Tag Archives: Old Port

Suzanne in Montreal – Safe Voyage

18 Aug


In the 19th century the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Montreal’s Old Port became a mecca for sailors who would make offerings for “good help” for sea voyages. It still functions as an active cathedral in Old Montreal and come this upcoming weekend I hope to make my own pilgrimage to it. My girlfriend and I will be traveling to Montreal and Quebec City for a calm end-of-summer sojourn. Before I leave, though, I must highlight my favorite song related to Montreal – “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen.

Cohen, a Montreal native, has accomplished a rare feat in his career – awards in both songwriting and literature. The daedal wordsmith has been crafting poetry and music since the late 1950s. He is the Da Vinci of Folk music – a renaissance man who rivals Bob Dylan and Paul Simon in talent and inventiveness.

“Suzanne,” a poem/song inspired by a friendship with Suzanne Verdal, is one of my favorite Cohen songs. It’s subdued potency echoes with Cohen’s soft acoustic guitar. The lyric rises with strings and angelic harmony. Clearly, as a Cohen song, the lyric is the absolute strength. The song memorializes Cohen and Verdal’s peregrinations to Old Montreal, past the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Despite its documentation of a platonic relationship, the song possesses a sweet intimacy – something warm that captures the listener. The song concludes with this passage:

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

I bolded the particular section that always gets me. The imagery portrayed by the opening line of the bolded section is perhaps the strongest in the song, a line that balances personification and metaphor. One almost feels that Cohen, like the heroes and children, will lean out for love forever. The song ends with the motif of travel represented in the repeated closing verse segments, and, as the verse before this suggests, Suzanne maintains a Jesus-like power of trust and perfection – platonic or not, this song rings with passion and love.

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