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There Is crack In Everything Cohen

Leonard Cohen, the legendary 82-year-old Canadian poet and singer who died yesterday, is well-known for a set of powerful lyrics from his song “Anthem,” off the 1992 album The Future. The message, of hope in darkness, is particularly striking for many in the wake of the US election:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Armistice Day. Trump will be president. Leonard Cohen is dead. There are so many cracks. And we need so much light.

Cohen, who didn’t like explaining his music, reportedly made a rare statement about “Anthem” on The Future Radio Special, a special CD released by Sony in 1992. (Quartz hasn’t been able to independently verify the transcript, which was published on a fan site.)

The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.

This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.

And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.

In dark times, poetry and music often become more important to us, providing the kind of transcendence we need to interpret painful events in a wider context. And Cohen wrote “Anthem,” one of his most beautiful and hopeful songs, in a tumultuous global period.

The Future as an album is full of references to traumatic historical events, including Hiroshima and the Second World War. While Cohen was writing Anthem (it took him 10 to eventually complete the song), the Berlin Wall fell—on the same day, November 8th, that Donald Trump would be elected to the US presidency 27 years later. But that year, 1989, also saw a massacre of students in Tiananmen Square.

Cohen was known for a habit of seeing things “darker” than others. Even the fall of the wall wasn’t exactly a sign of hope for him, he said later.

Since Cohen’s death, in an anarchic week in the US, the lyrics of “Anthem” specifically are resonating across the internet.

The song itself contains a characteristic mixture of what David Remnick, in a recent New Yorker profile of Cohen, calls “the marriage of the sacred and profane.” Christian imagery—the dove, the bells—infuses it. Though Cohen was Jewish, he studied Zen Buddhism deeply, becoming a monk for several years, and was fascinated by other religious traditions.

Cohen didn’t like dissecting his work. “As I approach the end of my life, I have even less and less interest in examining what have got to be very superficial evaluations or opinions about the significance of one’s life or one’s work. I was never given to it when I was healthy, and I am less given to it now,” he told Remnick before his death.

But there are glimpses into what “Anthem” meant to him. He was in a relationship with Rebecca de Mournay during many of the years he was writing it, and told an interviewer (again, from the fan site) that she had helped him through the worst doubts in writing the piece:

“I’ve been playing this song for many years and I knew that I was on the track of a really good song. I knew it stood for something clear and strong in my own heart. And I despaired of ever getting it and I was playing it on Rebecca’s synthesizer, and she said ‘That’s perfect just like that.’ And I said ‘Really?’ She said ‘Yeah, let’s go down to the studio now!’”

Ultimately, he stood by it fiercely. “There’s not a line in it that I couldn’t defend,” he said.

Here are the words in full:

The birds they sing, at the break of day

Start again, I heard them say.

Don’t dwell on what has passed away

Or what is yet to be.

Yes, the wars, they will be fought again

The holy dove she will be caught again

Bought, and soul, and bought again

The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs. The signs were sent

The birth betrayed. The marriage spent

Yeah, the widowhood of every government

Signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more, with that lawless crowd

While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud

They’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts; you won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march, there is no drum

Still have a question? Ask your own!

Philosophers and poets have circled around this concept for ages. I was not familiar with the Leonard Cohen quote until now (and thank you for that lovely song, Leonard) — but the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī) iterated the concept of imperfection being a requirement of enlightenment long before Leonard: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” It goes hand in hand with the Eastern artistic concept that only God is perfect, and only he can create absolute perfection. God is the whole; we, and all of creation, are parts of that whole. The crack, or imperfection, gives us a glimpse of and perhaps a path to that greater existence of which we are part.

There are so many great insights in the responses I have read. I loved the Blake reference, the Navajo rug, the Kabbalah, etc. I think all are relevant given how well-read Leonard was. But one thing seems to be missing in this discussion. It is the specific application in the song Anthem, as opposed to the general idea of a “crack in everything”. I see the crack in Anthem, specifically, as the crack in the walls of corruption, government, the halls of power — the structures that are enveloping, imprisoning, controlling and enslaving the people and resources of the world.

We asked for signs

the signs were sent:

the birth betrayed

the marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

of every government —

signs for all to see.

I see this as a reference to the multitude of assassinations over the years to keep and expand power. Including the Kennedys, but all over the world.

Ah the wars they will

be fought again

This is the will of the powerful over the powerless.

I can’t run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

I see this as Leonard’s personal decision not to go along with the status quo. The crack, is that somehow, somewhere we can penetrate, then widen, then bring down those walls. It’s not about personal growth here. More than the Chinese potter who creates a small chip to let his soul out (a stunning image — thank you so much for that!) I am reminded of Michael Moore’s line in “Where to Invade Next?” as he talks about the seeming impossibility of resisting the Berlin Wall.

There’s no way to defeat it. Then “Hammer. Chisel. Down.”

I am also reminded of Martin Luther King’s line, “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

Ring the bells that still can ring.

There is a crack in everything.

I agree with a number of interpretations posted here, quoting William Blake, the Kabbalah, and other esoteric sources, to explain what Leonard Cohen may be referring to in that line. They all make good sense to me. I also think that the light, of clarity, understanding, call it what you will, comes from within, not without. Metaphorically we may imagine light coming into a dark broken place from outside. But it can also light up the darkness from inside, if one knows how to turn on the switch. Another interpretation then, is no matter how broken, incomplete we are, with the proper approach, meditation technique, one can transcend, go beyond our limitations and just Be, experience that unbroken inner light of pure consciousness. With repeated exposures to one’s inner divine nature, the outer vessel, our body, can begin to heal, mend the broken cracks, and become whole. One way to experience this inner and outer development is with the regular practice of Transcendental Meditation.

Данный перевод песни на русском языке является художественным, т.е. перевод недословный. Чтобы узнать дословный перевод песни, можете наводить мышкой на английские слова.

The birds they sang

at the break of day

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what

has passed away

or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will

be fought again

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again

the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs

the signs were sent:

the birth betrayed

the marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

of every government —

signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

and they’re going to hear from me.

You can add up the parts

but you won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march,

there is no drum

Every heart, every heart

to love will come

but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

И вновь начинают

Я слышу, как они щебечут:

«Не зацикливайся на том,

Или что еще продолжается»

Еще раз будет поймана,

Куплена и продана

И куплена опять

Голубка никогда не будет свободна.

Звени в колокол, который все еще может звенеть

Забудь свое совершенное подношение

Во всем есть трещина

Именно в нее проникает свет.

Мы спрашиваем о знаках,

Знаки были посланы:

Замужество растрачено впустую

Эти знаки всем видны.

Я больше не могу бежать

С преступной толпой,

Пока убийцы, занимающие высокие посты,

Произносят свои молитвы вслух

Но они вызвали, они вызвали

И они услышат от меня.

Ты можешь сложить части,

Но не получишь сумму

Ты можешь играть марш

Каждое сердце, каждое сердце

Звони в колокол, который все еще может звенеть

Забудь свое совершенное предложение

Во всем есть трещина

Именно в нее проникает свет.

Звони в колокол, который все еще может звенеть


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