Friday, 2 April 2021

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
5, Leonard Cohen, ‘Here It Is’

‘Here It Is’ was first recorded on ‘Ten New Songs’ (2001), Leonard Cohen’s tenth studio album

Patrick Comerford

Friday 2 April 2021

Good Friday, The Three Hours, 12 noon to 3 p.m.

Reading: John 18: 1-27.

Each evening in Holy Week this year, we have been reading a poem to help our reflections.

Our first poem for ‘The Three Hours’ on Good Friday this afternoon is ‘Here It Is,’ a poem/song by Leonard Cohen. It was first released 20 years ago on Ten New Songs, his tenth studio album, which was co-written and produced by Sharon Robinson and released in 2001.

I first used this poem in a Lenten setting when I was asked to preach at the Three Hours Devotion in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, by the then dean, Bishop Michael Burrows, on Good Friday, 9 April 2004.

This poem has the capacity to touch the reader or listener in painful places we do not care to search or reach.

Leonard Cohen himself once said: ‘It’s nice to write a catchy tune about death.’ But, while, some people may like poems that talk about blood, sweat and tears, I found out in Cork that Good Friday 17 years ago that many people are uncomfortable with some of the words in this poem. Yet, surely, Christ must have suffered to this extreme of anxiety in Golgotha, and must have emptied himself completely of all human fluids on the cross on Calvary.

Who speaks in the poem? Whose voice do we hear? Who is singing? Who narrates within the lyrics? Is it God? Is it just Leonard Cohen? Is it his soul? Does it really matter?

Some of those questions may be answered if we read this poem in the light of Lent and the journey towards Good Friday and Easter.

Is this a legitimate way to read this poem? In his introduction to his Harvard lectures, The use of poetry and the use of criticism, TS Eliot wrote: ‘The poem’s existence is somewhere between the writer and the reader. It has a reality which is not simply the reality of what the writer is trying to ‘express’, or of his experiences of writing it, or of the experience of the reader, or of the writer as reader. Consequently the problem of what the poem ‘means’ is a good deal more difficult that it first appears… But a poem is not just either what the poet ‘planned’ or what the reader conceives, nor is its ‘use’ restricted to what the author intended or what it actually does for readers.’

Some commentators say the speaker in this poem by Leonard Cohen is God; others say the poet is speaking to himself at a point in life where death seems near, and he feels the need to collect his thoughts, recollect the past, and to face the future in truth.

And here is your love,
That lists where it will.


In this poem, God is taking an overview of a life and mixing in a bundle of opportunities in which a person has the opportunity to love. In each of these love/desire experiences, one has the opportunity to feel God’s presence.

In the first paired verses, 1 and 2, God is King of the universe and Lord of Creation, and shows his majesty and his lordship through his love of all created things:

Here is your crown
And your seal and rings;
And here is your love
For all things.


In verse 2, the ‘cart’ is the human body in which Christ is incarnate and in which he moves around in God’s royal domain, the ‘cardboard’ the weak and flimsy body of his suffering, and the ‘piss’ the loss of all human life in his dying. In his life, suffering and death, he gives his all in love for all:

Here is your cart,
And your cardboard and piss;
And here is your love
For all of this.


In the second pair of verses, verses 3 and 4, the ‘wine’ in verse 3 may mean our thoughts and spiritual ideas. But I find resonances with the wine of the Last Supper and imagery that reminds me of Christ falling under the weight of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, for the sake of his love for all:

Here is your wine,
And your drunken fall;
And here is your love.
Your love for it all
.

The ‘sickness’ in verse 4, may be the love we have for each other, a love that may keep us away from loving God, and therefore perhaps defined as a ‘sickness’ as it detracts us from our divine purpose, to ‘love God’ first and then to love others. The bed and the pan also echo the ‘piss’ in the second verse:

Here is your sickness.
Your bed and your pan;
And here is your love
For the woman, the man
.

In the four sets of two verses, the third line of each verse points to ways that we may love. But love is not mentioned in the third set of paired verses (5 and 6) – instead, we have the lines:

And here is the night,
The night has begun;
And here is your death
In the heart of your son.

And here is the dawn,
(Until death do us part);
And here is your death,
In your daughter’s heart.


Instead of love, he uses the word ‘death’ in the third lines of each of these two verses, emphasising the depth of love a parent feels for a child, and so the even deeper love God feels for us as his children in the death of Christ on the Cross.

Those verses reiterate the idea of the living and dying of every moment; the following of day with night, and night with day.

Night could represent ignorance and not knowing. But for mystics like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, the night is also the beginning of the mystics’ journey towards communion and union with the Father, the ‘I Am Who Am.’ The Son must die in order for us to recognise his inherited unity with the Father.

Night turns to dawn with the resurrection, dawn is no longer night, the conscious is united with unconscious, night with day, and the soul with God.

In the last two paired verses, 7 and 8, he warns us in verse 7 of ‘hurried’ desire and reminds us of how we hurry because we ‘long’ for something to be fulfilled or over or experienced. Instead, it is love on which everything is built and has its foundation:

And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon.


In the final, closing verse (verse 8), the reference to Christ’s death, when he is nailed to the cross on the Hill of Calvary, becomes the summation of the poem:

Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will.


The word ‘lists’ in verse 8 may be a ‘list’ of objects, names or experiences. But to ‘list’ is also to listen, and also to ‘lean’ one way or the other, as when a boat leans to one side. Is he suggesting that our love may lean in different directions as time goes by, or that the love in each verse is different, listing or leaning in a different direction?

The refrain after each paired set of verses says:

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.


We keep living and dying each moment. May we just do this.

Here It Is, by Leonard Cohen

Here is your crown
And your seal and rings;
And here is your love
For all things.

Here is your cart,
And your cardboard and piss;
And here is your love
For all of this.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.


Here is your wine,
And your drunken fall;
And here is your love.
Your love for it all.

Here is your sickness.
Your bed and your pan;
And here is your love
For the woman, the man.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.


And here is the night,
The night has begun;
And here is your death
In the heart of your son.

And here is the dawn,
(Until death do us part);
And here is your death,
In your daughter’s heart.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.


And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon.

Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.




John 18: 1-27 (NRSVA)

1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ 5 They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ 8 Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ 9 This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23 Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Leonard Cohen on stage at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, in 2012 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued this afternoon

Yesterday’s poem



Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Here It Is’ lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

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