Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work: Freedom & Service In The Texts

I have tried in my way to be free.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work

The posting of the series featuring the and symbols triggered observations from three Cohen cognoscenti, Francis Mus, Tom Sakic, and David Peloquin, on the prevalence of imagery associated with slavery and captivity, such as chains, in Leonard Cohen’s work. Consequently, Cohencentric is offering , a set of posts organized around these themes. The first post in this series featured examples of emblems manifesting these concepts from Leonard Cohen albums, marketing, and merchandise (see Part 1 at Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work: Album Art). A second post focused on these themes as they occur in the texts of his songs and poems: Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work: The Texts.

Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work: The Texts: Freedom & Service

Figurative language referring to captivity (e.g., slavery, chains, prison …) appears with extraordinary frequency in Leonard Cohen’s lyrics. While his pattern may be integrated into an analysis a few posts down the line, for the time being, I am content with making readers aware of the ubiquity of this motif in Leonard Cohen’s songs and poems (the novels and other prose are beyond the scope of this entry) by offering this impressive, albeit non-exhaustive, sampling. The previous exploration of the texts looked at these terms; Guard, Sentence, Slave, Release, Fence, Pardon, Lock/Key, Tie, Bind/Bound, Prison/Prisoner, Chains, and Release. today’s post tracks these terms:

  • Free
  • Freedom
  • Serve
  • Service
  • Servant


I Left A Woman Waiting
Death Of A Ladies’ Man

Quick as dogs and truly dead were we
And free as running water
Free as running water
Free as you and me

One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong
Songs Of Leonard Cohen

I lit a thin green candle to make you jealous of me,
But the room just filled up with mosquitoes, they heard that my body was free

Tonight Will Be Fine
Songs From A Room

Oh sometimes I see her undressing for me,
She’s the soft naked lady love meant her to be
And she’s moving her body so brave and so free.

You Know Who I Am
Songs From A Room

I am not slave or free

You Want It Darker

We sold ourselves for love but now we’re free
I’m so sorry for the ghost I made you be

Bird On The Wire
Songs From A Room

I have tried in my way to be free

Famous Blue Raincoat
Songs Of Love And Hate

I want you to know that his woman is free

Samson In New Orleans
Popular Problems

The storms are wild and free

Songs Of Leonard Cohen

And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them

Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
Songs From A Room

It seems so long ago,
Nancy was alone,
A forty five beside her head,
An open telephone.
We told her she was beautiful,
We told her she was free
But none of us would meet her in
The house of mystery

The Future

The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

I Can’t Forget
I’m Your Man

I got this old address
Of someone that I knew
It was high and fine and free

Lover Lover Lover
New Skin For The Old Ceremony

And may the spirit of this song
May it rise up pure and free

Why I Happen To Be Free
Flowers For Hitler

They all conspire to make me free

The New Leader
Flowers For Hitler

he was freed from love, his emptiness was legalized.
Hygienic as a whip his heart drove out the alibis of devotion, free as a storm-severed bridge

Lines From My Grandfather’s Journal
The Spice-Box Of Earth

I will never be free from this old tyranny

The Project
Flowers For Hitler

And it’s still free?
Of course it was still free.

Book of Mercy

we stood in the kingdom that shines toward you, where Adam is mysteriously free

The Spice-Box Of Earth

what slave people would go free
because of them.

If I Could Tell You
The Energy of Slaves

And then something would happen
that would crush us
and free us

Crying, Come Back, Hero
The Energy Of Slaves

One man free to love his minute
in the realms of flesh and sun

The Transmission
Stranger Music

until we come to the heart that is free from opening

The Embrace
Stranger Music

But when you rise from his embrace
I trust you will be strong and free

The Absence Of Monica
Death Of A Lady’s Man

I carry the bread
on a piece of string
and now I’m free

Waiting To Tell The Doctor
Selected Poems 1956-1968

Free at last I fell asleep
both of us naked and hungry

I See You On A Greek Mattress
Parasites of Heaven;

how can you be free?
I see you cleaning your pipe
with the hairpin
of somebody’s innocent night

Death Of A Lady’s Man

You take this joyless yearning to be free

The House
Death Of A Lady’s Man

This is the house you must leave to be free

Stories of the Street
Songs Of Leonard Cohen

I know you’ve heard it’s over now and war must surely come,
The cities they are broke in half and the middle men are gone.
But let me ask you one more time, O children of the dusk,
All these hunters who are shrieking now oh do they speak for us?
And where do all these highways go, now that we are free?
Why are the armies marching still that were coming home to me?


Closing Time
The Future

And I just don’t care what happens next
looks like freedom but it feels like death
it’s something in between, I guess
it’s closing time

Samson In New Orleans
Popular Problems

You said you loved her secrets
And her freedoms hid away
She was better than America
That’s what I heard you say

Jazz Police
I’m Your Man

Wild as any freedom loving racist, I applaud the actions of the Chief

Field Commander Cohen
New Skin For The Old Ceremony

Ah, lover come and lie with me, if my lover is who you are,
And be your sweetest self awhile until I ask for more, my child.
Then let the other selves be wrong, yeah, let them manifest and come
Till every taste is on the tongue,
Till love is pierced and love is hung,
And every kind of freedom done, then oh,
Oh my love, oh my love, oh my love,

Here We Are At The Window
Parasites of Heaven

So long I’ve tried to give a name to freedom, today my freedom lost its name, like a student’s room travelling into the morning with its lights still on. Every act has its own style of freedom, whatever that means.

It Uses Us!
Flowers For Hitler

In our leaders’ faces
(albeit they deplore
the past) can you read how
they love Freedom more?

The Unclean Start
Death Of A Lady’s Man

And why should I since she was the enemy of my freedom and the smiling moon over my gradual death

Our Government-In-Exile
Death Of A Lady’s Man

I don’t intend to let their freedom choke me

I Like The Way You Opposed Me
Death Of A Lady’s Man

And here I am again, with the news of another freedom, just when yours was selling well

Now I Come Before You
Death Of A Lady’s Man

Order in the family
Freedom in the sphere

Let Us Compare Mythologies

a small Welsh water monster that forgot the freedom of the circle and dragged an uncertain line behind it to the other side

One Of These Days
The Energy of Slaves

Then you will not talk so easily
about our freedom and our love

I Decided (Commentary)
Death Of A Lady’s Man

There is a new freedom here which invites, at the very least, a new scheme of determinism

Cherry Orchards
Flowers For Hitler

There’s a story out there boys
Canada could you bear some folk songs
about freedom and death

Book of Mercy

and rule my nervous heart with your great decrees of freedom.

Book of Mercy

let us bring to you the sorrows of our freedom



From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat

From Democracy
By Leonard Cohen

The Future

From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat

Popular Problems

You serve them well
I’m not surprised
You’re of their kin
You’re of their kind

Death Of A Ladies’ Man

There are many ways a man can serve his time

Songs Of Love And Hate

You who wish to conquer pain,
You must learn, learn to serve me well.

Give Me Dog, Dogs, Wolves, To Serve, Praise, Kneel
Parasites Of Heaven

Give me dog, dogs, wolves, to serve, praise, kneel
in thanks.

There Was A Veil Between Them
The Energy Of Slaves

thus they served their love
as those old Spanish lovers served
The One Who Does Not Manifest Himself

Magic Is Alive
Stranger Music1

Though they locked their coffers G-d was always served.

Another Man’s Woman (Commentary)
Death Of A Lady’s Man

Holding the cup in the morning light. She serves you innocently.

Book of Mercy

and let him serve God in beauty.

Book of Mercy

the Law will never serve the lawless

Book of Mercy

and for a moment, as a gift to serve his oldest memory, he wore the weightless crown

The Altar (Commentary)
Death Of A Lady’s Man

My maid’s heart is there, who served me too long.

Overheard On Every Corner
The Energy Of Slaves

the clearest example of royalty
who serves you tonight
as he makes a bed for the dog

The Visit
Death Of A Lady’s Man

You want to know what the matter is. Why don’t I serve you anymore.

Suzanne Wears A Leather Coat
Parasites Of Heaven

Many are the workers in charity
Few serve the lilac,

Death Of A Lady’s Man

The hospital, the battlefield, the torture room, serve you with numberless petitions.

The Plan
Death Of A Lady’s Man

The plan to live with Roshi and serve him in the clean drunk life

Three Good Nights
Flowers For Hitler

rabbis green and red serving the sun like platters


There Is A War
New Skin For The Old Ceremony

I guess you call this love. I call it Service

Traditional Training And Service
Death Of A Lady’s Man

This is when I find your scorn most attractive, O golem of service and monotony

You Have The Lovers
The Spice-Box Of Earth

Your mate dies after a life of service

Everything That Is Unengaged
Death Of A Lady’s Man

Everything that is unengaged
comes to the service
of one
who makes no claim

To A Man Who Thinks He Is Making An Angel
Flowers For Hitler

She is from a service you have never heard

Magic Is Alive
Stranger Music2

This I mean my mind to serve till service is but Magic moving through the world

The Language Of Love
Death Of A Lady’s Man

listen to one who has grown ugly in the service of the Lord

Calm, Alone, The Cedar Guitar
Selected Poems 1956-1968

The juke-box sings of service everywhere
while I work to renew the style
which models the apostles
on these friends whom I have know


The Future
The Future

Your servant here, he has been told

If I Am Not Her Servant
Death Of A Lady’s Man

If I am not her servant
will be another’s slave

Created Fires I Cannot Love
Parasites Of Heaven

Make me poor so I may be
servant in the world I see,
Or, as my love leaps wide,
confirm your servant in his pride:

The Girl Toy
The Spice-Box Of Earth

Servants, princes starved or went away

Flowers For Hitler

I loved his wine, his contemptuous servants

Also see “I actually bound myself to the mast of non-attachment, but the storms of desire snapped my bounds like a spoon through noodles” Leonard Cohen

Photo of Leonard Cohen in kitchen by Chris Buck: Photos – Chris Buck’s 2001 Leonard Cohen Shoot: Rosicrucians, Photographic Destiny, & Pastrami Sandwiches With A Side Of Chopped Liver


  1. Originally appeared in the novel Beautiful Losers []
  2. Originally appeared in the novel Beautiful Losers []