By Kutay Onaylı
Leonard Cohen’s song-poem “Alexandra Leaving,” at first glance, is a rather simple refashioning of Constantine Cavafy’s “The God Abandons Antony”: a similarly-named woman replaces the city as an object of loss, resulting in the creation of a tale of failed romantic love that is commonplace in Cohen’s repertoire. A more careful reading of Cohen’s work, however, would reveal that there is more to the adaptation than a dropping of the letter i: Cohen does not only restate the story Cavafy tells in “Antony” in a different framework but also expands and modifies it. This paper is an attempt at outlining some of the deliberate additions and reductions Cohen made to create an Alexandra that represents, in the same way that Cavafy’s Alexandria is more than a mere re-telling of Plutarch, not a mere lost lover but a vision of loss and dignity that is derived from and remains in strong dialogue with that of Cavafy.
The first important departure Cohen makes in his adaption of Cavafy’s work is the removal of the “invisible procession.” In “The God Abandons Antony,” the procession that announces Alexandria’s loss is introduced as early as the second line of the poem and is referred back to over and over again through the work. Cavafy clearly connects the sounds heard by the person spoken to by the narrator to this procession at least twice in the poem: The lines “when suddenly, at midnight, you hear/ an invisible procession going by/ with exquisite music, voices,” and “listen…to the voices/ to the exquisite music of that strange procession,” constitute one fifth of the entire work and provide the framework the rest of the narrative takes place in. In Cohen’s version, however, there is absolutely no mention of the procession—the initial sensory experience that happens “suddenly” is instead that “the night has grown colder.” The movement, furthermore, is modified to come not from outside the window but from inside a dwelling and the individual himself when Cohen says: “the god of love preparing to depart./ Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder, they slip between the sentries of the heart.” Hearing –and taste, an addition Cohen makes- is introduced with the line “They fall amongst the voices and the wine.” and referred back to with “Go firmly to the window. Drink it in./ Exquisite music. Alexandra laughing.” In both lines, the source of the sensory experience remains unclear. This deliberate unclarity, in combination to the references to wine (and the connection formed between the voices and the wine, evoking a tavern-like setting) and the audibility of Alexandra’s laughter from afar indicate that the thing that is being lost is moving across space and time—essentially echoing Cavafy’s representation of Alexandria as a space and time that is transforming into something different than Anthony’s Alexandria. Cohen, however, in expressing his perception of the phenomenon of loss, makes the “procession” literally invisible in his verses and buries the source of the sensory experience within the object of loss itself.
Read the complete article, plus “Alexandra Leaving” by Leonard Cohen and “The God Abandons Antony” by C.P. Cavafy (See also The God Abandons Antony)
Listen to Leonard Cohen sing “Alexandra Leaving”
after J. S. Bach, Concerto in D Minor, BMV 1052
By Jan Zwicky
Listen to Jean Rondeau play Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No.1 in D Minor BWV 1052.
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Jan Zwicky and Lorna Crozier on February 22 and reading and discussing poetry inspired by music on June 28. Please bring your own favourites by these two BC poets for reading and discussion and, preferably, post them first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Jan Zwicky and Lorna Crozier on February 22. Please bring your own favourites by these two BC poets for reading and discussion and, preferably, post them first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.
Note from Jan Zwicky: The italicized lines in this poem are translations of lines from Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98, on which Schumann based melodic material in the Fantasie. The original German texts are by Alois Jeitteles.
Listen to Vladimir Horowitz play Schumann Fantasie op. 17 in C major
Filed under Audio, History
Go, lovely Rose—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.
Tell her that’s young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.
Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.
Then die—that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
He who measures gain and loss,
When he gave to thee the Rose,
Gave to me alone the Cross
Where the blood-red blossom blows
In a wood of dew and moss,
There thy wandering pathway goes,
Mine where waters brood and toss;
Yet one joy have I hid close,
He who measures gain and loss,
When he gave to thee the Rose,
Gave to me alone the Cross.
The spiritual symbol of the Rose in mysticism represents consciousness as matter. Consciousness is symbolized as a flowering process and an unfolding manifestation. The flowering of its petals represents man’s divine inner consciousness being revealed as layers of his being open up to reveal the Divine Inner Self.
The Rose crucified on the cross is the symbol of the true divinity of humanity. The cross represents the four cardinal points of being in a balanced state. The crossing of the vertical and the horizontal lines represent the conjunction of time and eternity and other opposites. The vertical, being the Spiritual, creative, positive and active aspects of being, and the horizontal, the negative, material and passive aspects. It is at this conjunction point, representing balance and harmony, that the rose flowers and unfolds itself.
A reminder that we will celebrate the use of the rose as a poetic symbol or metaphor on January 25, 2018. Please bring your own illustration of this for reading and discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.
Listen to Sharon Shannon & Mike Scott sing and play “A Song Of The Rosy Cross.”