My hero Leonard Cohen, why I write and a young girl who wanted to marry fire.
Leonard Cohen – Joan Of Arc Lyrics
Now the flames they followed Joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.
Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I’ve watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I’m fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, I love your pride.
Then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.
It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?
Songwriters: WEBB, RICHARD / COHEN, DAVID JONATHAN / NORRIS, CAROLINEJoan Of Arc lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
My early childhood years were a bit crazy (okay, not that much has changed since growing up but that is besides the point). My mother was a mad, bohemian artist with a passion for Leonard Cohen. One of the first songs I remember hearing was Joan of Arc by Leonard Cohen. Not only did I love the melody and his smoky voice but also as a young girl I fell in love with the story.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I used to hate that question. I used to hate any question because I was an extreme introvert and just wanted to be left alone. I used to try and get in trouble at school just so I got to sit on a table by myself – the class “punishment”. Also, my answer to the aforementioned question: “I want to be a cloud” never seemed to suffice. So when I heard Cohen singing about marrying fire I was suddenly set free upon a sea of possibility.
I used to listen to the other girls talk about wanting to have children and get married and I never understood why you would want to be tied down to other people when there was a whole world to explore, so many trees to climb! Then suddenly it was made clear – I could marry fire. Fire – that magnificent force that lit the night and kept me warm as I did my homework. That amber light that cast dancing shadows through the night and sent sparks to join the stars in the sky. Also, the fire Cohen spoke of admired Joan’s solitude and gave her a place of sanctuary inside his heart. She got to step inside the light and become the sky. Being young I didn’t quite understand these concepts but my mother, despite her… eccentricities, took the time to explain the meanings.
So, from a young age I was ready to grow up and be fire’s bride. I never wondered about the wedding, my dress or whom I would invite. Rather, I would think about how warm and bright it would be and how far we would travel – and would my hair be long enough to look like a comet when the night came?
This was a wonderful romantic fantasy for a young girl who was afraid (especially of the dark), alone and feeling like the constant outsider (as I suspect many young children do – it can be a scary world even for adults). Fire was another being that, like this little girl, was constantly maligned but had great strength. And now this little girl knew an amazing secret she could actually marry fire and crawl inside his warmth some day – just like Joan. (I didn’t really know about bigamy at that age or the whole lead up to Joan being burnt at the stake. That devastating truth was revealed much later on and helped strip away the last of my childhood. C’est la vie.)
However, this daydream gave me something far more important than a fiery fantasy – it gave me the first taste of playing with words, meanings and stories. If I could marry fire, if I could be a cloud, what other ‘mundane’ words and objects could I bring to life and help weave a world of freedom, strength, magic and poetry around me? Suddenly everything was fuel for my creative spirit. Every word, every sound, every story and song had to be explored from every angle, pulled apart, put back together, and used to create the world anew. This provided the foundation of my creative process. As they say “Every artist is a cannibal/every poet is a thief/all kill for inspiration/and then sing about the grief.” (Bono). The world was my oyster and I was ravenous. Being ignored or alone didn’t bother me. I would steal words from conversations I overheard or drink in the taste and scent of a winters rose just so I could play with the sensations and words later on.
But like many artists, I went through a period of my life in which I forgot about the precious gift of writing. I failed to feed the creative flames of my heart and listen to my muse. I think in this world it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if it isn’t making money that it’s not worth anything. Basically, in this world it is easy to forget what you are worth and what your love is worth… because it isn’t ‘worth’ anything. It is… your are… priceless. Creativity is a gift, a gift to your self and to the world. Even if no money ever exchanges hands the world is still a better place if you are creating – if art is happening. But, somewhere along the way this little girl forgot herself for a while. But that’s okay, the creative flame is always there, the muse is always whispering and someday, this little girl started to listen again and turned back towards the flame.
This capacity to be open to perceiving the world in an open-minded way, to be able to play and create is one of the things that has helped keep me alive through the trials of life. Like the last line in the song which I never understood till I was much older:
“Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?”
I came to understand that even those things that are cruel and painful in the world… can still become bright and powerful when cannibalized and recreated in the right way. Art has the capacity to transform the world and strengthen the spirit – even in the darkest hour. However, like most things bright and shiny, art also has the capacity to hurt and burn. Managing the heat of the creative flame has been tricky at best. However, whatever the fire of creativity has burnt away has nearly always turned out to be the very thing holding me back.
Today I consider myself fire’s bride. I am married to my muse, the fire and spark of inspiration always comes first in my life. Art is my priority. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing myself like Joan. In order to create I have to be healthy and nourished on all levels. However, if Joan felt the same way about God as I do about art, I can understand the willingness to die for such a cause. And I have one man to thank for this passion, fire and love in my life, the ever-wonderful Leonard Cohen.