Aug 1, 2010

Commentary on a poem by Leonard Cohen:

This Is War
There is no one
to show these poems to
Do not call a friend to witness
what you must do alone
These are my ashes
I do not intend to save you any work
by keeping silent
You are not yet as strong as I am
You believe me
but I do not believe you
This is war
You are here to be destroyed
from The Energy of Slaves

“There is no one / to show these poems to” - Do not run to another.  No one else will understand.  What I have found here will be mine to deal with.  No other can validate.  The truth would be lost if they did.  Don’t look back down the tunnel.  Eurydice disappears down the path with a pale face.  Revelation disappears in the same manner.  There isn’t anywhere to go.  Stop trying to escape (I know that I want to). 

“Do not call a friend to witness / what you must do alone” - This isn’t something to show off.  The poem isn’t foreplay.  It won’t get you in the door.  It won’t bring friends or lovers.  When you inform them what it does do you they will nod and say, “Yes, very nice.” Or something else, but no better.  You must do it alone because the hero must be alone with the gods.  Ghosts of gods, ghosts of men, in tattered clothing and unwashed.  Alone with it all, the throbbing presence of the void.  Eternity in an hour and a grain of sand.  A particle with the weight of star matter.  Alone with it.  There are no calls to make.

“These are my ashes / I do not intend to save you any work / by keeping silent” - The poet has burned himself for this.  Or he was burned, and spends his time collecting his ashes as offerings.  His love has been a fire.  His self has been immolated.  His ashes are mixed with ink and water and written upon the page.  Perhaps they are mixed with blood, a trap of a dramatic urge with a ritualistic novelty.  Keeping silent would save us work, much hard work, many difficult questions which materialize upon the reading of this page, upon the realization of ingesting ashes.  He has chosen to speak.  The words are there to be dealt with.

“You are not yet as strong as I am” - Simply a statement of fact.  Why else turn to these lines?  Why else be so disturbed by them?  Why else feel the knife of truth twisting in a gut and inspiring the urgency to flee into the arms of comfort, into the arms of safe love, into the arms where no poet is putting our intellect and ego under siege?

“You believe me / but I do not believe you” - I believe you because you have proven yourself, because there are ashes amongst and upon the pages.  Because your absolute privacy has violated itself before my eyes.  There is reason to believe you and none to believe me.  All of these things I have expended efforts to hide.  I have cowered under the veil of my self, which is a mask I work on day and night. I’ve proven nothing, given nothing of myself.  I didn’t even know there was a war.

“This is war” - I didn’t know love was, either.  I didn’t know about ordinances, swords, shields, revolvers, parading around in the guise of words.  Thrown into it, even offended.  A fevered dream that I didn’t even want to have.  A war because the poet levels the full weight of his well earned ashes straight at me.  Because I feel truth in my gut and am afraid to be destroyed.  Because war is where my self is caught up in the mercy of the universe, completely humbled and subject to the laws of chance, the gods of dice, the game being played out that many have tried to rig and all have failed at doing so. 

“You are here to be destroyed” - Why else come to these lines? Desperate to preserve, and nothing happens.  Full of virtue and not even a tiny shift in the fabric of the universe.  Destroyed and the gates of love might budge an inch.  The whole tower I thought was magnificent turns out to be rusty, nearly falling over with age and misuse.  Why else come to anything, to love, to her, but for apocalypse?