I'm All In One Place

From a television interview with Adrienne Clarkson, May 23, 1966. Published in “Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen.”

[Cohen reads a poem.]

Adrienne Clarkson: How does it affect you when you read a poem that you’ve forgotten? Is it like reading a poem by someone else?

Leonard Cohen: Well, this time I was just faking it because for the purposes of continuity I had to read this poem but I hadn’t read it for some time, and I left out a verse and I’d forgotten the meaning of the whole poem.

AC: Does it in any way disturb you? Isn’t every poem a part of you as a poet?

LC: It doesn’t disturb me ‘cause I don’t think anything was at stake. But I think that the message comes through with the body, with the eyes, and the voice. You could really be reading the instructions from a shoe polish can.

AC: What’s the point of writing poetry if you could just as well read instructions on how to polish your shoes?

LC: It depends. I you want people to have shiny shoes, you want to write those kinds of good instructions. And if you want to polish other parts of yourself, you do it with poetry. 

AC: How can you relate the creation of a work of art with an act of polishing shoes?

LC: It depends on where you’re looking. It depends exactly where you’ve got your binoculars trained. If you stand far enough away, it’s probably the same thing. You know the stop of that juggler who performed his acrobatics and plate balancing in front of a statue of the virgin? Well, I think it really comes down to that. You really do what sings. 

AC: Is that the key to your diversity?

LC: I’m all in one place.

From Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Moharan, Section One, Lesson Sixty-Five

כִּי כָּל דִּבּוּר וְדִבּוּר הוּא עוֹלָם מָלֵא, וּכְשֶׁאָדָם עוֹמֵד לְהִתְפַּלֵּל, וּמְדַבֵּר דִּבּוּרֵי הַתְּפִלָּה, אֲזַי הוּא מְלַקֵּט צִיצִים וּפְרָחִים וְשׁוֹשַׁנִּים נָאִים. כְּאָדָם הַהוֹלֵךְ בְּשָׂדֶה, וּמְלַקֵּט שׁוֹשַׁנִּים וּפְרָחִים נָאִים אַחַת לְאַחַת, עַד שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה אֲגֻדָּה אֶחָת, וְאַחַר־כָּךְ מְלַקֵּט עוֹד אַחַת לְאַחַת, וְעוֹשֶׂה אֲגֻדָּה אַחֶרֶת וּמְחַבְּרָם יַחַד, וְכֵן הוֹלֵךְ וּמְלַקֵּט וּמְקַבֵּץ כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה אֲגֻדּוֹת יָפִים וְנָאִים.

Every single word is an entire world. When a person stands up to pray and recites the words of the prayers, he is gathering beautiful buds and flowers and blossoms, like someone walking in a field picking lovely blossoms and flowers one at a time, until he makes a bouquet. After that he picks more, one by one, making another bouquet, and joins them together. So he goes on, picking and gathering more and more lovely bouquets.

כְּמוֹ כֵן הוּא הוֹלֵךְ בִּתְפִלָּה מֵאוֹת לְאוֹת, עַד שֶׁמִּתְחַבְּרִים כַּמָּה אוֹתִיּוֹת, וְנַעֲשֶׂה מֵהֶם דִּבּוּר. וְכֵן עוֹשֶׂה בְּתֵבוֹת שְׁלֵמוֹת, וְאַחַר־כָּךְ נִתְחַבְּרִין שְׁתֵּי הַתֵּבוֹת. וְאַחַר־כָּךְ הוֹלֵךְ וּמְלַקֵּט יוֹתֵר, עַד שֶׁגּוֹמֵר בְּרָכָה אַחַת. וְאַחַר־כָּךְ מְלַקֵּט יוֹתֵר וְיוֹתֵר, וְהוֹלֵךְ מֵאָבוֹת לִגְבוּרוֹת, וּמִגְּבוּרוֹת לִקְדֻשּׁוֹת, וְכֵן הוֹלֵךְ לְהַלָּן יוֹתֵר. מִי יְפָאֵר גֹדֶל פְּאֵר הַלִּקּוּטִים וְהַקִּבּוּצִים, שֶׁאָדָם מְלַקֵּט וּמְקַבֵּץ בְּדִבּוּרֵי הַתְּפִלָּה.

This is likewise true of prayer: a person goes from letter to letter, until several letters are joined together and form a <single> word. He does the same <for a second word>. Then the two words are joined, and he goes on, gathering more, until he completes a single blessing. After that he goes on gathering more and more—from Avot to Gevurot, and from Gevurot to Kedushot. So he goes on, further and further. Who can extol the great splendor of the gleanings and gatherings that a person makes through the words of the prayers?

וּכְשֶׁהַדִּבּוּר יוֹצֵא, וְהַדִּבּוּר הוּא יוֹצֵא מֵהַנֶּפֶשׁ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב (בראשית ב): וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, וְתַרְגּוּמוֹ: לְרוּחַ מְמַלְּלָא; וְהַדִּבּוּר בָּא וְנִשְׁמָע לְאָזְנָיו, כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה (ברכות טו): הַשְׁמַע לְאָזְנֶיךָ מַה שֶּׁאַתָּה מוֹצִיא בְּפִיךָ;

And when speech emerges, it emerges from the soul, as it is written (Genesis 2:7), “thus man became a living soul”—which the Targum renders as: “he became a speaking spirit.” The utterance emerges and is heard by his ears, as our Sages, of blessed memory, said: Let your ears hear what you are bringing forth from your mouth (Berakhot 15a) .

אֲזַי הַדִּבּוּר מְבַקֵּשׁ וּמִתְחַנֵּן מֵהַנֶּפֶשׁ, לְבַל תִּפָּרֵד מִמֶּנּוּ. וְתֵכֶף כְּשֶׁיּוֹצֵא אוֹת רִאשׁוֹנָה, כְּגוֹן אוֹת בֵּי"ת מִתֵּבַת בָּרוּךְ, אֲזַי מְבַקֵּשׁ וּמִתְחַנֵּן מֵהַנֶּפֶשׁ לְבַל תִּפָּרֵד מִמֶּנּוּ:

Then the utterance begs and implores the soul not to part from it. As soon as the first letter emerges—such as the letter bet of the word Baruch—it begs and implores the soul not to part from it:

כִּי אֵיךְ תּוּכַל לְהִתְפָּרֵד מִמֶּנִּי, לְגֹדֶל הַהִתְקַשְּׁרוּת וְהָאַהֲבָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בֵּינֵינוּ. כִּי אַתָּה רוֹאֶה אֶת יְקַר יָפְיִי וְזִיוִי וַהֲדָרִי וְתִפְאַרְתִּי, וְאֵיךְ תּוּכַל לְנַתֵּק עַצְמְךָ מִמֶּנִּי וְלִפְרֹד מֵאִתִּי. הֵן אֱמֶת, שֶׁאַתָּה צָרִיךְ לֵילֵךְ יוֹתֵר, כְּדֵי לְלַקֵּט עוֹד סְגֻלּוֹת יְקָרוֹת וַחֲמוּדוֹת גְּדוֹלוֹת, אֲבָל אֵיךְ תּוּכַל לִפְרֹד מִמֶּנִּי וְלִשְׁכֹּחַ אוֹתִי, עַל כָּל פָּנִים תִּרְאֶה שֶׁבְּכָל מָקוֹם שֶׁתֵּלֵךְ וְתָבוֹא לְשָׁם לֹא תִּשְׁכַּח אוֹתִי, וְלֹא תִּפָּרֵד מִמֶּנִּי.

“Considering the great bond and love between us, how can you separate yourself from me? You see my precious beauty, my radiance, my magnificence and splendor. How can you tear yourself away from me and leave me? True, you have to move on in order to gather additional valuable treasures and great delights. <Yet> how can you part from me and forget me? At least see to it that wherever it is you move on to, you don’t forget me or separate from me.”

מִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן כְּשֶׁגּוֹמֵר תֵּבָה אַחַת, אֲזַי כָּל הַתֵּבָה מְבַקֶּשֶׁת כָּל הַנַּ"ל, וּמְלַפֶּפֶת וּמְחַבֶּקֶת אוֹתוֹ, וְאֵינָהּ מַנַּחַת אוֹתוֹ לֵילֵךְ מֵאִתָּהּ כַּנַּ"ל.

<So, too, the letter reish of the word baRuch begs the soul in the same manner. And> all the more so when one finishes <the entire word>. Then the whole word pleads in the same manner, caressing and embracing [the soul], not allowing [the soul] to leave it.

וּבֶאֱמֶת הוּא צָרִיךְ וּמֻכְרָח לְדַבֵּר עוֹד הַרְבֵּה דִּבּוּרִים, וְכַמָּה בְּרָכוֹת וְעִנְיָנִים עַד גְּמַר הַתְּפִלָּה. עַל כֵּן הַכְּלָל – שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶחָד מִכָּל הַתְּפִלָּה כֻּלָּהּ. וּבְכָל דִּבּוּר שֶׁמְּדַבֵּר, יִהְיֶה נִמְצָא שָׁם כָּל הַדִּבּוּרִים שֶׁל הַתְּפִלָּה, וּמֵהַתְחָלַת הַתְּפִלָּה עַד הַסּוֹף יִהְיֶה הַכֹּל אֶחָד. וּכְשֶׁעוֹמֵד בְּהַדִּבּוּר הָאַחֲרוֹן שֶׁל הַתְּפִלָּה, יִהְיֶה עֲדַיִן עוֹמֵד בְּתֵבָה רִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁל הַתְּפִלָּה, כְּדֵי שֶׁעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה יוּכַל לְהִתְפַּלֵּל כָּל הַתְּפִלָּה כֻּלָּהּ, וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן לֹא יִתְפָּרֵד אֲפִלּוּ מֵאוֹת רִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁל הַתְּפִלָּה:

In fact, a person has to recite many more words and numerous blessings and passages before concluding the prayer. <Yet the words keep him from moving on and forgetting them, as explained.> Therefore, the rule is, he must make the entire prayer one. Each individual utterance should contain all the utterances—<from the beginning of> the prayer <to where he is at present>—so that from the beginning of the prayer to the end it will all be one. Thus, when he reaches the final word of the prayer, he will still be holding at its first word. This way one can pray the entire prayer and nonetheless not separate himself from even its first letter.