Traveling Light, with Leonard

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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mat james
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Traveling Light, with Leonard

Postby mat james » Mon Apr 03, 2017 12:55 am

"...all busy in the sunlight..."

Transcendence: …why my interest in the mystic in Leonard ?

"…I think more than anything, it's having the privileged
vantage point that we all have in this audience, of having
listened to his work throughout the years, and the tireless
success with which he injects transcendent value into his work
and how those of us on the sidelines--who pretend to do the same
thing, the same line of work, marvel..."

(Adam Cohen)

This is going to be a different sort of thread for me.
I intend to post and re-post on this same first posting over the next whenever. Perhaps days and weeks or months. We'll see.
In order to till the soil of my mind effectively, I will let it unfold like a blog, but it's not all about me; the following ideas are inspired by the works of Leonard Cohen and therefore I feel that they belong here on this "Leonard Cohen's poetry and novels" section of this great forum.
If Jarkko and the moderators wish me to "sit" somewhere else, then of course that is O.K. too. We will find a place for me to "sit and stare", somewhere.
If you are not interested in this naval gazing exercise, please don't read it. Move on, It is not for you.

Mat James, April 3, 2017.

Page 1.

"Traveling Light" Outline:

…this following Vista... is simply another Poet's suspect understandings of and on Leonard Cohen's view of the Mystic. Other people on this forum write very effectively on the human to human interpretations of his work; the love he has for women and culture. I am interested in exploring his take on his interaction with the Divine...the 'transcendent' as Leonard's son, Adam, calls it in the quote above.
My interpretation will be somewhat influenced by the works of San Juan de la Cruz, for Cruz was, in my judgement, the man who most helped Leonard understand himself and gave him inspiration and direction.

Juan was a genius and Leonard quietly "stood on his shoulders" in much of his work. This is not an insult, it is a compliment. Leonard uses metaphors directly drawn from the poetry and commentaries of Juan de la Cruz. I will elaborate more on this later. Of course Cruz stood on the shoulders of those who came before him as well; this is what artists and all of us do..and it is interesting to note that Cruz, though a Catholic, had Jewish ancestry, a 'Converso', his grandmother as I remember it was a "Converso" ( a Jew, forced to convert to the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition), and this may well have made Leonard more comfortable accepting the advice of Juan (Cruz) on how to work oneself into the 'mystic', so to speak.
You may not feel comfortable with this assertion that Cohen owes a lot to Cruz and that is O.K. You probably haven't read the poetry and commentaries of Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591).
You may rightfully ask; "why Leonard didn't acknowledge this ?". It is a valid question and I haven't been able to answer that yet.
Well maybe he did acknowledge Juan, but I am not aware of it.

Juan's “big picture” then, for me, is Leonard's big picture. At its core it is more psychological than philosophical or religious; it is objective more than subjective. It is as much a map as a topography or what Cohen labels "the Biblical landscape"; and it is, of course, as much about the Divine as it is about the human.These two entities, human and divine, Leonard refers to as "the me and the you" in 'traveling light' on the Darker album.

A big vista is, of course, best viewed from the highest mountain, hill or sand dune or burning bush within your view and so my big vista is going to be viewed through the eyes of Leonard but he is wearing sunglasses made by the guy called Juan. These two mountain climbers of a sort, are lovers of their god and their tradition; they long for their god to a point of awakening within that god's own mind, via their souls, which are always feminine in this poetic tradition.
After agonizing about and longing for divine love, over years, eventually their efforts are answered and their god takes the reins of their souls and Cruz calls this "mystical theology"; and Cohen calls it a "Book of mercy"...and many other labels...

There is another side to this strange and mysterious understanding; that this divine Being, God, was out there somewhere on his own hill searching and "longing" for his lover too. That is the beauty of this love-longing psychology of Solomon and Cruz and Cohen; it's a love affair of the soul and god.

..."I do not care who takes this bloody hill". (either god or soul or me, Leonard)

So this 'vista'/attitude taught by Juan and exemplified by Leonard, undeniably reminds us that Love Itself, is a two way process, or it is not "real". And the mystics, in this Solomonesque tradition are deeply in love with their god.
This is a strange psychological position, as Leonard terms it (Various Positions Album), to hold. It is no longer a slave to a master relationship which is so Abrahamic, Job-esq-ly unsatisfying, but rather a loving relationship which is gentle, feminine and nurturing. It is all giving and all Love. It is all Cruz and all Cohen and both were inspired by Solomon and his "Songs". The landscape, the girl (soul) in love, the longing and the wanderings searching for her Lover (G~d) all so "Songs of Solomon"...

"I set out one night, but, I did not know".

We need to build a little mental hut with a big "window" and from this Casa Sierra, this home in the mountains, this weather-proof window, we can sit and stare...with Leonard.
Three things we take to this little hut; the poetry of Juan de la Cruz and the works of Leonard Cohen and the well thumbed copies of those old Abrahamic texts, particularly poems by David and Solomon.
This is not the only hill nor is this the only hut; there are mountain retreats all over the planet, all over history: but this is our hill; this for me at least, is the Mount of Leonard Cohen, in Love. ...and he took us to his window, and he sang...
...and we love him for doing that.

a gestalt unfolding
What unfolds will be other than the sum of its parts.

• the music and poety of Solomon
• the pains and laments of David
• the love of the Marys
• the freshness of Rumi
• the universal dark nights
• the poetry of Juan
• the psychological map of Juan
• the lifting of the veils
• the songs of Leonard Cohen
• us: the me and the You.

This saunter we are about to stumble along is not a journey for all. It is not for the lazy or uninspired, and it is not for those who are already safely boarded up in their tribal long-house. It is not for those who don’t believe and don’t want to believe. It is only for those energetic souls who have an inkling; who still want to stare out that window and keep on looking and wondering; "what is he staring at and what is he really saying?"...on this soulful level.

“There was a naughty boy
a naughty boy was he,
... So he stood in his shoes and he wondered
and he wondered
he stood in his shoes and he wondered”

John Keats.

…and I know a young poet
a naughty boy was he,
...he stood by his “Window” and he longed
and he longed
he stood by his window and he longed...


Page 2:
The fragmented self …diablo

Mirabai Starr, in her Introduction to her translation of Juan’s Dark Night of the Soul tells us that she has chosen the term “the fragmented self” for all things evil; the reason being, she implies, is that god is “Unity” until he is ‘fragmented’ in our human mind, and he is Unity again when we, (being “the me and the you” Cohen sings of) surrender again to that “position” (Various Positions) of Unity.
Cruz’s very close friend and fellow mystic poet Teresa of Avila, who coincidentally was a Catholic of the cloth who also has Jewish ancestry ( Converso, also) and therefore perhaps, easy for Leonard to culturally embrace, says this of that unifying moment: “God dissolved my mind, my separation”. In other words, she re-gained her own position of Unity with the merciful help of her god. And Cohen's Book of Mercy is his attempt to describe his process of searching and experiencing his god's mercy; his de-fragmentation or journey back to ONE-ness.
"Fragmentation" then, is the painful world of the opposites: and there is the good …and also the diabolical which literature has personalised into angels verses devils and Satan and Snake and evil spirits and such; all mental positions that keep us from our Unity position and perspective. So when we dissolve our mind, as Teresa says, we are dissolving the diabolical and the good as well. And therefore, recognising this need for a changed perspective, Leonard sings on The Darker album about how he and his G~d got back “on the level” ;

“Let’s keep it on the level
When I walked away from you
I turned my back on the devil
Turned my back on the angel too”

To hold the Position where one turns their back on both the good and the bad takes a while and a lot of courage because that attitude goes against all we have been taught ... and to do this is a scary thing; but as he sensed his G~d was present, the "We", (the “me and the you”) dissolved “my mind” and the separation dissolved along with it;

“Your crazy fragrance all around
Your secrets all in view
My lost, my lost was saying found
My don’t was saying do”

So as he walks away from his old self , he sings;
“Let’s keep it on the level, when I walked away from you (the old Leonard) I walked away from the devil, turned my back on the angel too…they should give my heart a medal…” :lol: ;-)

No more Diablo for Leonard. No more "fragmentation". And no more angels either; just him and his G~d and ...
"nothing left between the nameless and the Name"...
"...all busy in the sunlight..."

traveling light

"You smiled at me like I was young
It took my breath away"

Page 3.

So where are we now?...

...he, Leonard, is there by the window, the southern window where the light streams in, especially in his winters of discontent. There is a small table offset to one side of that window where he can sit and stare, stare at his books, stare through their thoughts…and stare out the window…
And so he does... and as he does.... he listens to David’s highs and sad laments, then sings awhile with Solomon, despairs on love and forsaken-ness with Job and Jesus and Lorca and Spinoza; laughs with Rumi and Khayyam as they form the clay and toss the veil; then he listens to Juan as he explains what game they are all playing, rolling the symbols and letting them fall…on a page..somewhere in time… and thoughtfully, Juan explains to Leonard the rules they play by, as Einstein chats and sings with Spinoza while saddling a beam of light to fire up his formulas; and listening intently, Leonard hears Albert whispering to Baruch Spinoza, knowingly, “…one must be born a Nightingale…" and this Nightingale is " traveling light!”

...saddle up the beam!

Inside that warm hut where we all now share and confide in this collective now:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing:
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields: on--on--and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears: and horror
Drifted away. . .O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done

(by Siegfried Sassoon)


Page 4

…light !

(Fragmentation/Unification: gestalt and the Various Positions of light.)

Leonard sang about “various positions” of the soul, while Albert was chanting about the various positions of energy. It was a hauntingly evocative jazz composition
…a song of time and space and “tangled up matter and ghost” ...which occupies that space, in that time…Carl visited and joined in with a break on collective memory.

Through the window of Leonard's hut; through the ecclection of their conversations and subsequent songs they stared at soul… and energy… and understood its collective gestalt; that they were and are “other” than the sum of their parts… they are Love Itself…Life Itself, Divinity Itself... A many sided Cosmos of a single coin.
And the Divine was looking back at all of them, singing into them a song of longing; of love and Life; and The Life, was The Light of humanity and the e of mc squared. And The Light shining in the darkness of their soul, was never beaten by the darkness.
This flame of "longing!" could not be killed...and yet, “you want it darker?” says Leonard to his god and maybe to us as well.
You wan't to kill the flame;The flame of love-longing?

The way to 'darker' is to kill hope; our hope for transcendence.

...And when hope even dies, perhaps god takes over, mercifully, if we hang in that darkness long enough to be annihilated and then absorbed into our own divinity. A dark trek indeed.
...and that was the common ground most of these mystic fell upon.

Leonard filled a glass for each...singing, "we've stared at the Sun, we are the ONE who changes from nothing to ONE;...and raising their glasses they all make the toast, "To a burning bush, a burning mind...and a burning whiskey before we... close the bar !"

In the heat of that kindred moment, everyone sang...

“We’re traveling Light !”

...I'm just a fool
A dreamer who
Forgot to dream
Of the me and the You
I am not alone
I've met a few
Traveling light like
We used to do

I’m traveling light!...


Page 5

“You want it darker, we kill the flame.”

(I have Doron Cohen to thank for understanding this perspective on David and his broken and his holy halleluiah. See the Book of Mercy threads, discussion, for more.)

David and Bathsheba

"Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah"

David, the warrior hero, had his trusted soldier Uriah murdered because David wanted Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. It is a little more complex than that, but “murder” is the method. David’s deepest personal insights come from his feelings of guilt; a tormented mind and Cohen’s song Halleluiah is all about this episode. This is his “broken” Halleluiah in the song. At this murderous moment David is all Diablo, fragmentation; his comprehension of self-guilt and his deep regrets are the darkest of his “dark night of the soul”. You want it darker, we kill the flame of hope. And David was in a hopeless situation. Yet David was re-built and so was his life so the theme of forgiveness is a big one;

“…there’s a lullaby for suffering
and a paradox to blame
…I didn’t know I had permission
to murder and to maim”
you want it darker
we kill the flame”

Yet, out of this unholy alliance of David and Bathsheba comes genuine poetic genius; the voice of Solomon, the wisest man in Judea and the author of the sweetest love songs; a “paradox”, an absurd contradiction and yet true. Solomon and his wisdom was the outcome of his father’s greatest wrong.
If David and an unforgiving god had both killed the flame of hope and forgiveness (charity) there would be no Songs of Solomon and little hope for any of us “fallen angels” fragmented by our own mixed up diablo.

There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

“I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim” , says Leonard Cohen of this paradoxical nightmare. there's " a dark night of the soul ".


Well, I think you and I need a break.
I hope this gives some readers food for thought.
If you think I am way off track; as I am sure many of you do; You're probably right. ;)

Thanks for hanging in here....
to be continued.

Last edited by mat james on Fri Apr 13, 2018 6:16 am, edited 8 times in total.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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mat james
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Re: Traveling Light, with Leonard

Postby mat james » Fri Jul 21, 2017 5:36 pm

I had a dream recently, a week ago and it was about "light".
It fits the topic of this thread, Traveling Light, perfectly.

...a dim search light moved around then settled on the dormant and dying plant outside my window.
I thought the trimmed stem was about to be healed by that light, but no...once the light moved on, the plant toppled and fell over like a limp erection...only to slowly rise again morphing into a smiling eel like creature with a seal-like seemed harmless so I stretched out my hand, palm down and fingers bent and offered it to the creature as one might to a friendly puppy...and it licked the back of my hand...

...the Jungian in me was delighted with this light-induced re-birth. It was as though all life was that fading plant and all life was that smilingly innocent, phallic puppy-eel-seal...forever transient; " Traveling Light ".'s all about light...

".......I'm traveling light " ! (Leonard Cohen)

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Traveling Light, with Leonard

Postby Diane » Thu Nov 30, 2017 5:21 pm

John Keats wrote:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
mat james wrote:
Mon Apr 03, 2017 12:55 am

The way to 'darker' is to kill hope; our hope for transcendence.
And when hope even dies, god takes over, mercifully, if we hang in that darkness long enough to be annihilated and then absorbed into our own divinity. A dark trek indeed.
...and that was the common ground of most of these mystics.

As a thank you, Leonard filled a glass for each. "To a burning Sun, a burning bush, a burning mind...and a burning whiskey before we... close the bar !"

Good to read you, Mat. We look forward to further outpourings, as and when...
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mat james
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Re: Traveling Light, with Leonard

Postby mat james » Sun Dec 10, 2017 5:19 am

Thanks Diane.

Who is "We"?
I only hear "I". ;-)
I will get back to this thread eventually, though when I re-read it, it seems to me that much of what I wanted to say, has been said.

Merry Christmas to you too. I always appreciate knowing you are reading my Mind.

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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mat james
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Re: Traveling Light, with Leonard

Postby mat james » Sat Apr 14, 2018 1:58 pm

St. Teresa of Avila is about to spill her beans on this "Darker" space. ... index.html


If I didn't have your love...
to make it real.

And now, back to his window while Leonard listens to this Lady Midnight sing her sweet threnody.

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.

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