Leonard Cohen’s life has been a bohemian enigma of a ravenous lover, the “poet laureate of pessimism” who is not afraid to color the world with reality and present his painting as it is: naked and true (Nadel 1). The depth of his voice accompanying his “music to slit your wrists by” makes his unbearable charm of a Byronic hero all the more appealing (Nadel 1). And what is it that heroes always lament about? A fair lady.
Cohen’s Suzanne, a muse for dozens of Beat poets, but for none more special than for him, has been immortalized in his poem which bears her name. While Cohen was in Montreal, he came in contact with Suzanne Verdal, a beautiful, young bohemian spirited dancer and wife of a sculptor, Armand Vaillancourt. In an interview with Kate Saunders for the BBC, Suzanne Verdal speaks about the Beat scene:
The Beat scene was beautiful. It was live jazz and we were just dancing our hearts out for hours on end, happy on very little. I mean we were living, most of us, on a shoestring. Yet, there was always so much to go around, if you know what I mean. You know, there was so much energy and sharing and inspiration and pure moments and quality times together on very little or no money. (Verdal)
As the time passed, it was clear to both of them that their relationship will not turn into a sexual one, but into something much more profound. He did not want it to be compromised by carnality. The urgent appetite they felt for each other could not be satisfied by mere adhesion to lust. They had to deal with their souls, hearts and minds, as well as their bodies.
In the poem, Cohen speaks of her house on St. Lawrence River and the house with wooden floors that squeaked, whose windows overlooked the poetic beauty of the waterfront. He went to visit her many times. He tells the never-ending story of how “she takes you down to her place near the river,” portraying her still ubiquitous bohemian spirit drawing life from the beautiful waterfront and the surrounding scenery (Cohen 95). Her rebellious, hippie way of life is also commented on in the phrase “you can spend the night beside her,” not necessarily stressing out the idea of free love and more than frequent exchange of partners in a constant search for love and fulfillment, but the notion of sleeping next to a person who will “feed you tea and oranges/that come all the way from China” (Cohen 95). The fact that she is “half crazy” does not diminish her worth, quite the contrary, she is all the more precious in the eyes of her guest because of it. Verdal herself says that “the half crazy could pertain to sadness” due to her recent separation from her husband at the time. Madness is sometimes just melancholy in disguise, and Cohen was more than aware of it. Her tea that comes all the way from China offers new and exciting outlooks on life, exotic promises of freedom and love “in small moments of magic” (Nadel 125).
Her motherly conduct offers compassion and attention a man wishes to...