"I Can't Forget" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
I stumbled out of bed
I got ready for the struggle
I smoked a cigarette
And I tightened up my gut
I said this can't be me
Must be my double
And I can't forget, I can't forget
I can't forget but I don't remember what
I'm burning up the road
I'm heading down to Phoenix
I got this old address
Of someone that I knew
It was high and fine and free
Ah, you should have seen us
And I can't forget, I can't forget
I can't forget but I don't remember who

I'll be there today
With a big bouquet of cactus
I got this rig that runs on memories
And I promise, cross my heart,
They'll never catch us
But if they do, just tell them it was me

Yeah I loved you all my life
And that's how I want to end it
The summer's almost gone
The winter's tuning up
Yeah, the summer's gone
But a lot goes on forever
And I can't forget, I can't forget
I can't forget but I don't remember what


Lyrics submitted by 16996602

"I Can't Forget" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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I Can't Forget song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentOn the surface this song may be about a relationship, but I think there's a lot more going on. The cactus, the rig, and that whole first stanza where he's not even talking about a relationship. In fact I think there's so much going on I could never explain it clearly! But I'll give it a try and hope it works.

    I think this song is about remembering, not so much a specific relationship, but memories more generally. About how our experiences in life infuse themselves in us and become our substance without us even realizing it. And about how the most important experience of all is love / sex / emotion.

    Stanza 1: out-of-body experience. Time has taken its toll and as Cohen looks at his older unfit-for-the-"struggle" self, he realizes He is no longer what he sees in the mirror. He has been left behind, somewhere. All He is now are the memories. He can't point to any one of them ("I can't remember what") but at the same time he could never "forget" - since He is himself. In other words he is talking about the SUM of his memories and experiences.

    Stanza 2: he goes to a memory which sounds so general it could have been repeated several times in his life. And he confirms this with the last two lines. Is he actually thinking about someone in particular? No of course not - or he could easily name that person. Instead - he's thinking about the sum total of love and emotion that women and relationships have brought him. And he is putting those above all else - that's what the 5th and 6th lines of that stanza tell me.

    Bridge: this explains why he was going to "Phoenix". The cactus points back to the desert. And to me, this is what the cactus symbolizes: a plant that looks dry and uniform from the outside, yet is filled with life (water) and feeling (sap) inside. The rig is another great metaphor. A rig has unstoppable momentum, like the passing of time. This one runs on memories, like us. The rig symbolizes our mortality and human experience.

    Stanza 3: he is again talking about the universality of love ("all my life") and about wanting to die with this feeling in mind. But his wish will be granted - since in fact these memories "[go] on forever", whether in summer or winter. And so he returns to his mirror (by repeating the lines from the first stanza), with perhaps a hint of comfort that he will never forget.

    So he is saying "how did I get here, to be who I am today? to be who I am now?" The answer: "I can't forget, but I can't remember". I.e. "I am just the sum of my memories, I can't point to anything specifically, but it's made me who I am". And clearly love is the most important of all.

    This song has a bit of a Blowing in the Wind quality to it - self-referential to some extent. The answers blows in the wind just as much as the questions.

    More importantly, this song manages to point to the passing of time, mortality, the violence of relationships, the importance of passion, the weight of memories, without mentioning any of them by name. To see so much of life summarized with only simple, everyday words, and in such an intricate, structured way is an astounding achievment. Humbling and timeless stuff.

    In short, a total, absolute masterpiece that falls squarely into the Cohen canon, and one which I wish were more respected and well-known!
    Rimbeon July 05, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is about a passionate relationship from the past with a girl he never really knew or understood, and he kept powerful memories of the sensations of what he felt, but not about the essence.
    And now he is probably tortured by the memories of the intense feelings he once experienced, which he can't feel anymore.
    iguanaon March 20, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSweet..!

    It's about running out of steam. The summer of life (youth) is over. He keeps searching for that feeling. Cause he can't forget...!

    But a lot goes on forever. But he can't remember what.

    RJ
    RJSoftwareon June 02, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHe adds words from an old song, a sort of nursery rhyme French children strangely learn :
    Leonard Cohen repeats the words in French like we do in our childhood :

    Il y a longtemps que je t’aime,
    Jamais je ne t’oublierai

    A la claire fontaine,
    m'en allant promener

    But the song goes on like this but Leonard do not say those words :

    J’ai trouvé l’eau si belle
    Que je m’y suis baigné

    Chante, rossignol, chante,
    Toi qui as le cœur gai.
    Tu as le cœur à rire…
    Moi je l’ai à pleurer.

    Complete song in french and in english

    À la claire fontaine,
    M'en allant promener
    J'ai trouvé l'eau si belle
    Que je m'y suis baigné
    :
    Il y a longtemps que je t'aime
    Jamais je ne t'oublierai

    Sous les feuilles d'un chêne,
    Je me suis fait sécher
    Sur la plus haute branche,
    Un rossignol chantait

    Il y a longtemps que je t’aime,
    Jamais je ne t’oublierai

    Chante rossignol, chante,
    Toi qui as le cœur gai
    Tu as le cœur à rire,
    Moi je l'ai à pleurer

    Il y a longtemps que je t’aime,
    Jamais je ne t’oublierai

    J'ai perdu mon amie,
    Sans l'avoir mérité
    Pour un bouquet de roses,
    Que je lui refusai.

    Il y a longtemps que je t’aime,
    Jamais je ne t’oublierai

    Je voudrais que la rose,
    Fût encore au rosier
    Et que ma douce amie
    Fût encore à m'aimer.*

    Il y a longtemps que je t’aime,
    Jamais je ne t’oublierai

    At the clear spring,
    As I was strolling by,
    I found the water so nice
    That I went in to bathe.

    (Chorus)
    It's so long I've been loving you,
    That I'll never forget you.

    Under an oak tree,
    I dried myself.
    On the highest branch
    A nightingale was singing.

    It's so long I've been loving you,
    That I'll never forget you.

    Sing, nightingale, sing,
    Your heart is so happy.
    Your heart feels like laughing,
    Mine feels like weeping.

    It's so long I've been loving you,
    That I'll never forget you.

    I lost my beloved
    Without deserving it
    Over a bouquet of roses
    That I refused to give her.

    It's so long I've been loving you,
    That I'll never forget you.

    I wanted the rose
    To stay on the rosebush,
    And for my sweet love
    To be still loving me.

    It's so long I've been loving you,
    That I'll never forget you.
    potaulait1on October 20, 2013   Link

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