Leonard Cohen’s Hummingbird: A Guest Post By Dianne V. Lawrence

Recent Songs LP Sleeve

 

Introduction By DrHGuy

Dianne V. Lawrence is best known to Leonard Cohen fans as the designer of Leonard’s hummingbird logo for his Recent Songs album. When Dianne wrote me about a Dylan anecdote Leonard told her,1 I asked her about the significance of the hummingbird and the crown over its head on the Recent Songs LP Sleeve. She graciously responded with the following account.

Leonard Cohen’s Hummingbird
By Dianne V. Lawrence

I have often been asked if Leonard ever explained the meaning of the hummingbird and the crown above it found on the inside sleeve of the 1979 Recent Songs album. Leonard called me up one day and asked me to create this imagery and ended up using the hummingbird (without the crown) as one of his symbols throughout the rest of his career. It is the last image on the back cover of his last album. I also did the portrait on the front of the cover of Recent Songs.

In fact, I never did discuss the imagery with Leonard. It is probably an assumption on my part but I felt I instinctively understood the meaning. We both shared a keen interest in mystic and spiritual symbolism and enjoyed an unspoken and sometimes spoken understanding of these things.

One day while walking along Fairfax we passed one of those botanicas found around Los Angeles. These are Spanish shops filled with religious symbols and icons and potions to ward evil away or invite love. He noticed an Anima Sola candle in the window and bought it for me. It’s an image he used on the back of “Songs of Leonard Cohen.” A dark-haired woman is in chains surrounded by fire. Her eyes gaze upwards and her arms are reaching heavenward. It’s supposed to represent the soul chained in purgatory. But the chains are broken and it looks like she is escaping, about to be lifted up. Anima Sola.

The soul alone, being purified by the fire of the trials and dangers of this material world. Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. This is the same process found in the idea of the alchemical furnace that skillfully turns the lead of the personality into the gold of true union with Spirit. Leonard uses an image on another of his albums, “New Skin For the Old Ceremony,” two angels in coitus, the soul in divine union with Spirit or G*d. Both with crowns on their head.

 

So I can just share my own simple intuitive understanding of the meaning of this graphic of the hummingbird and the crown. The hummingbird uses enormous amounts of energy and is in constant search for sustenance to maintain the life force it needs to fly. The soul is the same. Constant searching for nectar in this world to give it strength, keep it alive, to allow it to fly and be free. And the soul is also true royalty, hence the crown. Pity the poor soul denied its nourishment. Hallelujah for the nourished soul.

FYI about a month after Leonard died he came to me in a dream. I was with friends in a trailer park in the forest. He asked if I wanted to grab a bite to eat (he was famous among his visitors for offering, insisting on feeding them). “Of Course!” I replied. Happy to eat and have a visit. But instead he began to talk to me. He talked and talked and I listened. Then he said he had to go. I said let me walk with you and we went down this path in the middle of the forest. He continued talking until he stopped, looked at me then continued without me. I know it sounds corny but he continued walking towards a beautiful green field filled with sunlight at the end of the path.

Years ago I did a series of paintings based on photos found in old magazines. I did one painting of a man walking down a path, in a forest, towards a light. Then I changed it creating a second image. Leonard never saw this piece but strangely did an album cover reminiscent of it, “Songs from the Road”. After the dream, I remembered that painting and understood why I felt compelled to create that imagery, my version of the soul alone.

 

Dianne V. Lawrence
email: [email protected]

 

Comments From Original Post

David Peloquin: December 18, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Dianne, this is lovely! I was arrested especially by this passage:

“And the soul is also true royalty, hence the crown. Pity the poor soul denied its nourishment. Hallelujah for the nourished soul.”

How poetic, simple, and profound. One friend told me that, when she was young, she and her teenaged companions heard the song Sisters of Mercy and sang it together all that summer. She said, “We had no idea what it meant, but we just couldn’t stop singing it.”

Hallelujah for the nourished soul!

Dianne Lawrence: December 18, 2017 at 3:23 pm

As Joni Mitchell once penned about him…”a part of you pours out of me in these rhymes from time to time.” If I had sent these two lines to him in our email correspondence I know exactly how he would respond. “Amen”

Karina Rosenberg: December 19, 2017 at 1:22 am

Hooked on the same tune…
Reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Dianne Lawrence: December 19, 2017 at 12:09 pm

So beautiful! Thank you. That describes Leonard’s hummingbird to a t.

Madam X: December 24, 2017 at 12:52 pm

so tender and True,
one life and Life itself
in one man
seen by one woman.

Dianne Lawrence: December 24, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Amen.

 

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Dec 18, 2017.
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  1. Leonard and I remained in contact until about a year before his death. One time he told me about talking with Dylan and I remember this…”‘Dylan told me I was number 1,’ then paused and said ‘but I am 0.'” []

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