Another Maestro Passes, Songs Never Die.

Encountering Suzanne

One day a few decades ago while living photo of Leonard Cohen on album cover in the staff residence of Purdysburn Hospital where I trained, a guitar-backed voice drifted along the corridor and filled the atmosphere of my little box room with such a haunting power that I literally stood still to listen. It was my first encounter with Leonard Cohen singing Suzanne.

My friend Edyth had just bought an LP of this master of lyrics and beautiful melancholic melody and once my obligatory cassette tape copy was manufactured, Leonard Cohen became my ‘go to’ artist for many years to come.

To date there is much commentary around Cohen’s prophetic words and their poignancy for the conditions of contemporary humanity but my purpose here is to pay tribute to an artist who enriched my life and helped strengthen my spirit, and to declare both sadness that his life has ended as well as joy that his songs will live forever. Like David Bowie, another Maestro lost this year, his work is woven into my Self in a multitude of ways. Yet professing this devotion often brought forth responses that were characteristically stereotyped comments along the lines of darkness, gloom, foreboding and nihilism. Not for me, though. I have always found Leonard Cohen’s songs enchanting and uplifting. They always bring me joy.

Warm Words

Laura Barton’s obituary for Cohen on The Guardian’s music blog takes the same view. To describe him as a ‘miserabilist’ is ‘to miss entirely the warmth of his words’, which, she elaborates, ‘run at the same temperature as blood.’ What animates Leonard Cohen’s offering is the joy beyond pain, the lesson in the challenge, the solution within the problem, the beauty within the chaos. As Barton reminds us, he echoes the wisdom of Rumi in his song Anthem 

 ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.

So to the songs that stick with me most:

  • The Partisan
  • Famous Blue Raincoat
  • Suzanne
  • Hallelujah
  • So Long Marianne
  • The Sisters of Mercy
  • Lady Midnight
  • Who By Fire
  • Dance Me to the End of Love
  • Hey, that’s no way to say Goodbye

Tibetan Book of the Dead Narration

Some time ago I found a documentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead perfectly enriched by Leonard Cohen’s voice as the narrator, so this is what I’m watching now as  my memorial to another Maestro gone from the world. Check it out, it’s a profound exploration of life meaning and enrichment of the human spirit through meditative practice and Buddhist teachings. There is an empathy and wisdom in Cohen’s voice that makes this film a celebration of life in the midst of physical death. I wish him well on his journey and thank him for the songs.

 

Songs Never Die

 

Rooting for Wild: A Tribute to Book and Film

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I love walking, especially in the Mourne Mountains with my husband Fintan. Reading about walking cheers me too, especially blogs like 30 ways of walking and Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust, as I noted in early posts.

Imagine how delighted I was to find Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild . It is well worth catching up with for the intensity of experience and the magnificence of nature described by this great author. Her references to poetry and literature as inspirational resources resonate with me too, as I’ve mentioned before.

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Tied in with her extreme hike (like most walkers) Strayed found herself on an inner journey as well. Though I’m no real hiker, sticking to a few hours or maybe a day and certainly no camping rough, I too find a form of therapy and restoration in walking. It’s the rhythm of the tramp, the exercise, the fresh air, the daylight, the space to breathe and think and feel.

We caught the movie recently too and I commend Reese Witherspoon- she did a wonderful job and really got the emotion across as well as the gruelling physicality of the role. Wild certainly deserves some Oscars – I’m rooting for Wild.

The wild wood

I love this blog fifepsychogeography and this post particularly gripped me with its magical images that capture the wonderfully liminal quality of nature and even tumble down buildings being reclaimed slowly by the earth and it’s vegetation. The poetry has also distilled the intensity of the atmosphere – I found it to be of much comfort and inspiration as I struggle with some current health problems and with an awful brain fog. Thank you fifepsychogeography, I look forward to more 🙂

From Hill to Sea

Beyond the Hawthorn

.

Beyond the hawthorn, lies the wild wood

“cuckoo, cuckoo”

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.

over the threshold

forms and colours

of the Otherworld

.

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… snake-eye stirs

.

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jaw click, snout

and a slither

of tongues

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threat or supplication?

paw or claw?

who  hears the cry

of the wild wood?

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no-one here

.

anyone?

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the oracle

of the wood

whispers:

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… always the leaves

.

Invitation to the light

 .

… always the light

.

 ≈≈≈

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Hawthorn bushes and the call of a cuckoo conjure up the tale of Thomas the Rhymer a thirteenth century Scottish mystic, wandering minstrel and poet. Folklore tells of how Rhymer meets the Faery Queen by a hawthorn bush from which a cuckoo is calling. The Queen takes Rhymer on a journey of forty days and forty nights to enter the faery underworld.  Some versions of the tale say Rhymer was in the…

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Buried by the Shadow: Lessons from Baudelaire

Having just read a piece of historical fiction called Black Venus by James MacManus, I have been left at once saddened, uplifted, more informed about the French poet Charles Baudelaire and perhaps also a little wiser on the work of shadow energies in our lives. In the midst of public horror and ridicule, this gifted but tormented artist had the courage to face and describe the human shadow through its many manifestations in his personal life (much like James Joyce would do a century later). It is this window of identification and therefore the sense that we are not alone in our experiences that is, I believe, one of the massive attributes of literature, indeed all forms of expression. These ideas are also tied in with my current interests in creativity and mental health recovery and promotion, as well as with previous musings on the role of the shadow within a Jungian approach to personal maturation.

That literature and Jungian ideas overlap is inevitable. Jung emphasised the symbolic nature of human thought and imagination, as did Baudelaire and Manet. A muse was often a source of both inspiration and projection for the artist, a dynamic that may well be present in all our lives – who hasn’t ever had a hero or a guru or some other personified source of inspiration and motivation?

 

But to truly move onwards in  the hero’s journey of our life course, it is essential to incorporate and balance all the archetypal energies, of which the dark shadow is only one. The self-acceptance required remains elusive and unthinkable still for many of us and therefore while we might take the necessary step of acknowledging the shadow’s terrifying existence in ourselves, we must also avoid disowning and projecting it, or conversely, allowing it to swallow and destroy us. I fear that Baudelaire may have been devoured by his own shadow, a force he projected into his muses and possibly detected in himself but was unable to fully accept with compassion and therefore was ultimately unable to constructively channel it.

Like many before and since, Baudelaire went relatively unappreciated in his own time but is now recognised for his visionary genius and his initiation (with the painter Manet) of a whole new world of symbolism, modernist literature and the impressionist artistic oeuvre. T. S. Eliot, who wrote the groundbreaking modernist work The Wastelandcited Baudelaire as having paved the way for him and as the inspiration behind his poetry.

While the nihilism of these writers might be something of a blind alley if taken alone, and for many an all-too-shocking description of human nature, they did at least move towards a more authentic insight into that nature, if ultimately a too-pessimistic and destructive one. From  more recent work on the shadow as being both dark and light, we can embrace the shadow as having something to teach us, as gifting us with the potential for liberation and motivation, while living alongside the inherent potential danger.

It is unclear whether or not Baudelaire reached a level of self acceptance and accommodation. Certainly by all accounts he struggled and suffered but also experienced episodes of joy and happiness  in his life. I suspect we are all dancing a similar dance and can only hope that through literature, compassion, empathy and all the many forms of self-expression we can find, we can each give and take encouragement with our fellow journey-makers. Whether or not we manage to face, own and constructively channel our own shadow aspect is possibly the chief deciding factor of our mental health and well-being, perhaps even one of the  core tasks of our lives.

The novel Black Venus  by James MacManus is and excellent read by the way (follow the link at the start of this post).

My book is available now in the UK, USA and on Palgrave and Amazon sites:

Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health: Service Users’ Perspectives (Palgrave 2014)

 

images: Top: Charles Baudelaire by Emile Deroy

and Second image is T.S.Eliot photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell

 

 

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