I had scheduled this post for another time, but it seems so appropriate today, Leonard Cohen changed my life…
I came across this poem by John Clare; he lived from 1793 to 1864, and yet the emotions he expresses in this poem are felt as much today as they were for him two hundred years ago – and for other people probably for as long as there have been people!
This poem is timeless, and although it suggests youth, in fact love can strike like this at any age!
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start —
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more
Love so sudden and so sweet
It was July and Kate had finished her A-levels and was staying for two weeks in the summer with her aunty who lived in Plymouth where she had used to live. Kate had great fun with all her friends from when she’d lived there – some of them were working and could only get together with her in the evenings, but others were a similar age and either on holiday from university, or waiting to go as Kate was.
One evening they were down wandering round the harbour and stopped at one of the many pubs. Kate was standing with her friends, when she noticed Philip talking to a tall blond young man she didn’t know. The man looked across at her and their eyes met. Minutes later they were talking to each other, as if they had known each other for ever. He wasn’t English but she couldn’t place his accent, Australian, maybe? But no, he was Norwegian and he was here in Plymouth for two weeks to improve his impeccable English at a language school. His name was Óli, he was two years older than her, and he came from Bergen. Unfortunately he had already been in Plymouth for a week and then he was returning to Bergen.
Kate and Óli spent the evening together, wandering round with the others, and they agreed to met the next day when he had finished his classes. He had a car, which was great because they could drive out of the city and go to little pubs nearby. They spent the next week together, when he wasn’t at the language school; one afternoon when it was not very nice weather, they just went to the room in the house where he was lodging and listened to music… yes, it really was as innocent as that. He was captivated by an American singer Philip had introduced him to, Leonard Cohen.
Leonard sounded as if he was singing a dirge to Kate, but his lyrics were interesting and witty… and in actual fact, when the LP was played for about the third time – Óli only had one LP and that was Leonard, Kate began to actually quite like the songs. That was the last afternoon Kate was with Óli. He returned to Bergen and she returned home to her family, and to a place at University. Óli and Kate wrote to each other, but they both began to meet new friends at their respective universities in Norway and England. Óli visited her, but it wasn’t a success. He had come over for a friend’s wedding in Plymouth, and Kate had gone down to meet him… but somehow things weren’t right. The following summer he came again, and they went away for a few days together, but he seemed annoyed for some reason. Kate meanwhile had met other friends, not boyfriends although they were boys…
Life took its course and soon it was merely a card at Christmas, until suddenly, one July Kate received a letter telling her that not only was Óli married, but he and his new wife had a baby. Kate wasn’t sure how she felt… she had fallen in love with someone else – not a successful or reciprocal relationship, and she had moved on from her feelings for Óli, but even so it was somehow a shock.
Years passed… there was no internet, no mobile phones, no texting or messaging or emailing until the 90’s. How different things might have been if there had been that instant way to stay in touch. These days if a young woman meets a young man, even if he lives halfway round the world from her they can stay in constant touch with each other. For Kate and Óli they just had to rely on the postman.
Now, whenever Kate hears Leonard Cohen, she is taken back to that wonderful sunny week in Plymouth, so long ago.