The Poem That Inspired Leonard Cohen
April is National Poetry Month, and Readers+Writers Journal will be celebrating with a series of poems, graphics, and information about poets.
To start, we’re posting one of our favorite poems, “The God Forsakes Antony” by Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933). Cavafy was an ethnic Greek who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and who, like almost all poets, had a day job: he worked as a civil servant for the Ministry of Public Works. But he also created some of the most interesting and lyrical poetry of his time, much of it based on historical themes.
“The God Abandons Antony” refers to Mark Antony, who allied himself with Cleopatra to challenge the Roman empire. The ensuing wars ended when Antony was captured in Alexandria. The poem is based on Plutarch’s description of the moments before Antony’s capture, when he knew he had lost and would be killed.
In 2000, singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen adapted Cavafy’s poem into the song “Alexandra Leaving.” In Cohen’s version, which he recorded with Sharon Robinson, the city of Alexandria becomes a woman named Alexandra, but the sense of loss and resignation that are integral to the poem are also present in the song. Cohen uses some of the poem’s lines verbatim, but most of the song uses the mood of the poem rather than its exact words. Both works of art are deeply affecting meditations on bravery, sadness and most of all, on loss.
Both the poem and the song are posted below.