Similes in Leonard Cohen’s Poetry (Yrs 9-12)

Today I am reading some of the poems in Leonard Cohen’s collection, Book of Longing, published by Penguin in 2006. (Cohen died just a few years ago; that’s when I personally discovered his work.)

I love this collection, full of bits and pieces, musings, and snippets of thoughts. It seems many of the poems and ideas were written in the last decade or so of his life – they’re philosophical, reflective, resonating. Frequent references to illness remind me of old age, a relevant theme for me.

I’m currently interested in similes, how writers use them. Here’s one from my morning’s reading of Cohen’s poem, ‘Opened my Eyes,’ in which the narrator describes a moment of joy, a delightful experience, in what seems an otherwise difficult or bleak time.

The poem is about anencounter with a waitress in a restaurant and the energy the narrator feels when he is struck by the waitress’ ‘beauty’. She does indeed sound lovely. She has ‘tiny earrings’ and small breasts with the ‘merest foothills’ and she calls the narrator ‘honey’.

However, it is the simile that interests me. There are double mirrors in the restaurant, allowing the narrator to see the woman in many aspects all at once. These mirrors ‘turn [the narrator] like a spindle/ so [he] could gather in/and make [his] own …version of her beauty.’

Why do I like this simile? Although the image of a spindle is an old one (spindles are a part of a spinning wheel and other machinery not much seen these days), it is the combination of the words ‘turning’ and spindle’ that show how energised the narrator feels by seeing the woman. This simile shows the power of beauty. Beauty can be joyful and the narrator is thankful for noticing this. Furthermore, it shows the importance of beauty in our lives and the human need to recognise it in everyday situations. Everyday we need to have moments of joy.

Talking points:

  1. Have you downloaded a copy of our Reading Journal Guidelines? If so, which of the guidelines do you think are being followed in this entry?
  2. How many skills from the Australian Curriculum (English) does the above post show? (Answer: expressing and developing ideas; text structure and organisation; responding to literature; examining literature; creating literature; interpreting, analysing, evaluating; and creating texts.)
  3. Now write your own post for yourself or your teacher, following our Reading Journal Guidelines. Find a poem. Identify a simile and explore the combination of words in the simile and how they are used to convey a particular meaning. Have fun and remember what Joseph Conrad said of his purpose in writing: ‘My task…is…to make you hear, to make you feel…to make you see.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *