There Are No Words


There are no words, and yet I must find some; unpack my heart with them for the news broke today that he is dead.  The most bizarre of gurus, the poet of song, the soldier of the heart, has died.  We don’t know how, we don’t know why – but he knew that he was going.  He wrote to Marianne that he would soon follow her and he said on the release of his new album ‘You Want it Darker’ (and I have to wait till Christmas to get it!  Sob!) that he was ready to die – though he afterwards joked that he’d spoken to soon.  ‘I’m going to live to 120,’ he declared.

He was 82.  I’m not going to give a run-down of his career here; you can read that in a hundred other places.  I’m just going to talk about what he meant to me.  And this is only possible in poetry.

On some other plane we met

because your heart touched mine

where frozen roses can’t forget

in aisle number 9

I couldn’t reach to touch your arm

your elbow was too long

only let me listen

to your eternal song.

(c) Sarada Gray 2010

Leonard was a kind of guru for many; the type of person who inspired followers as well as fans for the way in which he lived his life.  If ever I’m trying to think my way through a poetry-related situation, I ask myself ‘what would Leonard do?’ and usually an answer comes.  His devotion to art was total; he sacrificed everything to it and, in his own words, ended up ‘on his hands and knees at 3 a m pursuing a lyric.’



you have so many flowers

you don’t need my wild bouquet

and the ceasing of your powers

has struck our souls today

I’ll never get to tell you

how I suffered for your art,

but I think you would have smiled at that –

you soldier of the heart.

Leonard was always interesting.  You never knew what he would do next because he never knew what he would do next.  His career never followed a set pattern; it started and stopped; and just when you thought he’d never perform again, his agent and lover stole all his money and he had to hit the road.  It was this heartbreaking event (and the name of Kelly Lynch will go down in infamy, though he wouldn’t want us to remember it) that triggered some of his best work and led to something much, much more than just a second wind.  He continued writing and performing almost until the end, though in the last few years he clearly did not have strength to go on tour.

We saw him last in 2008.  He was 75 then; he did several encores and ended the concert by skipping off the stage!  I hope I do as well as he when I am that age.  The cover of ‘Popular Problems’ has a picture of him sitting in tailor’s pose cleaning some shoes.  He looks utterly comfortable.

I don’t have time and space yet to say all that he meant to me.  Maybe there won’t be enough time or space ever; but here’s another poem directly inspired by his work:

Last Day of Summer, October 2010

It’s four in the evening

the end of October

the lights drawing on

as the summer grows sober

the frost is far-off

and the ice by an age

your famous blue raincoat

is sweating on stage

the leaves fallen down

the sun sinking low

when will it be perishing?

When will it snow?

The autumn’s a mimic

it parodies summer

the chill is a gimmick

it sweats like a mummer

and the dove


down with a branch in its beak

to give up to the meek

well I see God’s away

it’s the end of the week

(c) Sarada Gray, 2010

This poem is far from finished but it’s one of the few I’ve written that are more directly inspired by Cohen.  Truth be told, it’s impossible to say how he has influenced me, as it’s impossible to trace the course of a virus.  When did it start?  I first heard him in 1972, but maybe I contracted the infection before that.  Who knows?  But he got into my blood and there he stayed.

I am not Leonard; I am perhaps not much like him at all.  But the best way to honour someone who inspired you is, in the end, to write exactly like yourself.

RIP Leonard, we love you.

Kirk out