Friday 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen and the Story of 'So Long Marianne'

'We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park
You held onto me like I was a crucifix
As we went kneeling through the dark'
So long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen

Marianne was my blogging name for a long time.  I borrowed it from the beautiful Leonard Cohen Song 'So Long Marianne' when I started writing this blog quite a few years ago now when I was putting my life back together again following the breakdown of my marriage, which left me a single mother of three young boys. Not an easy time.  It seemed appropriate.

I had never really considered that the song might be based on a real Marianne until my new husband, who is inured to my lifelong love affair with Leonard Cohen and his music, bought me a copy of Kari Hesthamar's eponymous book recently.  The book is based on interviews with Marianne about her life and particularly about her long relationship with Leonard with whom she lived off and on for the best part of a decade and which took place mostly on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, and which I found quite fascinating.  A more contemporary version of the Bloomsbury Group as it turns out! 

Marianne was only 23 years old when she left her native Oslo to live on Hydra with her then boyfriend, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, and they joined an artists' and writers' community there. She married Axel and gave birth to his son back in Norway but on her return to Hydra she was abandoned by him and left to raise her son alone.  Leonard introduced himself to her at the local cafe and she became his muse and the inspiration for some of his earlier poems and songs.  

My musical tastes were formed in the late 60's and early 70's when North American and Canadian Folk/Rock were part of the soundtrack of my life.  Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan were constantly being played in my student house in Leeds and I was lucky enough to see some of these talented artists, including Leonard Cohen, live in the early '70s.   

Leonard Cohen wrote some stunningly beautiful and thoughtful contemporary poetry and prose but did not achieve recognition until he turned his poetry into songs and developed his talents as a singer/songwriter and became the voice of a generation.  He has continued to write and record music and to perform his music live all around the world until well into his seventies.  His style has matured and somehow both lightened and deepened, and some of his lines are exquisite.  As a performer, he is mesmerising.  I still enjoy listening to his music which I find timeless and evocative.  His is the voice that has stayed with me through the decades.


  1. I was saddened to read last night of this great artist's death. After listening to his recently released album in the past few weeks, I was not surprised. It was his good bye. I remember Johnny Cash also released an album with a similar theme shortly before his death. Both of them, though, different in their genre of music, were artists that told us a story of life, of love, of pain and of joy. Losing Leonard is a sad, sad loss.

  2. Timeless and evocative. Yes, his music and words are exactly that. I remember playing the 'Songs From A Room' album so many times when I was 17, my dad became a fan. Leonard's final letter to Marianne is so moving.

  3. We too were sadddened to read the news this morning. It was fascinating reading the story of Marianne. I followed your link on you tube and have been listening to his music in the background since. Sarah x

  4. It was such sad news. Leonard Cohen was uniquely talented and I remember a time in my life when I heard his music a lot. His letter to Marianne, and the lines about following her soon, are very moving.

  5. Thank you for this lovely tribute. xo

  6. I wake in the mornings with his voice in my head, songs that have infiltrated my soul, songs that mean so much to so many people. Thank you Leonard

  7. There were several sad events here in the US , one of them being the death of Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen wrote to Marianne shorty be fore she died. It was a beautiful letter.


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