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  • michaelbarry
  • My Interpretation:
    "Alexandra Leaving" is wonderful precisely because it evokes a range of interpretations. When I first heard it, it was a man losing his lover. Then after my daughter was born, I began hearing it as a man farewelling his daughter at her wedding. Both times I cried, but both times illuminated my own life experience. Parts of the lyrics suit one interpretation but not another; some parts I may never comprehend. The greatest works of art allow endless reinterpretation over years or decades, as one's viewpoint changes with experience and knowledge.

    My daughter is three. At the most bizarre hours she wakes me with a kiss, joins us in our bed, smashes me in the nose with a hardback storybook, and penetrates my armoured cynicism. The love of a father for his daughter is not sexual, but it is sensual in a non-rational and innocent way. When she told me she had a "boyfriend," my momentary impulse was jealousy: "who is this punk?" It turns out he was a younger man: only two. But a punk nonetheless, I say!

    Losing her to another man, or to death (likely my own) is something that will be heartrending -- but natural and of course inevitable. I hope to face that moment with love, compassion and dignity; I will probably blub like a baby. That's what "Alexandra Leaving" says to me.
  • 1 Reply
  • This is a beautiful song about facing loss.

    Firstly you cannot completely understand this song without knowing the background of the plutarch story and the Cavafy poem and the historical context. Cohen has mixed it up a bit. But here I agree with MichaelBarry about the range of interpretations. The mixing up is its essence. Multiple meanings are an inherent part of the appeal of literature and here it is mixed up so that we cannot tell what kind of loss it is but only very clearly that this is about facing imminent loss. Representing a city by a woman is a traditional literary device (it's Biblical even). There's support for an interpretation of losing the woman to another man, for her dying, for Alexandra to be the historical city and because of these ambiguities the song is therefore about all loss and especially Alexandra represents life itself and her loss is the occasion (death) for which each is long prepared. So it transcends the mere historical event and makes it timeless and something with which we can all empathise.

    For me this even makes the TS Eliot idea of building on previous literature seem a bit more justifiable.

    Having understood the background of the plutarch story and historical context, in reply to andyhill interesting analysis (last year) I would say that "Do not say the moment was imagined" refers in fact not in fact to the past with Alexandra but to the moment of premonition (corresponding to the procession through the city) when you foresee the loss - this is "Alexandra leaving". Do not pretend you did not foresee her leaving, do not tell yourself that it is not going to happen. But the "drink it in" is also an exhortation to continue enjoying Alexandra (life) while fully facing the fact that you are about to lose her. The actual loss which will follow is "Alexandra lost".
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SongMeanings
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SongMeanings
Copyright 2019
About    Terms