Leonard Cohen on Nazi Germany, America, Mzanzi

Remember the ice-breaker you used to play at youth groups all those years ago? “If your house was burning down, what three or 10 objects would you try to save?”

When I was hurtling along packing a bag for an extended stay in hospital and a lengthy recovery away from home, I tried to choose carefully which personal effects, clothing, technology, reading and writing paraphernalia should go into the bag (okay, there were a couple of bags, I’m not a light traveler). But there was also the nagging sense that did it really matter what I packed if I wasn’t going to make it on the other side (yes, that was me in my half-hearted hopeful, mostly negative-thinking mode).

Anyway, one of the books from my bedside table I kept in my hand before deciding I should leave it behind was an anthology of Leonard Cohen poetry. I regret not having it with me now. I make a distinction between Cohen’s voice, music and words – I infinitely prefer his words (I’m sure that doesn’t make me a Philistine?) His words encompass stories, they take you through your personal, intensely private world, across the worlds of others and beyond. So, I’m not nominating a favourite Cohen song to mourn and celebrate the life of a great writer. Instead, given the only news story in town, the United States elections, I thought these excerpts from Cohen’s 1960s poem Flowers for Hitler are apt:

“The most precious secret has been leaked:
There is no Opposition!”

“A lot of people think you are beautiful
How do I feel about that
I have no feeling about that
I had a wonderful reason for not merely
courting you
It was tied up with the newspapers
I saw secret arrangements in high offices
I saw men who loved their worldliness
even though they had looked through
big electric telescopes
they still thought their worldliness was serious
not just a hobby a taste a harmless affectation
they thought the cosmos listened
I was suddenly fearful
one of their obscure regulations
could separate us
I was ready to beg for mercy.”

“what is most original in a man’s nature is often that which is most desperate. thus new systems are forced on the world by men who simply cannot bear the pain of living with what is. creators care nothing for their systems except that they be unique. if Hitler had been born in Nazi Germany he wouldn’t have been content to enjoy the atmosphere.”
― Leonard Cohen, Flowers for Hitler

“To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a Covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation’s sweetest dreams of itself.”
Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen on Nazi Germany, America, Mzanzi
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