Leonard Cohen Selects & Comments On His Favorite Of His Own Poems


Back Cover: The Spice-Box Of Earth (1973 edition)

Leonard Cohen was a contributor to Poet’s Choice edited by Paul Engle and Joseph Langland. (New York: The Dial, 1962). The premise of the book is revealed in its subtitle: “103 of the Greatest Living Poets Choose Their Favorite Poem from Their Own Work and Give the Reason for Their Choice.”

Leonard Cohen’s choice and comment follows:

For Anne
From The Spice-Box of Earth by Leonard Cohen

With Annie gone
Whose eyes to compare
With the morning sun?

Not that I did compare,
But I do compare
Now that she’s gone.

I want to write and read poems filled with terror and music that change laws and lives. This isn’t one of them. But it has stuck with me long enough, like a lucky stone, to suggest that it’s true.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Video: Leonard Cohen Recites On Sighting The Perfect Ass & Other Poems – Glasgow 1976


Leonard Cohen Concert Poster (Munich – 5/8/1976)

Note: Originally posted Dec 27, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

The 1976 Leonard Cohen Glasgow Poetry Reading

True to his 1976 concert posters proclaiming him the “Poet Of Rock Music,” Leonard Cohen not only sang but also routinely read his own poetry at these shows early in his career as a singer-songwriter. At the  May 15, 1976 concert at the Apollo in Glasgow, Scotland, the pertinent selections, according to the set list from LeonardCohenLive, were

11. I did not know until you walked away… ( poem )
12. Come down to my room… ( poem )
13. A person who eats meat ( poem )
14. Valentina gave me four months… ( poem )
15. I know there is no such thing as hell or heaven… ( poem )
16. the 15-year old girls… ( poem )
17. The Music Crept by Us ( poem )
18. It’s Good to Sit with People… ( poem )

LeonardCohenLive also notes that these are “the only known renditions of the poems Valentina gave me four months… and I know there is no such thing as hell or heaven… both from “The Energy of Slaves.”

It’s in #11, BTW, that Cohen declares “It was only when you walked away I saw you had the perfect ass. Forgive me for not falling in love with your face or your conversation.”

Leonard Cohen On Sighting The Perfect Ass & Other Poems
Video by Allan Showalter

Leonard Cohen Talks About His Poem – “The Correct Attitude”

The Correct Attitude
By Leonard Cohen

Except for a couple of hours
in the morning
which I passed in the company
of a sage
I stayed in bed
without food
only a few mouthfuls of water
“you are a fine looking old man”
I said to myself in the mirror
“and what is more
you have the correct attitude
You don’t care if it ends
or if it goes on
And as for the women
and the music
there will be plenty of that
in Paradise”
Then I went to the Mosque
of Memory
to express my gratitude

The following excerpt from Stina Lundberg’s Leonard Cohen Interview in Paris, 2001((This content is also available in the video: Interview with Stina Dabrowski: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)) refers to “The Correct Attitude,” which Cohen wrote in 2000 while residing at the Mount Baldy Zen Center.1  It was later published in the Book Of Longing.

LC: Haven’t read that since I wrote it!

SL: Is that true, or is it – ?

LC: It’s just a joke, you know. It’s all just a joke.

SL: But do you have the correct attitude? Do you care if it ends or if it goes on?

LC: (long pause) Not really. (longer pause, gazing at Stina) Do you?

SL: Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I do.

LC: Yeah, well, that’s it. I think your answer is better.

SL: But it’s not interesting.

LC: Yeah, it is.

SL: So when you were a little kid…

LC: It takes two people to answer that question.

SL: So when you were little, were you more known as a funny little bloke or were you this serious little chap?

LC: I don’t know… the epoch, the era, the time that I grew up, psychological profiles were not fashionable. You just followed orders, more or less, and whatever you could do on the sly you did. But it was a pretty disciplined kind of existence when I was a kid. There wasn’t the kind of youth rebellion that we see today, and authority and parental control were very strong, and nobody cared what your inner condition was as long as your shoes were underneath your bed in the right way… yeah. No, we weren’t close to our parents, we didn’t really discuss our inner condition with our parents. It was a very wise kind of upbringing, it didn’t invite self-indulgence.

SL: But you learned discipline?

LC: Er – you learned good manners, you know, which is better than discipline.

Note: Originally posted February 11, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric; updated for this republication.


  1. Source: LeonardCohenFiles []

It’s A Leonard Cohen Halloween: “I perceived the outline of your breasts through your Hallowe’en costume”

I perceived the outline of your breasts
through your Hallowe’en costume
I knew you were falling in love with me
because no other man could perceive
the advance of your bosom into his imagination
It was a rupture of your unusual modesty
for me and me alone
through which you impressed upon my shapeless hunger
the incomparable and final outline of your breasts
like two deep fossil shells
which remained all night long and probably forever

Poem 17 from “The Energy of Slaves” by Leonard Cohen

Note: Originally posted October 17, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Louis Dudek, Upon Reading A Leonard Cohen Poem: “I told him his sex life was no longer a secret”


Louis Dudek Enlightens Leonard Cohen About Self-Revelatory Poetry

A 1970 newspaper article, McGill Prof Calls Youth Cult Rotten, Crude by Ron Campbell (Winnipeg Free Press August 21, 1970) offers an anecdote Dudek told about an early interaction with Cohen:


Now, this Cohen-Dudek Poetry Moment does raise certain questions:

  1. Which Cohen poem betrayed the secrets of his sex life?
  2. Since when did Leonard Cohen have secrets about his sex life?
  3. Was Leonard Cohen’s giggling episode described by Dudek the inspiration for his “Laughing Lenny” nickname?
  4. Why did Dudek think it important to mention that Cohen came back the next day with a poem about sparrows?

I suspect this was the poem about sparrows Cohen offered Dudek:

The Sparrows
By Leonard Cohen (Let Us Compare Mythologies, 1956)

Catching winter in their carved nostrils
the traitor birds have deserted us,
leaving only the dullest brown sparrows
for spring negotiations.

I told you we were fools
to have them in our games,
but you replied:
They are only wind-up birds
who strut on scarlet feet
so hopelessly far
from our curled fingers.

I had moved to warn you,
but you only adjusted your hair
and ventured:
Their wings are made of glass and gold
and we are fortunate
not to hear them splintering
against the sun.

Now the hollow nests
sit like tumors or petrified blossoms
between the wire branches
and you, an innocent scientist,
question me on these brown sparrows:
whether we should plant our yards with breadcrumbs
or mark them with the black persistent crows
whom we hate and stone.

But what shall I tell you of migrations
when in this empty sky
the precise ghosts of departed summer birds
still trace old signs;
or of desperate flights
when the dimmest flutter of a colored wing
excites all our favorite streets
to delight in imaginary spring.

Note: Originally posted July 27, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


Leonard Cohen On Louis Dudek: “Louis Dudek is a legend for me”

dear louis

“My Dear Teacher Louis Dudek” by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen & Louis Dudek

Louis Dudek, who reigned as Canada’s premier man of letters until his death in 1984, was Leonard Cohen’s Literature professor at McGill University. It was his McGill Poetry Series for Contact Press that published Leonard Cohen’s first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies.

Cohen described Dudek as one of the most important people he met in college:1)

[Interviewer:] What was the importance of the people you met in college?

[Leonard Cohen:] I met some very nice people, in particular, 3 men. Louis Dudek, Hugh McLennan, a Canadian author who died last year, and Irving Layton, who didn’t go to school with me but was a writer in town. We would organize parties or little get-togethers with women. Professors were always there; there were no barriers, no master/student relationships. They liked our girlfriends (laughs). They were in their 30s or 40s; they liked the people we brought to their parties.

[Interviewer:] Were those 3 men influential to your relationship with literature and poetry?

[Leonard Cohen:] The fraternal aspect was most important. They gave me friendship, their time, the feeling of belonging to some kind of community.2  It was like a period of mutual apprenticeship where we all read our poems to one another. Training was intense, rigorous, taken very seriously but the atmosphere was friendly. Once in awhile there were tears; someone would leave in a rage, we would argue but interest in the art of writing was at the center of our friendship. …

Continue Reading →

  1. Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Throat Culture magazine, 1992 []
  2. An indication that the friendship between Dudek and Cohen superseded the professor-student relationship comes from a fellow McGill student, Ruth R. Wisse, who wrote “I believe it was Louis who introduced me to Leonard; certainly it was because of Leonard that I began to call my teacher Louis. Still an undergraduate in the English department –and reputed to have failed his third try at then-compulsory Latin– Leonard did not treat his teacher with my kind of deference but more like a colleague, on equal terms. Louis seemed to prefer it that way.  (Source:  My Life Without Leonard Cohen By Ruth R. Wisse. Commentary, October 1, 1995. []