Leonard and e e cummings

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
User avatar
Michel_Griffin
Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:34 pm

Leonard and e e cummings

Postby Michel_Griffin » Sat Aug 10, 2019 12:54 pm

I am wondering if anybody has published any research on the relationship between Leonard Cohen's poetry and that of e e cummings. The line in "Suzanne" about minds touching bodies seems to me to be an echo - conscious or unconscious - of the opening line of an e e cummings poem, which starts "Lady, i will touch you with my mind." It's impossible that Leonard, poet as he was, would not have read ee cummings. Especially the erotic poems, of which this is number XVII.

Of course, Cohen made the phrase his own, by adding "perfect body". The cummings poem is quite short, so I'll quote it here:

Lady,
I will touch you with my mind.
Touch you and touch and touch
until you give me suddenly a smile,
shyly obscene
(lady I will touch you with my mind).
Touch you, that is all,
lightly and you utterly will
become with infinite care
the poem which I do not write.

Beautiful, isn't it? As, of course, is "Suzanne" ....
User avatar
B4real
Posts: 6543
Joined: Sun Jun 07, 2009 4:49 am
Location: Q'ld, Australia

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby B4real » Sun Aug 11, 2019 3:22 am

Hi Michel,

This may help you a little bit. The first link - https://www.npr.org/2016/10/21/49881042 ... -monastery
is an interview by NPR with Leonard in which he mentions E E Cummings.
That excerpt is below and appears to confirm Leonard has read Cummings poetry -
COHEN: Well, there are certain - there are certain poems that really do lie very gracefully on the page. For instance, to take an obvious example, if - a poem by E.E. Cummings has a certain graceful display on the page. And some poems just naturally are meant to be absorbed in silence, where the tempo is decided on by the reader. And he could reverse it and forward it and linger.
There are other kinds of lyrics that have their own metrical, imperial advice. And they invite you to move swiftly from line to line. And there are poems that are - of mine - that are always candidates for a song. Sometimes they don't make it and sometimes they do.
And the second link suggests another comparison between the two -
https://www.facebook.com/GordonIrvingWr ... 680316656/
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
User avatar
Michel_Griffin
Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:34 pm

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby Michel_Griffin » Mon Aug 12, 2019 3:55 pm

Many thanks. I am still surprised that I can discover no formal research of the links between Cohen and cummings. Maybe someone should put this forward as a fit subject for a D. Lit. thesis ...?
User avatar
LisaLCFan
Posts: 1701
Joined: Sun Apr 26, 2009 9:24 pm
Location: Canada

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby LisaLCFan » Mon Aug 12, 2019 5:22 pm

Michel_Griffin wrote:
Mon Aug 12, 2019 3:55 pm
...I am still surprised that I can discover no formal research of the links between Cohen and cummings. Maybe someone should put this forward as a fit subject for a D. Lit. thesis ...?
I suspect that the links are tenuous at best, and any formal research would uncover nothing more than a few words or phrases in common, with no way of knowing if they were deliberate, conscious borrowings by Leonard, or purely subconscious incorporations of something he'd once read and forgotten (or a mix of both). Maybe a brief journal article could be written on the topic, but I think it would be a stretch for a thesis, unless it included links to many other writers and sources which may have influenced Leonard, and which I believe to be rather abundant in his work. (There have been articles written on some of these apparent influences in Leonard's work, some of which I've come across over the years, but offhand I cannot direct you to any of them.)

I am in no way suggesting that Leonard's work is not unique and original, because he had a most distinctive voice and a style all his own, regardless of any minor similarities one can find to the works of others. Leonard has always acknowledged, in one way or another, how deeply he has been influenced by various things he has read and learned, and that some of those things are reflected in his work is not really a surprise. One would be hard pressed to read anything by any writer (who is also an avid reader) without finding some "links" and similarities in words and phrases to other works. This likely applies to all the arts: people are influenced consciously and unconsciously by everything they experience, and there will almost always be elements traceable to one or more of those experiences in an artist's work, including bits of pieces derived and absorbed from the work of others.
User avatar
Michel_Griffin
Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:34 pm

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby Michel_Griffin » Mon Aug 12, 2019 6:17 pm

Thanks for this Lisa. I agree that all writers are - consciously or unconsciously - influenced by everything they read. And we know that Leonard was extremely well-read! I was just struck by the consonance of Suzanne and the cummings poem and wondered if anyone had uncovered any other examples ...
User avatar
LisaLCFan
Posts: 1701
Joined: Sun Apr 26, 2009 9:24 pm
Location: Canada

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby LisaLCFan » Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:50 pm

Michel_Griffin wrote:
Mon Aug 12, 2019 6:17 pm
Thanks for this Lisa. I agree that all writers are - consciously or unconsciously - influenced by everything they read. And we know that Leonard was extremely well-read! I was just struck by the consonance of Suzanne and the cummings poem and wondered if anyone had uncovered any other examples ...
Oh, for sure! I actually always enjoy finding such examples, in literature, music, etc, when a word or phrase or other such element reminds me -- or is a clear reflection -- of something I've read/heard/seen before. Many times, I've quickly looked up a poem, paragraph, or a piece of music to verify that I wasn't just imagining it!

Cheers!
User avatar
lschwart
Posts: 13
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2016 4:48 am
Location: Richmond, VA

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby lschwart » Wed Aug 28, 2019 7:40 pm

I'm sure that Cohen knew cummings' work, although I don't know how well. But the poem beginning "Lady, i will touch you with my mind" can't be the source for the image in "Suzanne" because, while it was written in the late 1920s, cummings never published it during his lifetime (he died in 1962). It did not appear in print until it was included in ETCETERA: The unpublished poems of E E CUMMINGS, ed. George James Firmage and Richard S. Kennedy (New York: Liveright, 1983). The poem was part of a manuscript that cummings had given to the editor of the magazine, The Dial, along with manuscript parts of his first book, Tulips and Chimneys, but this poem was never selected for publication in either the magazine or the book.

Chances are that both Cohen and cummings arrived at their different versions of the idea from similar notions that run through the history of love poetry in the West. I'm not aware of earlier lines that put things quite the way Cohen does in "Suzanne" (and that he might have echoed either consciously or unconsciously), but I'll poke around a bit to see what I can come up with.

Louis
Louis Schwartz

"The sea so deep and blind/ The sun, the wild regret/ The club, the wheel, the mind,/ O love, aren't you tired yet?" Leonard Cohen, "The Faith."

https://english.richmond.edu/faculty/lschwart/

https://www.facebook.com/mysonthedoctorRVA/

https://www.youtube.com/user/mysonthedr
User avatar
Michel_Griffin
Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:34 pm

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby Michel_Griffin » Thu Aug 29, 2019 5:05 pm

Why thank you! Fascinating that it could not have been a direct reference then. And interesting that two such great poets should come up with such similar phrases ... Many thanks for elucidating this for me. The only uses I could find with a quick Search for "Touch me with your mind" are all lyrics of songs written well after Cohen's Suzanne.
199Dan
Posts: 197
Joined: Sun Aug 24, 2008 3:52 pm

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby 199Dan » Thu Aug 29, 2019 5:54 pm

Just an FYI, e e cummings is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

It's worth the time to visit not just to see his resting spot but all the other great people resting here.

I just wonder what he would say about his headstone ! :?:

I hope to post a picture here very soon.
User avatar
lschwart
Posts: 13
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2016 4:48 am
Location: Richmond, VA

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby lschwart » Thu Aug 29, 2019 6:09 pm

Michel_Griffin wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 5:05 pm
Why thank you! Fascinating that it could not have been a direct reference then. And interesting that two such great poets should come up with such similar phrases ... Many thanks for elucidating this for me. The only uses I could find with a quick Search for "Touch me with your mind" are all lyrics of songs written well after Cohen's Suzanne.
You're very welcome! Inspired by your notice of the similarity between the Cohen and cummings lines, I've been looking into the history of this way of using images of mind and body and touch in songs and poems, and so far I can find nothing quite like the images in either of the two. The idea of a thought or feeling or memory touching a mind is very common going back to the middle ages in English language poetry, and "touching" in the sense of "touching on" a subject--that is, treating it briefly or considering it--comes up a lot, including in the sestet of this sonnet attributed to the sixteenth-century poet, John Davies, which puns on "touch" in a way that gets somewhere near what Cohen is up to in the way it considers the role of the woman's body in expressing the mind of God:

VVhen I assaie to blaze my louely Love
And to expresse Hir al in Colors quaint
I rob Earth, Sea, Aire, Fire , and all aboue
Of their best Parts, but her worst parts to paint:
Staidnesse from Earth, from Sea the cleerest part,
From Aire her subtilty, from Fire her light
From Sonne, Moone, Stars the glory they impart
So, rob and wrong I All to do her right.
But if the beauty of her Mind I touch
(Sith That before toucht, touch but parts externe)
I ransack Heaun a thousand times as much
Sith in that mind we may that Mind discerne
Thats all in All that are or faire, or good;
And so shees most diuine in Flesh, and bloud.

[from Wittes Pilgrimage, (ca. 1605)]

By the end of the poem, in the contemplation and description of her mind, what Davies calls, at first, her "worst parts" (l. 4) become themselves divine, her flesh and blood a kind of "perfect body" when perceived in the context of the beauty of her mind.

But Cohen hooks-up these elements in a very different way (and in a much more complex way than cummings, too). I'll let you know if I find more earlier analogs or possible sources.

Louis
Louis Schwartz

"The sea so deep and blind/ The sun, the wild regret/ The club, the wheel, the mind,/ O love, aren't you tired yet?" Leonard Cohen, "The Faith."

https://english.richmond.edu/faculty/lschwart/

https://www.facebook.com/mysonthedoctorRVA/

https://www.youtube.com/user/mysonthedr
User avatar
Michel_Griffin
Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:34 pm

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby Michel_Griffin » Sun Sep 01, 2019 10:36 am

Fascinating stuff! Thanks for posting this.

For me, what is strikingly similar between the cummings poem and Cohen's Suzanne is that both authors are striving to elicit a physical reaction - in cummings' case, an explicity sexual reaction - to the activity of their minds. We know that Leonard would have liked a physical relationship with Suzanne, but has to content himself with an intellectual, or spiritual one. And cummings is explicit in his use of mind as a tool of seduction.
User avatar
lschwart
Posts: 13
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2016 4:48 am
Location: Richmond, VA

Re: Leonard and e e cummings

Postby lschwart » Thu Sep 05, 2019 10:28 pm

Yes. That's exactly what makes the image so interesting--and unconventional. As far as what the "you" in the song wants, I think maybe it's better to say that the "you" (whether that's a version of Cohen himself as he was then or not) thinks at first that they know what they want, and what they can or cannot give, only to discover a desire for, and perhaps a capacity for, something else instead.

Louis
Louis Schwartz

"The sea so deep and blind/ The sun, the wild regret/ The club, the wheel, the mind,/ O love, aren't you tired yet?" Leonard Cohen, "The Faith."

https://english.richmond.edu/faculty/lschwart/

https://www.facebook.com/mysonthedoctorRVA/

https://www.youtube.com/user/mysonthedr

Return to “Leonard Cohen's music”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest