By David M. Kinchen
Today, a valentine from the Knopf poetry program, to be shared with the one you love: a poem by the incalculably influential singer-songwriter and longtime poet Leonard Cohen, who turned 77 in September and just released his newest album last month. It is from a new eShort sampling of his verse, Fifteen Poems, published today by Everyman’s Library, that also includes many of his provocative line drawings. Like so much of Cohen’s genre-crossing work, “When I Uncovered Your Body,” originally published in a 1961 collection, has lost none of its freshness and sidelong genius over the decades.
When I Uncovered Your Body
When I uncovered your body
I thought shadows fell deceptively,
urging memories of perfect rhyme.
I thought I could bestow beauty
like a benediction and that your half-dark flesh
would answer to the prayer.
I thought I understood your face
because I had seen it painted twice
or a hundred times, or kissed it
when it was carved in stone.With only a breath, a vague turning,
you uncovered shadows
more deftly than I had flesh,
and the real and violent proportions of your body
made obsolete old treaties of excellence,
measures and poems,
and clamoured with a single challenge of personal beauty,
which cannot be interpreted or praised:
it must be met.
About Leonard Cohen
Americans may perhaps best know Leonard Cohen for his hit song “Suzanne,” covered by Judy Collins. Leonard Cohen’s artistic career began in 1956 with the publication of his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (just reissued). He has published two novels, The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers, and ten books of poetry, most recently Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs and Book of Longing. He has to date made seventeen albums, the latest being Old Ideas. Numerous tribute albums, in many languages, have celebrated his songs. Cohen has been inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and both theCanadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Copyright © 1993 by Leonard Cohen and Leonard Cohen Stranger Music, Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Old Ideas LLC. Excerpted by permission of Everyman’s Library, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.