan) sometimes there are just wars. Hitler would not have just dried up and gone away had he not been resisted. Hitler's rise could have been prevented had surrounding states been a bit more compassionate after WW1. Then again, WW1 could have been prevented had European states been a bit more functional in their foreign policies. Etc, etc, etc, -- going back in time to . . . when? (Except here again, Cohen has it right: "Love's the only engine of survival.")

Imponderable questions. But I think the story of Isaac has again, encapsulated the problem (and then Cohen has summarized it so very, very well.) Where do we draw the line between our narcissistic belief that we can really know the will of G-d; and our directive to obey the will of G-d? Somehow, in the midst of his imperfections, Abraham figured out the correct response.

The story is there, IMHO, to tell us there are no easy answers to hard questions. Abraham figured it out, but the only pattern Abraham left for us to follow is the example of realizing how hard the conundrum can be.
holydove
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby holydove » Tue Dec 15, 2009 5:50 pm

The peacock is anything - be it an idea, a person, something material, etc. - that seduces us into aggression toward others - an idea, person, etc. for which we are willing to kill our children. And we are all susceptible:

"have mercy on our uniform, man of peace, man of war. . ."

One might consider oneself a pacifist, but there are many who are willing to kill ( meaning physical killing or psychological aggression) for the sake of the idea of pacifisim.

In terms of the comparison, my take is that Cohen is implying that modern day killers are much more culpable, because Abraham felt he was following a divine directive (whether he should have obeyed or refused is yet another layer of questioning); but the possibility of divine will does not even enter the minds of modern day killers - the "scheme" is of their own making - they are seduced by the feathers of their own ideas; whereas Abraham was seduced by what he at least felt to be a divine vision. (Whether the vision was truly from God, or yet another "idea" created by Abraham's own mind, is again another layer of questioning; since it is a Bible story, I think the implication is that the vision was actually from a divine source).
Lilifyre
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Lilifyre » Thu Dec 17, 2009 3:42 pm

Holydove wrote:
The peacock is anything - be it an idea, a person, something material, etc. - that seduces us into aggression toward others - an idea, person, etc. for which we are willing to kill our children.
How very well put. Yes, the peacock represents that seductive force that causes our aggressive actions towards another human being. There's that old saying, "Pride goeth before a fall." In other words, when we act from "Pride"....the peacock in all of us, we only end up hurting everyone. I think eventually we hurt ourselves the most.

Perhaps that is what is behind the words:
You who stand above them now,
your hatchets blunt and bloody,
you were not there before,
when I lay upon a mountain
and my father's hand was trembling
with the beauty of the word.
Perhaps this is saying that Abraham may or may not have been acting from true humility. The point is, you cannot justify your own actions by claiming you are only being obedient...you were never there before...you weren't on that mountain with Abraham and Isaac. You have to be held accountable for your own actions. Whether Abraham acted from a place of humility or pride is betweeen him and G_d. Each individual must judge him/herself and his/her own motives. You must accept responsibility and determine if you are acting from humility or pride. Likewise, it is no one else's place to judge the individual who acts. I think I finally understand the concept of "forgiveness", for even the victim of the "peacock" has no right to judge any but his/her own actions. It is up to each of us to stop the prideful hatred that only perpetuates the killing...vengeance.

Lili
Lili
"Well, that's my story
I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
GinaDCG
Posts: 440
Joined: Wed Jul 29, 2009 2:26 am
Location: West Virginia, USA

Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby GinaDCG » Thu Dec 17, 2009 4:07 pm

Lili, HolyDove, etc -- thanks for the insights. That encapsulates what I love about this Forum! It is not a 'time waster' as I nearly always come away from a session with more insight into the world and into myself. Thanks again for sharing your wisdoms.

Gina
Gentle Reader
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Re: The Peacock Spreads Its Fan

Postby Gentle Reader » Thu Nov 02, 2017 9:09 pm

Hello, I was just now listening to The Story of Isaac on the Cohencentric website where the entire 1985 concert at Montreal was posted today. (Wonderful concert, Leonard's voice very strong and true).
I have long been puzzled by the line, and appreciate the discussion that occurred here over 8 years ago. A latecomer Leonard devotee (only about 5 or 6 years), here I am finally, long after the end of this discussion, thankful that your forum, our forum, is helping to keep Leonard alive forever.
Linda

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