Leonard and Lorca
They danced to the end of love and have gone to their places by the river.
As the ballads of grief and pleasure about the death of Leonard Cohen gracefully swept through the media one fact was lost. At least to me. His relationship with the Spanish poet Lorca. He first came across Lorca in a second hand book shop in Montreal when he was 15. From then on there was no other way. Now he had discovered the gothic possibilities of the Spaniard’s ink the poet had to take up his pen. He went onto name his daughter Lorca, as he said this was not a casual relationship. He spent 150 hours translating Take this Waltz (see link) which is one of the few songs Cohen sang which he did not write.
Here is his speech accepting a Spanish Literature award in 2011.
“Now, you know of my deep association and confraternity with the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. I could say that when I was a young man, an adolescent, and I hungered for a voice, I studied the English poets and I knew their work well, and I copied their styles, but I could not find a voice.
“It was only when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca that I understood that there was a voice. It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice, that is to locate a self, a self that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence.
“As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.”
Elsewhere Cohen wrote,
That book I picked up aged 15 was to alter my life completely. You see I was destined to be a brain surgeon or a forest ranger or even just to go into the family clothing business. But in this old bookstore I opened a book and I read the lines “I want to pass through the arches of Elvira, to see your thighs and begin weeping.”
I turned to the cover of the book, it was written by a Spanish poet by the name of Frederico Garcia Lorca, and for the first time I understood that there was another world and I wanted to be in it. So it was a great honour for me when I was asked to translate one of his great poems into English and to set it to music. The poem is Little Viennese Waltz which I called Take This Waltz.
Throughout his moonstruck career ,Cohen the grocer of despair , the bard of the bedsit sung with and above, Lorca, the poet of desire and troubled imagination, of melancholy and longing.
But who was Lorca(1898-1936). He came from a wealthy Andalucían family and his region was always a great inspiration, though he resented being called a”gypsy poet”. His plays and poems made him a national treasure by 1930,(part Larkin part Stoppard). He was very much of the creative wave which broke across Europe after the Great War. The influence of Bunuel and Dali, symbolism, surrealism and futurism were all present in his work. Part of his depressive tone came from his failed homosexual love affairs, not least with Dali.
During the Civil War he was claimed by both sides but a right wing gang assassinated him in 1936. His body was never found and the mystery of his violent death adds to his legend. Some say the murder was because he was queer, some because of his left wing tendencies, some as a grudge against another right wing gang which was giving Lorca a safe house.
Read him. Lorca’s poem Farewell speaks for both of them. The one who died in his bed and the one who died in an unmarked ditch. But as poets they sung for us all.
Fare Well If I die, leave the balcony open. The little boy is eating oranges. (From my balcony I can see him.) The reaper is harvesting the wheat. (From my balcony I can hear him.) If I die, leave the balcony open!