Coded gray.

Thursday 11 July 2002

Screenshot Ultima IX

Pic of the day: From the Cathedral of Love. Screenshot from Ultima IX, Ascension. (Yes, I used this picture once before, but it's kinda topical, and I didn't have any of the real thing.)

Love itself

An attempt to interpret the lyrics of the song “Love itself” by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson.

In a time when the word “love” is going around like a worn coin, there are still some sensitive souls to which words mean things. Leonard Cohen is a man who has researched love further and deeper than most, as seen from the many thought-provoking songs that grow in his footsteps. He is also a man well versed in the world’s religions, both western and eastern. It is in light of this that I will interpret this song, the one on their album “Ten new songs” that most clearly seems to bear the mark of Cohen. I hope you will see that this song goes far deeper and has a far more uplifting message than you would glean from a quick play-through.

The light came through the window
straight from the sun above,
and so inside my little room
there plunged the rays of Love.

This is a classic metaphor: The warmth and brightness of sunshine symbolizes love. Few would disagree with this, on a good day. We seem to see the beginning of yet another standard love song. Among the casual observers, Leonard Cohen has something of a reputation for love songs. This is where they tune out and turn to the serious business of loving, while Cohen sings on …

In streams of light I clearly saw
the dust we seldom see,
out of which the Nameless makes
a Name for one like me.

The mystic / religious dimension opens. On the surface, we are told that the shaft of sun makes the dust visible, a fact most homemakers will remember with regret, and children with fascination. Who among us has not spent time looking at the dust motes dancing in the sunshine sometime? It is a pretty and fascinating sight. But Cohen draws a parallel to the cosmological aspect that we are all dust motes in the larger dance of things, and the religious belief that someone or something has made us from dust. There are many names for this creative force, but to the mystic who experiences it in a vision it is Nameless - not bound by the conventions of any one religion, for this is an experience that is common to them all.

(I’ll skip the chorus for now, because it does not make sense until you get the context.)

All busy in the sunlight
the flecks did float and dance,
and I was tumbled up with them
in formless circumstance.

In a mystic vision, the author becomes one with the dust, and shares the experience of dancing in the rays of Love that radiates from the Nameless, the Oneness of the cosmos. Giving up his sense of identity in the mystic encounter, he realizes his greater self as part of all matter, in which dust specks and galaxies alike dance through space and time.

When I came back
from where I’d been,
my room, it looked the same -
but there was nothing left between
the Nameless and the Name.

The vision ends, and we return to the material plane. But the experience has changed us irrevocably: Now we realize that we are part of the greater whole. Our individual identity - our Name - no longer separates us from the endless greater consciousness, the Nameless. There is no longer a chasm between us, but more than that: There is no longer a bridge between us, for even a bridge denotes distance. The rays of light are no longer needed. We no longer need to see, for we know.

Oh, and now, the chorus makes sense:

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
until it reached an open door -
then Love itself,
Love itself was gone.

As long as we are constrained in our “room”, our personal identity, Love is the best we can hope for, its rays of warmth and brightness connecting us to the Greater Oneness. But when Love has led us to the open door, and we become free, its mission is fulfilled. We do not so much shed it as we absorb it, as we reach a final unity.

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