“Leonard Cohen was Poetry Itself” – Benjamin Cassidy

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Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen died on 7th November. Benjamin Cassidy talks about the impact the news had on his life

By Benjamin Francis Cassidy

Some people read poetry, and are inspired by it. Others write poetry, and are very skilled at it; some do both. There is one man who did all of this and more. Leonard Cohen was poetry itself. He told stories like no other could, and managed to fuse beauty with an unparalleled insight into the human condition, along with all its complexities. He did so with a deftness that was so devastatingly honest and nuanced, that he made mysticism tangible. It seems fitting to talk of how the man and his words made me feel, and what the end of this part of his journey meant to me, and why.

Leonard Cohen died on a Friday morning. At least he did for me. A former lover of mine that truly understood why I connected with his poetry, songs and art so much, sent me a text message to tell me. It felt very stark and had the potential to ruin the day before it began; that’s the modern way. Life is squeezed in between work and eating, and time spent trying to succeed. Now death was given the same treatment. It arrived all at once, without the pre-requisite of platitudes, along the lines of, “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you”, or “I’ve some bad news for you.” I would have liked to have had the news delivered personally. A knock on the door and a hug perhaps. But that’s not how we live, sadly. It was just a text message that said: “HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWS ABOUT LEONARD COHEN?” I didn’t want it to be with other news, and just be a side-story. I wanted more. I was worried that because it was so transient it showed how few people listened to him and all he had to say. I didn’t want his wisdom wasted, by not being celebrated.  Why couldn’t we follow leaders like him, instead of those we do? Because we never told him he was a leader. He would have needed telling. He’d never have known.

I got up, and became part of it all again, getting ready to go to university. I brought his Book of Longing with me, to read in between lessons. I mentally apologised for being angry at how the world worked, then I labelled myself a hypocrite, and forgave myself at the time. Guilt that stews inside you is as indulgent as vanity, but far more damaging. It’s not an active process.

The thing that made me sadder than all of it was when it hit me that never again would anything new and fresh be created by him. It felt as if I had lost a pointer on my moral compass, or the person I always go to for advice would no longer be there. Then I remembered how much he had created, and felt a little better. He’d always give me a peacefulness that was unique in its application and metaphor. I realised what the date was. November 11th. Armistice Day. I chuckled to myself, as I thought of his ribald sense of humour. Armistice Day, the end of war, and a perpetual symbol of hope. Only Leonard Cohen could have died on that day. Wherever, or whatever he is now, one thing is certain: his hauntingly brilliant music, with all its warts and beauty spots, which can and should never be separated, will continue to light up humanity. Perhaps now we will take heed of his warnings, and celebrate his observations. There is always the hope that we will; there must be, always. If nothing else, Leonard Cohen gave us all that in immeasurable abundance. Long may he continue to.

Did you lose an artist you admired in 2016? Send your story to HumanityHallows.Editor@gmail.com

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Benjamin Francis Cassidy

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