A Cohen Lorica

Críost liomsa, (Christ with me)
Críost romham, (Christ before me)
Agus Críost i mo chroí’se, (and Christ in my heart)
Críost os mo chionn’sa, (Christ above me)
Críost fúm, (Christ below me)
Agus Críost ar mo chroí’se. (and Christ on my heart)
Agus Críost i mo chroí. (and Christ in my heart)
-the Lorica in Gaelic

This week I’ve slowly been listening to a 1996 interview of Leonard Cohen with Armelle Brusq at Mt Baldy Zen Center.  Since the length of YouTube uploads is limited, the interview is broken into six ten-minute segments. Here are the links: 1/6, 2/6, 3/6, 4/6, 5/66/6. (thanks, DrHGuy)

Today I was looking for the segment where Leonard says. “You have to sit in the very bonfire of that distress and you sit there until you’re burnt away and it’s ashes,” and I realized in places his words had a cadence very much like the Lorica, but instead of the traditional Christian context, he gives a version that is a pure Cohenesque mobius strip, or maybe Klein bottle. [Transcription is from video 4/6 starting at 7:35, and video 5/6 starting at 5:40]

I’ve always liked singing, I’ve always liked playing guitar, I– like music.
My mother sang, you know, the cantor sang in the synagogue–
Music was a big part of my life — it was natural to express myself musically.

I had whatever few materials I had, but mostly it was chaos and desolation
And it was just to organize something with what I had
a little melody, a chord
you know, just pieces of bone and rag
and just a few things put together and you know

and at a certain point, they breathe, that mess,
that formless pool of slime and despair
it starts–even if it’s about that, even if the song is about those matters
it still you know becomes a universe of its own
and you can enter it,  you can sing it and you can communicate it and you can inhabit it,

so, it strengthens you to do that kind of work.
but you have to — dive into it just — same way in zazen
things arise that are very disturbing

and there’s no way around it,
there’s no way over it,
there’s no way under it
there’s no way to the side of it,
there’s no forgetting it, you know.

You have to sit in the very bonfire of that distress
and you sit there until you’re burnt away
and it’s ashes,
you know,
and it’s gone.


You know, I had this urgency
from quite young, from a quite young age
to make things, you know
mostly it was on a page
just to make something that worked, you know

something that, that rose off the page
that sang
that had a life of its own
that you know
could win a heart,
could present me in a good light
could touch myself.

I always felt that poetry and song were the ashes of experience
and the ashes were well burned, you know,
they were — you could clarify them, you could purify them
you could get rid of the clinkers and the chunks
and it could be beautiful fine white ash, you know

which is what a good song is or a good poem
it — really is —  it can blow away in the wind
it can blow right through you,
it can blow right through your heart

when you get out of the way of your own love, it  becomes true
and it’s not fixed,
when it’s not solidified,
and when it’s not focused rigidly on another object it … it …  it broadcasts

in front of  you and in back of you
to the right of you, to the left of you
above you and beneath you
and you’re in the center
of a force field
that includes everything
that has no inside or no outside
that doesn’t look at anything
nor does it need to be looked at.

It’s like the taste of honey when you’re very young
it’s just — or chocolate when you really are–need something sweet
and every cell of your body says thank you

That’s what it’s like.

Posted in Leonard Cohen, music, Poetry. Comments Off on A Cohen Lorica