Leonard Cohen on By The Rivers Dark Being About “Reconciliation Between The Profane And The Sacred.”

This is a reference to the Book of Psalms (Psalm 137): the children of Israel are in exile, their captors asked them to sing, but they refuse because they can not celebrate sacred songs in a foreign land. In the Psalm it is said: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my arm fall, my tongue cleave to my palate.’ I got this idea of applying Jerusalem to Babylon. This song is about reconciliation between the profane and the sacred.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Je Ne Suis Qu’un Poete Mineur [I’m Just A Minor Poet] by Gilles Medioni, L’Express (France): October 4, 2001 [translated from French]

Leonard Cohen On Babylon And Boogie Street

Leonard Cohen (quoting from the lyrics of By the Rivers Dark): Be the truth unsaid and the blessings gone, if I forget my Babylon

Interviewer: Can you be a good Jew and love Babylon?

Well, you know, the Talmud was written in Babylon. A lot of good Jews lived and wrote and thought and prayed there. And that’s where we are – we’re on Boogie Street. We’re in Babylon. I think it’s appropriate to live completely where you are and not reserve some mythical or spiritual refuge as an alternative. That can produce a kind of dangerous spiritual schizophrenia. We have to make it here; we have to make Jerusalem in Babylon.

Something like that. I say it better in the song: ‘Kiss my lips and then it’s done, I’m back on Boogie Street.’ As Roshi says, you can’t live in paradise. No restaurants or toilets.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Exile on Main Street by Brett Grainger (Elm Street: Nov 2001)

“I like Isaiah … I love the Psalms” Leonard Cohen On The Inspiration For By the Rivers Dark

‘I like Isaiah,’ he says, ‘especially the first chapters. I love the Psalms.’ Cohen explains that one of his new songs, ‘By the Rivers Dark,’ was inspired by Psalm 137, the one that begins, ‘By the rivers of Babylon.’ Suddenly, the poet of pleasure is quoting the scriptures of exile: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right arm forget its cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I set not Jerusalem above my deepest joy.’ But I say the opposite,’ he continues. ‘Be the truth unsaid and the blessings gone, if I forget my Babylon.’quotedown2


Exile on Main Street by Brett Grainger (Elm Street: Nov 2001). Photo by Trounce – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Wikipedia Commons

The Leonard Cohen Reading List

This is the latest entry to the Leonard Cohen Reading List, a compilation of books commended by the Canadian singer-songwriter.