Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by adrienlee »

I recently read Cohen's poem, and I was wondering if anyone had any idea about who the speaker of the poem is? Also, how would you analyze the poem? I feel as though the speaker is antagonistic toward procreative sexuality yet still feels the allure of sexuality as a means of escapism.


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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by lonndubh »

You Have the Lovers

You have the lovers,
they are nameless, their histories only for each other,
and you have the room, the bed, and the windows.
Pretend it is a ritual.
Unfurl the bed, bury the lovers, blacken the windows,
let them live in that house for a generation or two.
No one dares disturb them.
Visitors in the corridor tip-toe past the long closed door,
they listen for sounds, for a moan, for a song:
nothing is heard, not even breathing.
You know they are not dead,
you can feel the presence of their intense love.
Your children grow up, they leave you,
they have become soldiers and riders.
Your mate dies after a life of service.
Who knows you? Who remembers you?
But in your house a ritual is in progress:
It is not finished: it needs more people.
One day the door is opened to the lover's chamber.
The room has become a dense garden,
full of colours, smells, sounds you have never known.
The bed is smooth as a wafer of sunlight,
in the midst of the garden it stands alone.
In the bed the lovers, slowly and deliberately and silently,
perform the act of love.
Their eyes are closed,
as tightly as if heavy coins of flesh lay on them.
Their lips are bruised with new and old bruises.
Her hair and his beard are hopelessly tangled.
When he puts his mouth against her shoulder
she is uncertain whether her shoulder
has given or received the kiss.
All her flesh is like a mouth.
He carries his fingers along her waist
and feels his own waist caressed.
She holds him closer and his own arms tighten around her.
She kisses the hand besider her mouth.
It is his hand or her hand, it hardly matters,
there are so many more kisses.
You stand beside the bed, weeping with happiness,
you carefully peel away the sheets
from the slow-moving bodies.
Your eyes filled with tears, you barely make out the lovers,
As you undress you sing out, and your voice is magnificent
because now you believe it is the first human voice
heard in that room.
The garments you let fall grow into vines.
You climb into bed and recover the flesh.
You close your eyes and allow them to be sewn shut.
You create an embrace and fall into it.
There is only one moment of pain or doubt
as you wonder how many multitudes are lying beside your body,
but a mouth kisses and a hand soothes the moment away"
I feel that this poem was written by a very young Leonard maybe 17 or 18 who had insatable sexual needs and imagined lovers but not love
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by lizzytysh »

I love this poem for its exquisite sensuality, and the amazing imagination of our Leonard when he was young.

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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by Manna »

One thing I have seen Leonard do is mentally take himself out of a situation and look at it from the third-person point of view. He does this so naturally and easily that he believes everyone does it. From this point of view, he talks to himself. As I see it, this poem is an example.
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by darleneg »

Manna wrote:One thing I have seen Leonard do is mentally take himself out of a situation and look at it from the third-person point of view. He does this so naturally and easily that he believes everyone does it. From this point of view, he talks to himself. As I see it, this poem is an example.
I totally agree. It is like he has created an out of body experience of himself. You could also say that he has created a place in his mind where he is "remembering" these things happen. Almost like when you day dream and flash back, and see the details, like he describes in the poem. He can describe everything that is there, but the view point is from a surreal place or from the mind.
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by sturgess66 »

"TheFreemason75" has uploaded a video to YouTube
Leonard Cohen reciting "You Have The Lovers" -
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by MaryB »

This poem in print is so sensually powerful. Then, listening to LC recite this, I melted.

Linda, thank you for the link and ressurecting this thread.
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by owilks »

What collection is this in again?
It's a very idyllic and beautiful poem until the presence of the third person is brought into existence, which reminds me of the disturbing menage-a-trois relationship between the narrator, F. and Edith in Beautiful Losers. At that point it becomes very uncomfortable, and when the third person ('you'... we as readers?) is related as looking at the lovers and taking off their clothes which become like vines, all the romantic imagery is shattered and a sinister, beguiling scene is created. The lovers become indistinguishable as individuals and identity is lost. I think it's commenting on the activity of the reader when reading poetry; they have vicarious experience through the poem, whether invasive or not, just as the 'you' seems to embroil himself in the lover's intimacy, uninvited yet invited.
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by Daedalus »

This poem is both a love poem, and a cleverly disquised poem about the Holocaust. When you read it carefully, the imagery of a mass grave appears. What do you guys think?
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by lizzytysh »

The is one of my favourite poems of Leonard's. It was written when he was 17... what amazing imagination and WORDS expressed for a 17-year-old man... it's difficult to say boy in this context. The Holocaust has never crossed my mind with regard to this poem, yet with Leonard, that is certainly possible. I'd be interested in reading your deciphering of it from that perspective.

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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by prereader »

This is my first post.
I think you have to take LC's age into consideration. He was 17 and probably not thinking too explicitly. Romance is most likely on his mind as young men do. Not cynical or too provocative.

The first four lines set the scene. Then, "Pretend it is a ritual". LC is asking the reader to revere the next words and think more deeply.

The metaphor of the house and room can be anything you like. Its just space, emotion and presence. The lovers are being left to get on with things, uninterupted. Time, lots of time, is allowed to pass and the reader is asked to consider their own lack of importance. "....they leave you", "....dies after a life of service [to who? you?]", "Who knows you, who remembers you?". LC is saying, in the grander scheme of things you are not much.

"But in your house a ritual is in progress". Regardless of how unimportant you are you are harbouring something - in this case lovers. After such a long time you are invited back to into the room to view how beautiful the ritual you have been observing has become. The garden, the smells, the deliberate performance of love. "His" hair and beard describes the passing of time. There is no description of the woman - there is no point.

We are invited then to consider how entwined they have become. Bruises make us suspect intensity, but we are not asked to consider violence. They are so together they barely know where the kisses arrive or have come from.

And while all of this is going on the reader (or LC in third person) is looking on. Happiness is overcoming you. You are stripped down and singing out. Yours is the first human voice suggesting LC hasn't been talking about actual human beings but space, emotion and presence.

Then there is the end. Happiness has overcome you because of the investments you have made cultivating the love in your metaphoric room. Your eyes are sown shut indicating they will never open again. You fall into a final embrace with a final moment of pain or doubt, then softly it subsides - you are gone.

I love this poem. It took me a while to read and consider. I'm new to LC and this type of sensitivity and expression. There is no scansion as such, or tempo or rhyme. Just words gently oozing out to describe how LC felt at the time. It is very sensitive work for someone so young.
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by Magy »

I understand this poem as a celebration of love that allows us to reconnect to our souls and the divine. The lovers have been in your house for many generations, so they have a permanence that exceeds a human life. Their "intense love" radiates throughout the house, but it is when you are left alone, after your children and your partner have left you, that you open the door to the room.
The reconnection to the soul is done in solitude and recollection.
The lovers are in a deep embrace, you lie down at their side and discover the multitude at their side.
Deep love allows us to recognize the divine in the world and to integrate ourselves into the chain of life, death and rebirth.
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Re: Cohen's "You Have the Lovers"

Post by Allin »

Your interpretation of the poem resonates with me and especially the stepping into the bed after the earthly connections and responsibilities have ended. It’s like shedding the ego and stepping into the pure love of Being that Eckart Tolle writes about. The possibility has been there all along- as the lovers have been. So beautiful.
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