I was delighted to find the English edition of Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing in my local library last week. A number of the poems in this collection were written during and after Cohen’s zen retreat to Mt. Baldy in California but some of them are much older. Many are accompanied by his own illustrations. Black humour and self-parody are in abundant supply. In “The Lovesick Monk” he writes: I shaved my head/I put on robes/I sleep in the corner of a cabin/sixty-five hundred feet up a mountain/it’s dismal here/the only thing I don’t need/is a comb.
From as early as the second poem (My Life in Robes) it’s pretty clear Cohen didn’t feel ideally cut out for the monastic lifestyle: After a while/you can’t tell/if it’s missing/a woman/or needing/a cigarette/and later on/if it’s night/or day/then suddenly/you know/the time/you get dressed/you go home/you light up/you get married.
A monastery is not the best place for a man who gets up for prayer at 2.30am with an enormous hard-on. Welcome back to the world of mere mortals, Len. The old Montreal maestro isn’t getting any younger and he has learned life is too short to pass up the pleasures of the flesh.