Alexandra Leaving (2001) – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen and Roshi

Leonard Cohen and Roshi

Alexandra Leaving is the third song from Leonard Cohen in the music library project and is the seventh song on his 2001 record Ten New Songs.  Alexandra Leaving is based on “The God Abandons Antony“, a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy. This is another one of his songs which just gets better the more you listen to it. It’s like drinking from a wellspring and each time you take another sip it becomes more blessed, more enriching for the soul.

In contrast to the intensely direct Aint No Cure For Love, Alexandra Leaving is a quietly understated poetic meandering about the ebbs and flows of romance and divine inspiration. Leonard Cohen beset to his spiritual axiom postulates when something so divine touches us we should not take it for granted nor should we try and grasp for it when it decides it’s leaving.

Even though she sleeps upon your satin
Even though she wakes you with a kiss
Do not say the moment was imagined
Do not stoop to strategies like this

And you who were bewildered by a meaning
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

 You can read more about the interpretations of the song at which includes the following:

This song is based on Constantine Cavafy’s Poem ‘The God Abandons Antony’.  The same Antony from ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. The original poem itself is based on Plutarch’s story that Antony heard a ghostly, musical procession the night before he lost the siege of Alexandria to Octavian. The procession – among other things, signified the desertion of his God protector, Bacchus. The departing procession could thus signify the loss of love, glory, fame, fortune, love….

Leonard Cohen changes Alexandria to Alexandra, making the loss more firmly that of love. The song, in Cohen’s hands, becomes about how to face the loss of a lover and all the accompanying promises and expectations. The warrior’s exhortation to face up to the loss of life on the eve of battle transforms into the lover’s counsel to be strong and accept the loss of a relationship.

Interestingly Ten New Songs is dedicated to Joshu Sasaki (see image above) a Buddhist monk and rōshi (venerable teacher) who Cohen regularly visited at Mount Baldy Zen Center in California. He served him as personal assistant during Cohen’s period of reclusion at Mount Baldy monastery in the 1990s. Leonard Cohen speaks about his life as a Buddhist monk here.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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20 comments on “Alexandra Leaving (2001) – Leonard Cohen
  1. hanspostcard says:

    Leonard lyrically is at another level- up there with the Dylan’s.. I regret never seeing him in concert.

  2. badfinger20 says:

    Who becomes a Buddhist monk for a period? That is great…he never stopped learning. Love the lyrics of the song.

    • These people seem to be obsessed about reinventing themselves and finding new ways of looking at things. I think Cohen had been a close friend with Rosha and fascinated with Buddhism since the 70’s while still maintaining the sabbath even on tour.

  3. I love the music of Cohen, I agree I think of him as a poet, I think some of his songs contain the most beautiful lyrics one might find in any poem…Suzanne is a perfect example. Thank you, I enjoyed!

  4. selizabryangmailcom says:

    What a fascinating man. I’ve enjoyed learning a little about him.

    • He is indeed. I’m glad you are enjoying finding out more about Leonard. I really like watching him being interviewed as well. The documentary and his tribute concert ‘I’m Your Man’ was excellent.
      Hey, I just finished reading your short story ‘Best Work’. That was so intriguing. I might need to read it again to ascertain more regarding the symbolism. Can I ask what your inspiration was to come up with that story? It’s so unique. Thanks for sharing it with me Stace. 😊

  5. selizabryangmailcom says:

    In the interview when he talks about enjoying the simplicity of his life there I love the way he phrases it: “a voluptuous sense of economy.” I love words that seemingly don’t belong together, words that cause friction against one another. Like one would imagine that anything economical would NOT be voluptuous in any sense, you know?

    And his details about what sitting is like and what happens: things come up and “you have to sit there in the bonfire of that distress and you sit there till you’re burnt away.”
    So true, even in the sporadic sitting that I’ve done. Unfortunately I’ve never reached a point where I’m burnt away. That’s a good place to be. Evidently if your ego dies completely, then the fear of death is diminished.

    Matthew, you’re fast! Thanks so much for reading the story. My only inspiration was how tortuous creation can be. For me it’s writing. Hours and hours and hours can go by while I hunch over the computer reworking a paragraph or looking for the right word. When I stand up I can barely move and my eyes are blurry. I imagined someone so passionate about their work that their body actually begins to fall apart under the immense stress of inception, formulation, and then generation of a creative idea. I guess I leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not his disintegration is actually happening or is symbolic. Thanks for asking!

    • I loved reading your examples of Cohen’s distinctive phrasing. He really pays careful attention to how he words his responses. I was invigorated by how he distilled the writing process; like rummaging through your pockets to see what you can work with. He’s the consummate poet! Also I found myself dwelling on that line you wrote about when your ego dies. How fascinating! There’s a lot of meat on that bone to chew on!

      Thanks for elaborating so eloquently on your creative writing process. I can certainly imagine how tortuous it can be. It must require so much discipline and innate curiosity to dive into the depths of the dark waters to find something so enriching even if it means salvaging the right word. You mentioned in another comment that you are currently working on your ‘Comedy series’, before you can go back to writing again (short stories?). Do you mean by comedy series – the book you are writing?
      I now have a better grasp of why the sculptor was losing body parts since the process can be so demanding. Adding to this, his problematic lifestyle would definitely take it’s toll, but he is a sense born again after he’s given it his all.
      I definitely want to read it again with all this in mind. As usual you have given me much to ponder as I go about my day. Thanks Stacey!

  6. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Yes, the series is the ones I’m writing right now. 1 and 2 are done. I thought there would be 5 of them but I’m leaning toward just 2 more at this point, lol !!
    As for the story, dear God, don’t read it again! Once is enough, but thanks!
    I’m trying to catch up on reading. You have a lot of posts out there that I haven’t even gotten to. Arrrghhhh…….! 🙂

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