Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Hallelujah for Leonard Cohen

The Hebrew word הַלְּלוּיָ means Praise the Lord (or more properly Praise Yahweh, being praise הַלְּלוּ and יָ the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton), an injunction to the congregation to join in praise. During Leonard Cohen's wonderful performance of his incomperable 'Hallelujah' at Lissadell House in Sligo, he innovated upon his own song by mentioning Yeats' County. In the first half of the concert he mentioned having learned one of Yeats' poems mentioning Lissadell House over fifty years ago and could not have imagined singing in its gardens. That poem has been much mentioned in recent reviews of these two concerts. It opens Yeats' 1933 collection The Winding Stair and Other Poems and is printed below in full, alongside the master himself singing.

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer's wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams —
Some vague Utopia — and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
Pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful.
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

(October 1927)


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