When I read the news of Leonard Cohen’s death, my breath caught in my throat. It had never occurred to me that this man, one of our culture’s greatest icons, could die. Icons don’t die.
This man is…was…the utter definition of the word “legendary.” This man was a poet, novelist, songwriter, producer, singer, and painter. This man, although steadfastly Jewish, even became an ordained Buddhist monk. This man had so much to say through his music that he released an album just last month, one that his son, Adam, helped him record at home, with a microphone on the dining room table. This man, channeling the inspiration he found in the words of W.B. Yeats, gave us some of the most beautiful poetry and evocative novels of the 20th century.
It is impossible to choose his best works, so instead I’ve compiled a list Leonard Cohen’s most popular books.
This collection somehow combines intense religious symbolism and spine-tingling sensuality in a way that comforts the reader, as if the storyteller was holding their hand. McGill University released this as the first in its McGill Poetry Series in 1956, and it was Cohen’s very first published collection.
This book features Cohen’s own artwork as well as poetry, creating a unique relationship between words and pictures. Particularly poignant right now are these lines from a poem called Mission:
“I’ve worked at my work/ I’ve slept at my sleep/ I’ve died at my death/ And now I can leave.”
The success of this collection is no doubt thanks so the inclusion of Cohen’s song lyrics, including the breathtaking Hallelujah. Evoking feelings of spirituality, confidence, and sensuality, these pieces allow us to accompany him as he travels through many phases of his life.
While his prose is distinctly different from his poetry, the same airs of desire and confusion are present. A love triangle is presented in a way that is both animalistic and sympathetic, and the idea of a Mohawk saint somehow satisfies the confusion.
So many of us struggle with the relationship between desire and faith, and these poems are payers and “devotional contemporary psalms” that allow us to connect with our own beliefs as well as the author’s. Cohen received the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry for this haunting collection.
This collection includes the author’s best and favorite pieces from over a decade of writing, including the lyrics to Suzanne. Cohen actually won the Governor General’s Award (one of Canada’s highest literary honors) in 1968 for this volume; an honor he promptly and politely declined.
Cohen’s second novel is a coming-of-age tale, which many have mused must be at least semi-autobiographical. He recounts the life of a Montreal native named Lawrence Breavman and his experiences with life, culture, and, most importantly, with women.
8. I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons
This one wasn’t written by Cohen, but he did grant interviews with the writer and therefore contributed greatly to its content. All aspects of his life and works are presented here by decorated music journalist Sylvie Simmons. She connects with him as she writes of the everyday, every man experiences that shaped this cultural icon.
Cohen released his last album, You Want It Darker, just last month. What an unfortunate foreshadowing, as the world is most definitely now a darker place since this legendary musician and unparalleled poet has left us. He may have been the “godfather of gloom,” but we truly hope that he is resting in peace.
YouTube Channel: LeonardCohenVEVO
Featured image via QZ