Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Abraham, Isaac and Leonard: The Journey

Emily Dickinson, Leonard Cohen and Ed the Bartender are at a bar discussing the two poets' respective works inspired by the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac. In the previous installment, we paused to allow Leonard to urinate. He's back now and ready to share the second stanza of his poem:

   And his voice was very cold.
   He said, "I've had a vision
   And you know I'm strong and holy,

   I must do what I've been told."
   So he started up the mountain,
   I was running, he was walking,
   And his axe was made of gold.


Emily cleared her throat. "Leonard, while you were in the privy, so to speak, the lavatory, as it were, the water closet or crapper, if you will, anyway, while you were gone, Ed and I looked over your second, third and fourth stanzas, and we believe they are rich in imagery and tropes that vulgar readers will miss and the learned will mock. Here are stanzas 3 and 4 in case you need a memory refresher." 

   Well, the trees they got much smaller,
   The lake a lady's mirror,
   We stopped to drink some wine.
  Then he threw the bottle over.

   Broke a minute later
   And he put his hand on mine.


   Thought I saw an eagle
   But it might have been a vulture,
   I never could decide.

  Then my father built an altar,
   He looked once behind his shoulder,
  He knew I would not hide.


Leonard busied himself with a cigarette. 

Ed chimed in: "I agree with Emily. I see these stanzas either targeting the 'middle-mind' or padding the narrative. The golden ax, the lady's mirror, the unrecycled wine bottle -- do you need all of that?"

"You put this to music, right?" said the 19th-century reclusive genius. "Maybe if you sang it to us, we'd hold a different view."

So Leonard put down his cigarette and cleared his gravelly throat. Unnoticed -- Emily took two tokes -- Her smoke released -- His Song began -- From first to Last --

And when his song was over:

"I now feel physically," Emily said, quoting herself, "as if the top of my head were taken off, so I know it is poetry."

"As my friend Randy Greenwald described the song, it's haunting," Ed said. "There is nothing extraneous about those stanzas, after all. They're drawn out just enough to evoke a leisurely hike up a mountain, as if someone's humming it, sort of to himself, almost unconsciously. But of course, that's Isaac humming it, in retrospect, knowing -- "

In a rare act of rudeness, Emily cut him off. "Charlotte Bronte could write a novel on the first four lines of stanza 2 alone: 'And his voice was very cold / He said, "I've had a vision / And you know I'm strong and holy, / I must do what I've been told."'

"His voice is cold. Why? He's had a vision. It's neither dream nor fantasy. Why? Because he is strong and holy. And then that cold and terrible word -- deadly, some would say -- 'must'."

"No free will here, according to Abraham. There's no decision to make, thus no hesitation. It's like what I hear from bible-thumpers when they're in here getting liquored up real good: 'God said it, I believe it, that settles it.' No existential angst in this version, Mr. Kierkegaard!" That's how Ed felt about it.

"My dad had no choice," Isaac must have thought.