Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


Leonard Cohen's Haiku


Hungarian version

Leonard Cohen & Zen

from "The Spice-Box of Earth"
For Frank and Marian Scott


and a deeper silence

when the crickets



from "The Spice-Box of Earth"

You worry that I will leave you.
I will not leave you.
Only strangers travel.
Owning everything,
I have nowhere to go.


POEM 111 ("Each man ...")
from "The Energy of Slaves"

Each man
has a way to betray
the revolution
This is mine


from "The Energy of Slaves"

Come down to my room
I was thinking about you
and I made a pass at myself


from "The Energy of Slaves"

I brought a man his dinner
He did not wish to look into my eyes
He ate in peace


from "Dear Heather"

Dear Heather
Please walk by me again
With a drink in your hand
And your legs all white
From the winter



You go your way
I'll go your way too



I will never
the Holy Grail
to its
"rightful owners."

"Perhaps this can serve as my New Year's Resolution"
- Leonard Cohen, Los Angeles, December 28, 1999



After listening to Mozart
we go around
with pianos
strapped to our backs



A woman I want -
An honour I covet -
A place where I want my mind to dwell -
Then Mercy returns me
To the fretboard
And the problems of the song.



behind the pain
someone is rejoicing

behind the torture
there is love

who's going to buy
this bullshit

if you don't become the ocean
you'll be seasick
every day



The old are kind
but the young are hot.
Love may be blind
but Desire is not.



the road is too long
the sky is too vast
the wandering heart
is homeless at last


Thoughts on Leonard Cohen -- Andreas Schoter
From: Andreas Schoter (asch@aisb.ed.ac.uk)
How to Write Haiku - A Discussion of the Work of Leonard Cohen
by Andreas Schoter

It might seem odd -- what has Cohen's work got to do with the art
of haiku? The poetry and songs of Leonard Cohen are, first of
all, long. Well, compared to haiku anyway. Secondly, they are
rarely about nature -- almost always the subject matter is the
vagaries of the human heart. But there is, I think, something
about his work that strikes a chord with the haijin in me.

Sometimes, to be sure, he actually penned a haiku. The
following, called "Summer Haiku" appears originally in his
collection of poems "The Spice-Box of Earth":

and a deeper silence
when the crickets

This is classical: an image (the silence) and a contrast -- the
silence is really the sound of crickets, and only when they
stop... Apart from the superficial matter of form this is a
haiku. But it is really the only convincing example that I can
find in a recent comprehensive collection of his work, "Stranger
Music". The following, called "My Room", appears originally in
the collection "The Energy of Slaves":

Come down to my room
I was thinking about you
and I made a pass at myself

It's amusing; perhaps it's a modern senryu on longing? The next,
also from "The Energy of Slaves" is called "Morocco"

I brought a man his dinner
He did not wish to look into my eyes
He ate in peace

For me this is a good senryu -- it has a slightly bitter edge
(the man not acknowledging Cohen bringing his dinner) and again
there's the contrast, the man eats in peace. But for the most
part Cohen's shorter poems are not haiku or senryu. Consider
"Wheels, Fireclouds" originally from the collection "Flowers for

I shot my eyes through the drawers of your empty coffins,
I was loyal,
I was the one who lifted up his face.

This is private, bordering on obscure. It's certainly not
something that most haijin would produce. Maybe, if Cohen is
perusing the inner landscape of his emotions, it is a haiku, or a
senryu at least. But if so, then it has a very narrow audience
if we want one of the defining features of a haiku to be the
invoking of a parallel response in the reader.

So, why do I want to relate the work of Leonard Cohen to haiku,
and specifically to the writing of haiku? Really, I want to draw
your attention to one piece in particular: it's called "How to
Speak Poetry" in the collection "Death of a Lady's Man", but I
think it might equally be called "How to Write Haiku". Let's
consider some extracts from this piece...

First he says "The poem is nothing but information." No doubt
this appeals to the computer programmer in me! But think about
haiku, think about Bill's image of haiku as photograph. The
following longer extract makes the point:

"Think of the words as science, not as art. They are a report.
You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorers' club of the
National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of
mountain climbing. They honor you by taking this for granted.
If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their
hospitality. Tell them about the height of the mountain, the
equipment you used, be specific about the surfaces and the time
it took to scale it. Do not work the audience for gasps and
sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from
your appreciation of the event but from theirs."

When I read this it speaks to me directly of the nature of the
haiku. The haiku is a direct report of a moment of perception;
it's impact comes from the recognition, in the reader, of that
moment! At his best I think what Cohen writes are haiku of the
emotional lands, and sometimes with 'the stink of Zen'. Consider
"Owning Everything", again from "The Spice-Box of Earth":

You worry that I will leave you.
I will not leave you.
Only strangers travel.
Owning everything,
I have nowhere to go.

Chapter 44 of the Tao Te Ching says "When you realize there is
nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you." For me Leonard
Cohen is the haijin of the Tao of the human heart (if you and he
will for give the pretentious phrasing). Finally, "I'd like to

I'd like to read
one of the poems
that drove me into poetry
I can't remember one line
or where to look

The same thing
happened with money
girls and late evenings of talk

Where are the poems
that led me away
from everything I loved

to stand here
naked with the thought of finding thee

All excerpts taken from "Stranger Music - selected poems and songs of
Leonard Cohen" Published by Jonathan Cape, 1993.