You Want it Darker: A Song of Accusation and Lamentation

Leonard Cohen’s newest single/title track to his new album You Want it Darker is as close to perfect as I have heard in terms of modern poetry.

At 82 years old Cohen has distilled a lifetime’s worth of experience and writing into a beautiful frightening song that is wonderfully simple and complex at the same time.

It is Cohen in the role of prophet singing in a voice of lamentation and accusation. But which prophet? Part accusing Job and part wailing Jeremiah, it is a brilliant blend perspectives that points fingers at both God and self (as humanity’s representative).

The song goes as follows:

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

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

 Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lordThere’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame

If you are the dealer, let me out of the game
If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

[Outro: Cantor Gideon Zelermyer]
Hineni
Hineni, hineni
Hineni

 

The words make me shiver as I read them again and again. Here is Cohen taking on the role of the priestly caste of Israel (as the Cohen’s are part of) and using his voice, the voice in the song; Cohen standing before God as he nears the end of his life claiming that God is culpable for the state of things and that we are Gods accomplices:

You want it darker, we kill the flame

Like the brashest of the prophets he speaks without fear of recrimination with the challenge leveled to God again and again in Hebrew – “Hineni, Hineni, Hineni, Hineni” or “Here I am” made even more powerful by the fact that it is sung at the end by a cantor from a Montreal synagogue.

It is the ultimate human cry, made most poignant through the experience of Jewish history from Egypt through Babylon and Aushwitz – “Where are you oh Lord?” sung as a round alongside “We know we have failed you just as you are failing us“.

These are the words of a man who will not hide his face but rather stand before God without apology and speak honestly without care for the consequences.

I cannot say enough about the significance of this song/poem in the Cohen anthology of writings – it is truly astounding.

i like the darker days

i like the darker days
the early coming night
i like the oppressive times
they help me see my pale light
it stands out

i like the colder days
of bone-scouring wild wind
these frozen moments
they help me see that
………………while i have sinned
there is a warmth within

i like the heavy days
rain sodden, world crushing
a pressing down upon me
til’ the air within comes rushing
that i might rise above it all

today

today is a down day –
not a goosefeatherstuffedcomforter down kinda day
but a hooksintheyeskickintheballs down kinda day
a gravityturneduphighfallonyourface down kinda day
am i painting a vivid enough picture here?
it would be composed of dark reds and blacks and greys
it would be a picture that said a thousand shitty words
                                                                       in a thousand shitty ways
so if i’m the painter why choose these pain-filled pigments?
why not re-create the day in brights and bleached whites
cover over the doldrum drabs with more engaging sights
let it be a painting over a painting kind of day
let the art preservationists uncover the lost image
buried beneath the this candy-covered clown-smile of a visage

Newton’s Cradle

i took a few (a lot)
of punches to the head
when i was younger (no jokes)
when i boxed/fought/beat the anger out in fists on flesh
i was that kind of fighter
let me fall or fail but not before
he feels the force of this life…my life
transferred through me like a Newton’s Cradle
crashing into his fresh face…
only to come back, though less than before
and in the end i would always win
in blood and cancerous clouds of smoke
i was never a boxer…
i was a cannon the world aimed at others