“Poets, like women, know that we must labor to be beautiful.” Leonard Cohen Invokes Yeats On Poetry Requiring Labour, Not Suffering

Over the years people have said that the white man can’t sing the blues. And on the same level, for great poetry there has to be great suffering.

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Well, I’d like to down play that side of it. I think great suffering is available to everybody, not just artists. This is a very self-righteous vision that artists like to present about themselves, that they suffer more than anyone else. This can’t be true. Great suffering is available to everybody. I think it should be discounted from the equation. What I think that is forgotten about art, is that it demands work. I think Yeats said it very nicely, ‘poets, like women, know that we must labor to be beautiful.’ Of course then as Browning said, you have the ‘first fine, careless frenzy.’ You may be able to pick those phrases out of the air, especially at the beginning of the whole affair. But what has been forgotten, I think, is that it’s work. Forget the suffering, forget the anguish, forget the agonizing characteristics that have been ascribed to the whole activity. A lot of people have forgotten that this is work. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to forget it because I’m not one of that tribe that does the great song in the cafe or the back of the taxi cab. So suffering, I’d remove that from the equation because everyone has got that. Hard work, almost everyone has got that but artists. So, Irish poets, learn your craft. [Both laugh.]
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Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen radio interview by Dave Fanning (RTE: Jan 21, 1993)

The Yeats allusion is to these lines from Adam’s Curse by William Butler Yeats:

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“In a certain way Ten New Songs is an answer to The Future.” Leonard Cohen

When I heard your album “The Future” I felt certain that this would be your final work. It seemed to me that there was nothing much left to say. Did this occur to you, and if so, what inspired you to release another album?

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In a certain way Ten New Songs is an answer to The Future.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Online Web Chat October 16, 2001.

“[Ten New Songs is] deceptively spare, like a Sade record, with an agreeable groove from beginning to end. You can lean on it, relax into it. There are doors and windows you can enter if you have the time” Leonard Cohen

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[Ten New Songs is] deceptively spare, like a Sade record, with an agreeable groove from beginning to end. You can lean on it, relax into it. There are doors and windows you can enter if you have the time, and I don’t think there’ll be disappointment with the furniture and appointments. It may seem to be a spare outer surface, but with investigation much filigree and ornament can be discerned. It may not be apparent, but it is there.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen by Eric Rudolph (Mix: Feb 1, 2002)

“The most I can hope for is that the songs [from the Ten New Songs album] in some small way have some utility in providing solace, because they are gentle and on the side of healing in some sort of way.” Leonard Cohen

From Look Who’s Back at 67: Gentle Leonard Cohen by Frank DiGiacomo. New York Observer: Oct 15, 2001. Note: Originally posted May 10, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“Sometimes I take a book of one of my favorite poets… You sigh with satisfaction knowing you’re with someone that you love. You relax in the company of that soul. These relationships are wonderful, very nourishing.” Leonard Cohen

Interviewer: Did these discoveries [e.g., Lorca & Yeats] immediately give you the desire to write?

Leonard Cohen: I wanted to respond to these poems. Every poem that touches you is like a call that needs a response. One wants to respond with one’s own story. Novels tend to make me silent. You live with a novel for awhile, you become, yourself, part of the novel. I never felt the need to respond to novels. But in poems, this distillation of language coincided with something in my own nature, in my soul: this kind of speed and agility.

Interviewer: Did you need to keep this passion to yourself or did you share it with others?

Leonard Cohen: Deep friendships are born on mutual interest. But the true relation between yourself and that which you love will always be private. Sometimes I take a book of one of my favorite poets… You sigh with satisfaction knowing you’re with someone that you love. You relax in the company of that soul. These relationships are wonderful, very nourishing.

From Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Les Inrocks: Aug 21, 1991). Via Google Translate. Photo from Montreal Star files. Photographer unknown. Library and Archives Canada.

“I lost my way” Leonard Cohen Talks About Failing To Connect (1988)

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I thought I was one of those men that sang about his predicament, and that somehow everybody would connect with it. But I lost my way and began involving myself with speculations that I knew deep down were not really public concerns. The world was no longer attracting me. It wasn’t very entertaining. quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From “Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough” By Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988. Originally posted June 27, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I can hardly carry a tune but I think it’s a true voice in the sense that it’s not a lie. It presents the singer and the story he’s telling.” Leonard Cohen

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I think my sound has always been a little different to whatever else has been happening, though. Out of time or something… Let’s just say I hear a different drum. Like that poem I wrote that went, ‘When it comes to lamentations, I prefer Aretha Franklin to Leonard Cohen, let us say he hears a different drum.’ I never thought I had a voice in the sense of a singer’s voice. I can hardly carry a tune but I think it’s a true voice in the sense that it’s not a lie. It presents the singer and the story he’s telling.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Having Lunch With Leonard Cohen by Jon Wilde, Sabotage Times. Dec 3, 2015 (the quote itself is taken from a 1988 interview). Photo by Pete Purnell.

“That confession to yourself that you cannot innovate, but you might be able to affirm that which is worthwhile affirming, is a wonderful notion and the beginning of a kind of wisdom.” Leonard Cohen

In closing, Cohen responds to the reading of a line from his 1978 book, Death of a Lady’s Man: “Greater is he that answers Amen than he that says the blessing,” explaining his sentiments:

“That’s a quotation from…the section of the Talmud called Ethics of the Father. It’s quite a wise and profound saying, and it has many resonances. That confession to yourself that you cannot innovate, but you might be able to affirm that which is worthwhile affirming, is a wonderful notion and the beginning of a kind of wisdom.”

And as to whether, in his music, he is innovating or affirming he takes a long pause.

I wonder if he’s deciding whether or not I deserve the real answer.

“If the affirmation is passionate and sincere, then it has the refreshment of innovation.”

From Leonard Cohen: Pondering His Past and ‘The Future’ by Scott Crawford (Intermission, Stanford Daily: April 8, 1993). Photo by Gerrit Terstiege Originally posted 2014/10/09 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric