Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book of Mercy

When Leonard Cohen wrote the Book of Mercy in the early 1980s he described himself as being "unable to speak in any other way" and that he had been "silenced for a long, long time." The book of 50 prose poems is a poignant conversation between himself and "the source of mercy."

It is filled with longing, regret, sorrow and hope. In its pages, the author "falls radiantly toward the light to which he falls" (Book of Mercy, 8)

Published in 1984, this is Cohen's eighth book of poetry. At that time, he had already published two novels and released eight recording albums. Throughout all of these works there are recurring themes of spiritual (and sexual) longing, but more than any other, this book is liturgical, prayer-like. Though influenced by his Buddhist practice and his interest in Christianity, it is very much a tribute to, and participation in, his Jewish faith and traditions.

Book of Mercy is composed of 50 numbered pieces. They are short in length, but deep with imagery and Scriptural references. The language is so carefully crafted that one reading alone does not feel sufficient for grasping everything contained in each poem.

I read this book in one sitting, which is like standing under a waterfall with the weight of words tumbling around me. I know I'll want to return again - but next time to enter slowly. Dip my toes in. Read just one verse and sit with it awhile. This is a book you could take on a desert island and never tire of.

In verse 13, Cohen writes, "Friend, when you speak this carefully I know it is because you don't know what to say." Cohen speaks extremely carefully, but he knows exactly what to say.

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