Poets and Philosophers

Today I saw the most beautiful quote on a Facebook page I follow called Spirit Voyage, which is all about chanting, kundalini yoga and music. It was a quote from a Leonard Cohen song that went as follows: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I sat in stunned silence for a minute just pondering the beauty of the words. Then, of course, I checked out the full lyrics, which I certainly recommend to you.

Reading the quote made me think about the songwriters who are out there, working not only as talented musicians, but cranking out pure poetry like it’s no big deal. These writers take my breath away. Their poems/songs are so profound, so packed with meaning, so beautiful-it blows my minds that they captured the very essence of emotion so perfectly. You read such poems and you’re like, YES. That is it, exactly.

I feel remiss in my lack of education in the music of Leonard Cohen (my dad loves him but of course I thought that was nerdy when I was younger) as well as Tom Waits. Some time ago I read a Waits song that affected me very deeply. I have included it below, as well as a well-known Cohen song. Finally, I included a Conor Oberst song. I had a hell of a time picking just one, and would encourage anyone who is into songwriters to check him out. He may not be as great as Cohen and Waits, yet, but they have a hell of a head start!

Day After Tomorrow

I got your letter today
And I miss you all so much here
I can’t wait to see you all
And I’m counting the days dear
I still believe that there’s gold
At the end of the world and I’ll
Come home to Illinois on the
Day after tomorrow

Its so hard and its cold here
And I’m tired of taking orders
And I miss old Rockford town
Up by the Wisconsin border
What I miss you won’t believe
Shoveling snow and raking leaves
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow

I close my eyes every nite
And I dream that I can hold you
They fill us full of lies, everyone buys
Bout what it means to
Be a soldier, I still don’t
Know how I’m supposed to feel bout
All the blood that’s been spilled
Will God on this throne
Get me back home
On the day after tomorrow
You can’t deny, the other side

Don’t want to die anymore
Then we do, what I’m
Trying to say is don’t they pray
To the same God that we do?
And Tell me how does God
Choose, who’s prayers does he
Refuse? who turns the wheel
Who rolls the dice, on the
Day after tomorrow

I’m not fighting for justice
I am not fighting for freedom
I am fighting for my life and
Another day in the world here
I just do what I’ve been told
We’re just the gravel on the road
And only the lucky ones come
Home, on the day after tomorrow

And the summer it too
Will fade and with it
Brings the winter’s frost dear
And I know we too are made
Of all the things that we have
Lost here, I’ll be 21 today
I been saving all my pay
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow

-Tom Waits


I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

-Leonard Cohen

Lenders in the Temple

A short delay, the parrot blues
Little voices mimic you
It’s not so hard to make that sound
So watch your back, the Ides of March
Cut your hair like Joan of Arc
Disguise your will, they’ll find you out
And when they do, look out

There’s money lenders inside the temple
That circus tiger’s going to break your heart
Something so wild turned into paper
If I loved you, well that’s my fault

A bitch in heat, the alpha male
Not something she’d ever tell
Except when she got deathly high
And out it came like summer rain
It washed the cars and everything
Felt clean for just a little while
A telethon we drunk dialed

Those starving children, they ain’t got no mother
There’s pink flamingos living in the mall
I’d give a fortune to your infomercial
If somebody would just take my call
Take my call

Hello, patterns in my mind now moving slow
Sorrow all across the surface rolls
Smoothing out the edges of the stone
The lights are out, where’d everybody go?

Erase yourself and you’ll be free
Mandala destroyed by the sea
All we are is colored sand
So pay to ride the ferris wheel
Smile, all that you can feel
Is gratitude for what has been
Because it did not happen

There’s money lenders inside the temple
That circus tiger’s going to break my heart
Something so wild turned into paper
If you love me, then that’s your fault

There’s money lenders inside the temple
This crystal city’s going to fall apart
When all their power turns into vapor
If I miss you, well that’s my fault

-Conor Oberst


11 thoughts on “Poets and Philosophers

  1. thanks for sharing, kate. (i think i’ll call you kate on these posts…weird.) i used to enjoy trying to get students into poetry by encouraging them to look at the poetry of songwriting and think critically about what good poetry looks and sounds like. they had fun coming up with different definitions, but i think you stumbled upon a good one: good poetry is when you read it and you’re like, YES, that’s it! When someone has so successfully encapsulated a seemingly inexplicable feeling, moment, emotion, etc.

    • Haha! Feel free to call me katie, kate, katiekate, or what have you!
      Yeah, i didn’t think about it, but that does seem like a good way to get kids into poetry. I hope you will have more english students sometime so you can share poetry with them! You may now, but i mostly hear about your math students. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing such fantastic lyrics! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend listening to “Day After Tomorrow.” Surely one of his most beautiful. I cried like a baby when he played it for his 3rd and final encore at the Ryman a few years ago (a moment embedded in my memory.)

    Glad to hear you’re writing more poetry …. I’m constantly stabbing away at songwriting – its a long, arduous and beautiful journey, and for that I say, “Huzzah!” 🙂

    • Just listened to it. I can imagine how moving it would be to hear at the ryman, since it is so moving and sad just reading the lyrics.

      It feels very cathartic to write poetry as well as blogs…we all need creative outlets. I’m glad i have one now! And i will soon have another with ladies’ writing, wine and food night!

  3. This year, for the first time, I included a songwriting mini unit within my usual poetry unit and it was soooo cool! I wrote my first song (haha). It started out as a model for my students, but then really got into making my audience feel something. My students’ songs blew me way. Now I have to go listen to all of the above songs! 🙂

  4. You’re exactly correct: songs are, first, poetry — much of it quite meaningful as well as beautiful. Thanks for sharing three such wonderful poems. (It’s hard for me to read HALLELULAH as a poem: I tend to sing it! I, like your dad (I’m a few years older), am one of those “nerds” who have loved the song for soo long!! Again, thanks!

    • glad you enjoyed them…i *used* to think dad was nerdy…but now that i’m older…i see things a bit differently! 🙂

      i sing hallelujah when i read it too…my favorite sung version is jeff buckley’s.

  5. GET OUT! I have been thinking about that lyric, “Everything has a crack it in; that’s how the light gets in,” all week! I posted it on my bathroom window, the frosted surface of which is crazed randomly. Thank you for posting the complete lyrics; I hadn’t read through them before. Charles has lots of Leonard Cohen’s music, but I tend to listen to others (like Jeff Buckley). Another artist I associate with Cohen is Tom Waits, and I heard a fascinating recounting of his creative process by of all people, Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of Eat, Pray, Love), on a recent episode of Radiolab. I think that you would enjoy hearing it. Looking forward to learning and sharing other creative, fascinating things with you soon!!!

    • Ha! In my haste to reply, I commented halfway through reading your post. Then read the other songs, they are wonderful! I was not aware of Conor Oberst; lovely writing, I will have to look him up and sample his music. Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh did you see it on Spirit Voyage? What an amazing quote, apparently we were both thinking about it all week!

      I am going to look for that radiolab interview…i would recommend to you a TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert that i saw a while back.

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