Lyric Of The Week: “Ballad Of The Absent Mare,” Leonard Cohen by Jim Beviglia (American Songwriter: September 2nd, 2014) is a thoughtful, insightful, clear explication of one of Leonard Cohen’s lesser known gems. I’ve included three excerpts as a sampling of the quality. The complete article can be accessed at the link.
… frequent collaborator Jennifer Warnes wrote about the song’s creation in an essay on her website: “Leonard had found some old pictures somewhere,” Warnes recalled. “They were called The Ten Bulls, old Japanese woodcuts symbolizing the stages of a monk’s life on the road to enlightenment. These carvings pictured a boy and a bull, the boy losing the bull, the bull hiding, the boy realizing that the boy was nearby all along. There is a struggle, and finally the boy rides the bull into his little village. ‘I thought this would make a great cowboy song,’ he joked.” [See Zen’s 10 Oxherding Pictures & Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare”]
It’s typical of Cohen that he muddies up the metaphor just enough to make us wonder about the object of the cowboy’s quest. After all, those who don’t know the allusion to the bulls might easily interpret the song as an endless cycle of recrimination and reunion that typifies a tumultuous romantic relationship. No one has ever mixed the spiritual and sexual as deftly as Cohen, and “Ballad Of The Absent Mare” is just another brilliant manifestation of this ability.
… Cohen then knocks down the fourth wall and reveals that this entire story has taken place within his head as he and his wife witness “That old silhouette/On the great western sky.” In that moment, he unites his old ideas of romance and transcendence and hints at the difficulty of lassoing either one. “Ballad Of The Absent Mare” is, as Leonard hoped it would be, a great cowboy song, one as vast and elusive as the horizon itself.
Originally posted September 2, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric