Slow Green Water


From Poetry:

Leonard Cohen’s death in November 2016, at the age of eighty-two, prompted the usual media outpouring that greets the passing of any influential artist. 
Many obituaries were fawning, a few were perceptive. Cohen’s songs, pointed out one critic, seemed polished and pared down, unlike those of Dylan—recently anointed a Nobel laureate—which seemed to “pour out” of him. If this is a poetic effect rather than a measure of the craft, it remains a compelling interpretation. Dylan himself said Cohen’s songs were “like prayers.” Suzanne Vega expanded this to “like prayers or spells.”

Writing about death, Cohen was less delicate than his obituarists. His 1956 debut book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, published when he was twenty-two years old, confronts the subject with a young man’s 
rapturous sensuality:

And do not examine the angry rivers
For shreds of his soft body
Or turn the shore stones for his blood;
But in the warm salt ocean
He is descending through cliffs
Of slow green water.
—From Elegy

Over the years, he peppered his oeuvre with many songs about mortality. From early reworkings of biblical texts in “Story of Isaac” and “Who by Fire” to the looming crescendo of “Avalanche”—based on an earlier poem—to 1984’s graveside hymn “Night Comes On,” he evolved a conversational style of delivery and avoided the typical emotional excesses of threnody. The lyrics of “You Want It Darker,” the title track from his final album, indicate this attitude lasted till the end.

If you are the dealer
I’m out of the game
If you are the healer
I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory
Then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

“The Dying Light”, Chris Moss, Poetry