“Snow was general over all of Ireland.” Leonard Cohen On James Joyce’s Influence

Interviewer: Would you agree that James Joyce’s Portrait was an important influence on your prose writing?

Leonard Cohen: There was one passage from a story that was decisive. I read that passage over and over again.

Interviewer: Which one was that?

Leonard Cohen: It was the end of a story about the singer. The paragraph begins “Snow was general over all of Ireland.”

Interviewer: That’s “The Dead” from Dubliners.1

Leonard Cohen: “The Dead.” That paragraph. It’s not the work of an author, but maybe five lines. It’s those five lines that will get me reluctantly to explore the rest of the guy’s work. But that paragraph I’ve never forgotten. There’s that paragraph “Snow was general all over Ireland.” It described the snow. It’s Montreal. It’s our snow, our black iron gates in Montreal. It was perfect and the other one was – I believe it was from the Portrait. He sees this women with seaweed on her thigh. That passage, and snow general all over Ireland, and David seeing Bathsheba on the roof. There are three or four scenes like that that destroyed my life. (laughter). I couldn’t escape those visions. Now I feel I’m overthrowing them.

From Leonard Cohen of Montreal: Interview by Michael Benazon. Matrix: Fall, 1986.

Other Writing Referenced By Leonard Cohen In This Article

From The Dead by James Joyce

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

From Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

– Heavenly God! cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

From 2 Samuel 11: 2-4, King James Version

2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.

3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?

4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

The Leonard Cohen Reading List

James Joyce’s works are the latest entry to the Leonard Cohen Reading List, a compilation of books admired by the Canadian singer-songwriter.

All entries in the Leonard Cohen Reading List can be found at

The Original Leonard Cohen Reading List

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 Feb 26, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.
_________________________________

  1. The Dead is the final short story in the 1914 collection Dubliners by James Joyce []

Leave a Reply