Leonard Cohen (1934- ) is a Montreal-born writer, poet and musician. Around the time of the release of his record, The Future (1992), Cohen was likened to an Old Testament prophet by a Canadian reviewer. And this might not be too far off. Cohen’s lyrics and retrospective asides seem to dance around the idea that he’s a mouthpiece for the Divine as well as a humble guy, just like anyone else.¹
Along these lines, Cohen seems content with his combination of Jewish and Buddhist beliefs.
Cohen lost his father when he was nine years old. But he was left with a modest trust fund so didn’t have to worry about money in his younger days.
He bought a house and spent his formative years in Greece, this influence discernible in much of his music. A former ladies man, he openly tells of forays into drink, religion and whatever else might have sustained him. He once held the unconventional notion that the Nazis were defeated by music. And he speaks of a creative spark that apparently those “who are there” know about and those “who are not there” do not.
The following lyrics from “Bird on the Wire” (1969) speak for themselves:
Like bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way
To be free.
And from Susanne (1967):
And Jesus was a sailor… Only drowning men could see him.
In “The Tower of Song” (1988) he sings:
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.
And in The Future (1992) he takes an even darker route:
I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.
However, The Future also contains some humorous and hopeful elements.
Apparently bilked out of his fortune in 2005 by former manager, Kelley Lynch, Cohen filed a suit and was also sued. Still standing, his comeback tour, cds and verse have proved that he’s a survivor. His latest album, Old Ideas, has received 4 and 5 star reviews from critics and fans around the world. Not bad for a guy nearing 80 yrs.
¹ See for example, “Going Home” from his latest cd, Old Ideas » http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2012/01/23/120123po_poem_cohen
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Euripides (480-406 BCE) was a Greek dramatist, born in Athens. As a youth he was an athlete, winning prizes at Eleusinian and Thesean gymnastic events. After studying philosophy under Anaxagoras (along with his friend Socrates), rhetoric under Prodicus and dabbling in painting, Euripides realized that literature was his forté.
Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance. Yet he also became “the most tragic of poets”,[nb 1] focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown.¹
He wrote some 80 dramas, out of which 19 remain. Medea, Electra, and Trojan Women were performed during his lifetime but his work became increasingly popular after his death. The Bacchae, for instance, was performed in Athens only after he had died.
Euripides is also relevant to contemporary psychiatry and, in particular, depth psychology. His play Heracles (416 BCE) most effectively personifies Madness as the daughter of Heaven and Night, sent to drive Heracles insane:
Madness has mounted her chariot
Groans and tears accompany her
She plies the lash, hell-bent for murder
rage gleaming from her eyes
A Gorgon of the night, and around her
Bristle the hissing heads of a hundred snakes²
Fully versed in the myths and legends that permeated his culture, he was also aware of the Sophists and the early scientists and philosophers like Anaxagoras.³ So Euripides didn’t buy into but, rather, satirized the popular religion of his day. He did believe in the idea of divine providence but was skeptical of many of the religious beliefs and practices that dominated the ancient Greek world.
Put simply, he preferred to find his own answers to questions concerning ultimate truth. As such, he’s been called ’the poet of the Greek enlightenment,’ among a variety of other things by his detractors and admirers.4
² Euripides, cited in Eric Flaum and David Pandy, The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes, and Legends of the Greeks and Romans, Philadelphia, Courage Books, 1993, p. 99.
³ Peter Burian ” Euripides ” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 25 May 2012 http://www.oxford-greecerome.com/entry?entry=t294.e458
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Hunt published Keat’s first sonnets in the Examiner in 1816. Keat’s early work was regarded, even by himself in due time, as somewhat “mawkish and slipshod.” But his La Belle Dame Sans Merci and various Odes, such as Ode to a Grecian Urn, successfully adapt the Shakespearean and Petrarchian form of the sonnet.
To Autumn is often regarded as a masterpiece of English lyric poetry. For mythographers, Keats’ interest lies in his extensive reworking of classical Greek themes: Hyperion, Apollo, Ode to Psyche and the youthful Endymion, in which he pursues the ideal of pure beauty.
Refusing an invitation to spend the winter of 1820 in Italy with the Shelleys, he nonetheless borrowed enough funds to travel to Italy with a young painter in the following September. Shortly after, he died of tuberculosis in February at Rome.
Keats’ Letters were published in 1848 and 1878.
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Macbeth is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1603 and 1607.
Perhaps one of the most enduring lines from drama comes from the opening of Macbeth, where three witches, the ‘weird sisters,’ call out:
Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.
It almost sounds like the three witches at the opening of Shakespeare’s tragedy are describing the less admirable aspects of the 21st century–both socially and environmentally.
In a nutshell, the play goes as follows:
Urged by his wife, Macbeth kills King Duncan in Act V to become the new king of Scotland.
Shortly after, Lady Macbeth falls into a kind of madness. Her sleepwalking and attempts to wash the bloodstains – “Out damned spot!” – from her hands exemplify what later might be designated as obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Lady Macbeth suicides from overweening guilt. Macbeth, himself, leads an apparently charmed existence. He cannot be killed by one born of a woman. But he’s finally beheaded by Macduff who was “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb.
Just before his death, Macbeth’s name is described as “a hotter name than any is in hell.”
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Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822)
Romantic poet, writer and man of letters best known for works such as Prometheus Unbound and Ozymandias.
Although Shelley bristled at the thought of organized religion, he nonetheless envisioned a transcendent reality implicit to nature.
Oxford expelled him in 1811 for distributing his pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism.
His first wife drowned herself, after which time he married Mary Godwin, who went on to write the famous novel Frankenstein as Mary Shelly in 1818.
Friend to Lord Byron and John Keates, Percy was found dead, washed ashore after he and Edward Williams were caught in a storm while boating.
Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt immolated the bodies in a solemn beach-side ceremony.
» Atheism, Romanticism, Shelley (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin)
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Shakespeare, William (1564-1616)
English playwright and poet born in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare worked as an actor in London, where he began to compose sonnets.
With the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of players to become known as the King’s Men, Shakespeare leased the first Globe Theatre, erected in 1598. It burnt down in 1613 but Shakespeare and his troupe had already been performing at a new Globe.
The genius of his work, written mostly for the Globe, was recognized by Queen Elizabeth and her court.
Shakespeare enjoyed much success and considerable wealth in his lifetime. Today, many forget that his plays were written to be seen, not read.
If theatre going isn’t a practical alternative, the next best thing might be the BBC television series (VHS and DVD) of Shakespeare’s plays. This production boasts authentic costumes, on-location castles and ancestrally inherited accents to help bring the mystical bard’s works to life.
It has been suggested that Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever, not only in the English language, but in any language. Some feminists contend this claim, suggesting that writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson are equal if not superior to Shakespeare’s wit and wisdom. And others say that if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had not written in German, he might have rivaled Shakespeare’s literary throne.
This author remembers an Anglican minister once saying that the Biblical Book of Job was “like Shakespeare,” as if to imply that Shakespeare was better literature than the Bible. Many might disagree, and popularity is not necessarily an indicator of absolute value, but from 1986 to 1993 Shakespeare ranked third in the Top 10 Authorities cited in academic journals of the Arts and Humanities, with the Bible at 5th place.†
† Source: Institute for Scientific Information as cited in The Globe and Mail, Toronto: Southam, February 11, 1993.
On the Web:
» Arjuna, Atlantis, Berkeley (George), Glamour, Hamlet, Homer, Iago, Keats (John), Macbeth, Madness, Merchant of Venice, Milton (John), Othello, Pericles, Psychosis, Radha, Reincarnation, Romeo and Juliet, Shylock, Unconscious
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Sappho (610-580 BCE)
Greek lyric poetess, born in Lesbos who wrote within the context of the cult of Aphrodite and the veneration of the Muses.
Only 8th and 9th century copies and fragments – along with more fragments obtained from papyrus discoveries since 1898 – of her work and one complete address to Aphrodite remain.
Sappho was married and wrote verse for weddings. She also arranged poetic gatherings where she and other women composed and read poetry, as was the custom of women of good standing in Lesbos. From this she developed several close relationships.
Her extant work reveals no clear evidence of physical intimacy with these women but other ancient figures caricaturized her and the entire island of Lesbos as a center for lesbianism. As such, she went into exile in Sicily, later returning to Mytilene.
She is often cited today as an inspiration for lesbian love. Speaking about herself and her associates, she once wrote,
I think that someone will remember us in another time.
» Goddess vs. goddess
On the Web:
- “Sappho (Σαπφώ) was born in the seventh century BC, in the island of Lesbos. Her love of women reflects a deeper love for civilization.”
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Vergil or Virgil, properly, Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BCE).
Vergil was a Roman poet who studied studied philosophy in Rome before gaining status as a court poet.
His unfinished Aeneid was commissioned by the emperor Augustus to honor Rome’s origins.
Vergil’s grave was treated as a sacred site for centuries and from the Middle Ages up to recent times his Latin works became standard fare for educational institutions throughout Europe.
The poet Dante called Vergil, il nostro maggior poeta (“our greatest poet”)¹ and placed him prominently in his Divine Comedy as a guide leading him through several layers of Hell and upward to Purgatory.
And J. B. Trapp notes that
In the third canto of Purgatorio, Dante’s great mentor reproaches him for his faint trust:
Non credi tu me teco e ch’io ti guidi?²
But Vergil was replaced by Beatrice as Dante’s guide at the gates marking the entrance of Paradise. Quite simply, Vergil could not continue upwards due to his uncoverted pagan roots.
According to legend the apostle Paul wept over Vergil’s grave because he was so close to gaining the opportunity of becoming a Christian.
¹M. C. Howatson, ed. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, Second Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 595.
²J. B. Trapp, “The Grave of Vergil,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 47, (1984: 1-31), p. 1.
» Aeneas, Aeneid, Blessed Isles, Furies, Sibyl
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Aeneid An epic poem written in Latin by Vergil.
It is casts in mythic verse the journey and adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who in ancient legend founded Rome. » Sibyl
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