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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 01:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 01:22 | SYDNEY

'On that day they wounded New York'

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10 September 2008 15:54

That's a quote from a Leonard Cohen song about the 9/11 attacks, which happened seven years ago tomorrow. It's actually a rather indifferent song, marked by Cohen's apparent indecision about the meaning of the event ('I wouldn't know, I'm just holding the fort'). I reckon the very next song on the album gets closer to Cohen's real feelings about 9/11.

But the lyrics for 'Villanelle for our time' are not Cohen's. They are an adaptation of a poem by F. R. Scott, a Canadian jurist and poet who taught Cohen in law school. Scott was initially wary of Canada entering World War II, but this poem may mark his change of heart. For Cohen, it might reflect the 'liberal militancy' he felt in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and perhaps some guilt about the frivolousness of the period that preceded it:

From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.
This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.
We loved the easy and the smart,
But now, with keener hand and brain,
We rise to play a greater part.
The lesser loyalties depart,
And neither race nor creed remain
From bitter searching of the heart.
Not steering by the venal chart
That tricked the mass for private gain,
We rise to play a greater part.
Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.

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