Text and photos by Leonard Cohen

Here Was The Harbour

(Parasites of Heaven, 1966)

Here was the Harbour, crowded with white ships, the gulls showing how much silver there was in the sunlight as they fell out of the sky like handfuls of polished rice, or climbed in smoky squadrons at the sun until their wings turned silver and they descended again to astonish the floating garbage.

Who doesn’t give his heart to things that soar, kites or jet planes or a sharp distant sail? I tried to give you more than my heart, I tried to yield my loathing, my ambition, all my tiny sicknesses, I tried to give away a new desire which I had hardly suspected but which was growing violently in the metal sunlight, like a germ culture suddenly surrounded by its own ideal conditions.

The gulls continued their cold acrobatics and refused to bear the smudges of my uneasiness: I think that more than hunger the sky was their master, they performed for the endless blue sky, confetti for some vast ceremony, an eternal wedding.

Give what you want to the gulls, the sky is not satisfied with the smudges of your character. It demands stories; of men the sky demands all manner of stories, entertainments, embroideries, just as it does of its stars and constellations. The sky does not care for this trait or that affliction, it wants the whole man lost in his story, abandoned in the mechanics of action, touching his fellows, leaving them, hunting the steps, dancing the old circles. The sky wants diagrams of our lives, it stores them like little curious wrist-watches, they are our wedding gifts.

Fragment from a journal

(Stranger Music 1993)

I lit a stick of incense. I sat down on a small cushion crossing my legs in a full Lotus. For over an hour I thought about how much I hated one of my ex-wives.

It was still dark when I began writing a metaphysical song called “Letter to the Christians,” in which I attempted to exaggerate the maturity of my own religious experience and invalidate everyone else’s, especially those who claimed a renewed spiritual vitality.

Several days later I had four stanzas of eight lines each, which certified that I received the Holy Spirit, attained to a deep enlightenment, circumcised my soul with the Wine of Love, and “accustomed myself to the clemency of the Lord.”

I told the song to Anthony that afternoon as we were standing knee deep in the Aegean Sea. We had a good laugh. He especially liked this verse:
The imitations of His love
He sponsors patiently
Until you can be born with Him
some hopeless night in Galilee
until you lose your pride in Him
until your faith objective fails
until you stretch your arms so wide
you do not need these Roman nails
A few minutes later Anthony produced a reply:

I really hope you stumble on
The Great Red Whore of Babylon
Forget the Grace
Enjoy the Lace
Have some fun and carry on
He is very fast. The beach was full of beautiful young women whom I desired uniformly at a very low intensity. I saw a newborn Christian on a rock contemplating the beauty of His Handiwork and I hurried off to let her know that I had been touched by Grace. My song almost made her cry. She hadn’t known “that I knew the Lord”.

Hydra, 1983


Text and photos © Leonard Cohen. Reprinted
with permission. All rights reserved.