Friday, November 25, 2016

The Living Dead

A Kite is a Victim
By Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

A kite is a victim you are sure of.
You love it because it pulls
gentle enough to call you master,
strong enough to call you fool;
because it lives
like a desperate trained falcon
in the high sweet air,
and you can always haul it down
to tame it in your drawer.

A kite is a fish you have already caught
in a pool where no fish come,
so you play him carefully and long,
and hope he won’t give up,
or the wind die down.


A kite is the last poem you’ve written,
so you give it to the wind,
but you don’t let it go
until someone finds you
something else to do.


A kite is a contract of glory
that must be made with the sun,
so make friends with the field
the river and the wind,
then you pray the whole cold night before,
under the travelling cordless moon,
to make you worthy and lyric and pure.



– from The Spice-Box of Earth, 1961 




Not all songs are breath-taking poems. I think we'd all agree that Leonard Cohen's are. In fact he was a published poet (and novelist) before he launched his musical career, and that was how I first encountered him.

This poem is the first in his second book, The Spice-Box of Earth, first published in 1961. I still have the copy I was given in the early seventies, a 1968 Bantam edition in its 6th printing. It was perfect-bound badly, and all the pages have been loose a long time, but I still cherish it and keep them in the right order. Around the same time I acquired his novels, The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers (quite different in flavour from each other, and equally wonderful) and Poems 1956-1968

They were all given to me by a lovely lover who also sang me lines from Suzanne, and later, when we ended, bits of Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. Cohen is forever associated, for me, with one of the most romantic episodes of my life.

For many people that might be enough reason to love a poem or a song. For poets, we have to love the word-crafting too. It was more a case of loving my lover a little more because he had such an ear for good writing, and gave me gifts I could treasure for their own sake – making them, of course, even better as love-tokens. The affair ended long ago, but my passion for the words of Leonard Cohen never did. And didn't he give us decades of extraordinary words!

Most of them were songs, and all the more beautiful for that. But I wanted to give you something that perhaps not so many of you would already know. I chose it not because it came first in the book, but because it is a little unusual. Many of the poems are love poems, often very beautiful and tender; others are spiritual, or socio-political. These are the great preoccupations of Cohen's work. This piece has a topic of its own, yet one that most of us can relate to (all kids try to fly kites, don't they, or at least watch?). It has the beauty and startlingly original imagery characteristic of his poems, and even a little touch of the bizarre – which is also a characteristic – but here softened.

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you about such a famous artist's life and career, particularly so soon after his death and all the eulogies. If you feel a need to enquire further, you could try the Wikipedia article, and there's also a wealth of material at his official website.

His books are still available at Amazon and don't look like losing their popularity any time soon. The same link takes you to books about him and his work.

In an interview shortly before his death, he joked gently that he had decided to live forever. I believe he very likely will.




Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)

13 comments:

  1. Thank you, Rosemary. I was introduced to Cohen late in life, so know him only by his music. I've never read his poetry, but this one poem, demands that I do so, now. I can easily see why one could and would fall in love under his influence. Fantastic,

    Elizabeth

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  2. Thanks for the selection of this amazing poem of Cohen Rosemary. A beautiful share with the personal touch.

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  3. How beautiful it is to see through another's eyes and Leonard Cohen's words both soothe and excite the reader with gentle observations that the reader nods their head to and say "Yes, I feel that way too".

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  4. Yes. Suzanne, of course, and Hey, that's no way ... love songs and making love songs. Sigh. I have his early poems, too, but not his novels. I'll look them up. I haven't read "Kite is a Victim" for ages. Thank you.

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    1. I recommend you read The Favourite Game first. I found it tender and sweet, and of course beautifully written. (It was also written first.) Beautiful Losers is wild, surreal, shocking, crazy – and beautifully written, of course. I think it's one that people might love or hate (and I, obviously, loved) so please don't risk putting yourself off before you read the other.

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  5. Oh, I love this, especially the part about that romantic time in your life.....wonderful to have a lover who sings bits of songs at just the right moment. Love this poem, too, especially giving one's poems to the wind. Which is what we do, here in cyber-space, never knowing where one might land. Thanks for this, Rosemary.

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  6. Lovely poem, thanks Rosemary. I'm enjoying your presence here again.

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  7. Oh,Rosemary, what a wonderful poem share! And now I see why you have such a strong attraction to Leonard Cohen, Rosemary..... Having someone sing "Suzanne" to you makes my own heart flutter a bit. I must say that I had my own Leonard Cohen music periods in my life, which your story reminds me of. Smiles. I had never heard this poem before, which makes it all the more delightful to me. I like its simplicity, and in a way I think it would work as a poetry prompt....each stanza beginning with "A kite is...." Leonard Cohen really did give us decades of extraordinary words! Thank you for this.

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  8. "Im Your Man" is one of my favourite Leonard Cohen poems/songs.It's relatively recent.I dismissed him in the past as being on the too dreary side because of his voice BUT I was wrong.His words are remarkable. A wonderful poet.

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    1. I never really got it when people said, in his middle era, that he was depressing to listen to – 'songs to cut your throat by' was the standard joke at one time – because I was always enraptured by the language. I thought they must be referring to that dreary voice you mention, but I found out recently he did have depression, so I guess the songs must have reflected that and I was just oblivious.

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  9. Loved every word of this post Rosemary, both Cohen's poem and the richness of your story. Thank you.

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  10. This is wonderful, the sentiment of the poem reminds of caged bird a little... but that might be just for me...

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    1. I think, once a poem has been sent out on the air, the images are there to be seen from whatever viewpoint we bring to them. (Smile.)

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