Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book of Mercy [review]

Psalm 33
You who question souls, and you to whom souls must answer, do not cut off the soul of my son on my account. Let the strength of his childhood lead him to you, and the joy of his body stand him upright in your eyes. May he discern my prayer for him, and to whom it is uttered, and in what shame. I received the living waters and I held them in a stagnant pool. I was taught but I did not teach. I was loved but I did not love. I weakened the name that spoke me, and I chased the light with my own understanding. Whisper in his ear. Direct him to a place of learning. Illuminate his child's belief in mightiness. Rescue him from those who want him with no soul, who have their channels in the bedrooms of the rich and poor, to draw the children into death.
Let him see me coming back. Allow us to bring forth our souls together to make a place for your name. If I am too late, redeem my yearning in his heart, bless him with a soul that remembers you, that he may uncover it with careful husbandry. They who wish to devour him have grown powerful on my idleness. They have a number for him, and a chain. Let him see them withered in the light of your name. Let him see their dead kingdom from the mountain of your word. Stand him up upon his soul, bless him with the truth of manhood.

Book of Mercy
, Leonard Cohen, Villard Books, NY 1984.
yes, that Cohen.

Written without a pause, without a break, without artistic & artificial separations one sees in the visual presentation of poetry, this pushes, his words driving in passion, giving you no opportunity to emphasize one thing over another.

These psalms absolutely must be read slowly. Cohen's music and lyrics are powerful, often presented in an extremely blunt style in his recorded music. (you gave me head/on the made bed) These poems are straightforward, direct, but not blunt. From an extremely talented user of the English language, each sentence should be considered carefully.

As one would imagine from the title, the majority revolve around Mercy, seeking or seeing God's mercy in the various aspects of Life. I wish I could include some of the others** which were poignantly moving for me, except you'd likely get bored.

The psalms in the Old Testament are poetry. Some are exquisite in pain (Ps. 22) or overwhelming in joy (Ps. 118) comforting in their traditional use (Ps. 23) or just nice (Ps. 150). I have a psalter (book of psalms) which is translated from Hebrew into modern poetry.* Here, Cohen has simply written his own. These are not renditions of biblical passages from the King of the Israelites or some other dead Jewish guy 2100 years ago; they are cries from a man today, which might not be in print in another couple millenia. Although if they were, they would cry out, appealing to man's soul and God's Mercy.

Gopher rating:
2 - definitely buy a copy, you'll read it more than once.

*I'm not at home, so I can't cite it.

** Why not? Copyright allows me to present material for purposes of criticism. So, from my lips to God's ears:
Psalm 40
Let me not pretend you are with me, when you are not with me. Let me close down, let the puppet fall amoug the strings, until, by your mercy, he rises as a man. Let him dare to call on you from the dust, when there is nothing but dust, and the coils of his defeat. Enter me again into the judgment, I who refuse to be judged. Enter me into the mercy, I who have forgotten mercy. Let me raise your kingdom to the beauty of your name. Who do you welcome me? asks the bitter heart. Why do you comfort me? asks the heart that is not broken enough. Let him lie among the strings until there is no hope for his daily strategy, until he cries, I am yours, I am your creature. Then the surface of the world is restored, then he can walk and build a will. Blessed are you whose blessings are discerned by those who know your name. The evil are seen clearly, and the good are beyond safety, and in the panic the whole world prays. Let us not be tested. Blessed are you who creates and destroys, who sits in judgment on numberless worlds, who judges the present with mercy.


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