“I practiced all my sainthood/I gave to one and all/But the rumours of my virtue/They moved her not at all” What Leonard Cohen Had To Say About Saintliness

The recently posted New York Times Rhetorically Asks “Is Leonard Cohen the New Secular Saint of Montreal?” calls to mind Leonard Cohen’s own observations about saintliness:


What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape.1



Leonard Cohen


Do you consider yourself either religious or mystical?


I think I went through a saintly phase where I was consciously trying to model myself on what I thought a saint was. I made a lot of people very unhappy and I made myself very unhappy.2



Leonard Cohen


When there’s a complete wipe-out, there’s a renewal. In that book [Beautiful Losers] I tried to wrestle with all the deities that are extant now – the idea of saintliness, purity, pop, McLuhanism, evil, the irrational – all the gods we set up for ourselves.3


Leonard Cohen


It seems that because [Leonard Cohen] went on a fast during the late summer of 1965 he developed a theory that almost everybody went through some kind of personal crisis around that time and that the world entered some mad new age. Cohen fasted for 12 days in his little white house on the Greek island of Hydra, where he lived for six years, returning to Canada only, as he put it, to renew his neurotic affiliation. The fast occurred after he had finished his critically acclaimed, bestselling and extremely dirty novel. Beautiful Losers. Cohen wasn’t hungry. so he decided to fast. “Finally I just flipped out,” he says. He hallucinated and got a temperature of 104. They had to give him protein injections intravenously. He stayed in bed for two months. Marianna looked after him. “I think there are certain times in your life when, if you don’t stop, things just stop for you. You get a fantastic single-mindedness when you are lying in one place hallucinating. For me, it ended a lot of things. I would like to say that it made me saintly.”4


I practiced all my sainthood
I gave to one and all
But the rumours of my virtue
They moved her not at all5


Finally, it should be noted that in the 19th Annual Best Of Montreal Readers Poll (2008), voters selected Leonard Cohen the Best Singer/Songwriter, Most Desirable Man, Best-Dressed, and Best Local Living Author. He ranked only #2, however, in the category, “Closest To Sainthood.”6

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 Mar 7, 2018.

  1. From Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen []
  2. An Interview with Leonard Cohen conducted by Michael Harris. Duel, Winter 1969. []
  3. Leonard Cohen quoted in “After the Wipe-Out, A Renewal” by Sandra Diwa, published in The Ubyssey (the student newspaper of the University of British Columbia), February 3, 1967. []
  4. From Is the World (or Anybody) Ready for Leonard Cohen? by Jon Ruddy. Maclean’s: October 1, 1966. []
  5. From I Came So Far For Beauty by Leonard Cohen []
  6. Source: Montreal Mirror – Best of Montreal 2008 (Update: no longer online) []

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