Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Words on Wednesday: "By The Rivers Dark"

I like this poem by Leonard Cohen, even if I don't really care for the recorded song. He passed away recently, and the world will be darker without his words. A young boy emailed him to ask what had inspired him to write his most famous song, "Hallelujah." His answer;  “I wanted to stand with those who clearly see G-d’s holy broken world for what it is, and still find the courage or the heart to praise it. You don’t always get what you want. You’re not always up for the challenge. But in this case — it was given to me. For which I am deeply grateful.”

It's timely that Cohen's songs are in the forefront of the public consciousness right now. Cohen recognizes darkness in the world and voices lament without giving in to despair. There's a gritty, raw honesty in his writing that we need. There's also faith, and at a time when many in our culture are turned off by Christianity, Cohen's Jewish faith is at least keeping God in the conversation. The song is based on Psalm 137. Cohen's faith language is always wrapped in humility, and that contributes to the appeal and challenges the caricatured depiction of faith so prevalent in secular culture.

"By The Rivers Dark" is inspired by Psalm 137. Titus Techura has written a good analysis of the poetry. He calls it "a song about trying to live with the darkness in the world that reveals the darkness in the soul that longs for God."

By The Rivers Dark

By Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

By the rivers dark
I wandered on.
I lived my life
in Babylon.

And I did forget
My holy song:
And I had no strength
In Babylon.

By the rivers dark
Where I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me.

And he cut my lip
And he cut my heart.
So I could not drink
From the river dark.

And he covered me,
And I saw within,
My lawless heart
And my wedding ring,

I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there,
Who was hunting me.

By the rivers dark
I panicked on.
I belonged at last
to Babylon.

Then he struck my heart
With a deadly force,
And he said, ‘This heart:
It is not yours.’

And he gave the wind
My wedding ring;
And he circled us
With everything.

By the rivers dark,
In a wounded dawn,
I live my life
In Babylon.

Though I take my song
From a withered limb,
Both song and tree,
They sing for him.

Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone,
If I forget
My Babylon.

I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there,
Who was hunting me.

By the rivers dark,
Where it all goes on;
By the rivers dark
In Babylon.

Photo by Teddy Kelley

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