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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Who by Fire

(Still Life with Flowers by Marc Chagall,
1887-1985, Russian-French artist)

Today is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish Year. It began last night at sundown. On this day, the faithful fast and ask for forgiveness for the sins they have committed in the past year.

Leonard Cohen is a Canadian poet from Montreal, the son of a rabbi, who put his poems to music and is now more well-known as a composer and singer of ballads. Many of his earlier poems were inspired by the Scriptures.
Who by Fire is based on a prayer recited on Yom Kippur. In this song, Cohen identifies a list of supplicants who come calling on God. Each one is described by the way he or she died. How one dies often says a lot about how one has lived.

To listen to Leonard Cohen perform this song, click on this link (you may have to cut and paste):


And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry, merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
Who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady's command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

~ Leonard Cohen, born 1934, Canadian poet, novelist, singer, and songwriter

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