A short goodbye. A few sentences. But words of such clarity, simplicity and beauty. Many of us have by now read Leonard Cohen’s letter to a woman he once loved, Marianne Ihlen, on her deathbed – and those who didn’t know it already have seen that Cohen is a class act, a man you don’t meet every day.
He heard that she was dying and two hours later he wrote to her that he too was old and his body failing. He had, of course, written for her before, with the lyrics of So Long, Marianne and Bird on the Wire. This time he told her: “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”
Slipping into unconsciousness, her friend said that Marianne did reach out her hand. Cohen’s letter also stated that he didn’t need to talk about her beauty and her wisdom, “because you know all about that”. The 10 years they were together on and off, their intimacies, their passions, their endings, those – despite the songs – are all a part of their own personal story. Now he wishes her endless love on her journey – to death. It is everyone’s journey, but few speak so directly of it, not even while whispering in the waiting rooms.
Was Marianne his greatest muse? What does it matter? He loved her for a while. He loved his four bottles of wine a day before he took himself off to the Buddhist monastery where he was given the Dharma name of Jikan which means “silence”. But he knows about silence as he also knows about the tower of song. Read more at The Guardian.