Leonard Cohen: Suzanne

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

Old City of Montreal

Suzanne Verdal, Cohen's muse for song "Suzanne."  She lived in the Old City of Montreal when she met Cohen.

"And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China." 

"Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river." 

"And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbour."

"And Jesus was a sailor. When He walked upon the water. And He spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower."

"There are heroes in the seaweed. There are children in the morning. They are leaning out for love. And they will lean that way forever."

"She is wearing rags and feathers from the Salvation Army counters." (the real Suzanne Verdal)

artist:  Leonard Cohen

songwriter:  Leonard Cohen

date released:  1967 by Leonard Cohen

*Teacher's alert:  There are a lot of prepositions of structure and position in this song.

Singer-songwriter, musician, poet, novelist Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1934.  His grandparents emigrated from Europe; his grandfather came from Poland and his grandmother, from Lithuania.  Cohen's father owned a clothing store in Montreal. As a teenager, Cohen learned to play the guitar and experimented with using his voice as an instrument in reading his poetry.

In 1951, Cohen enrolled at McGill University majoring in Literature and specializing in poetry and fiction.  Yeats, Whitman, Frederico Garcia Lorca and Henry Miller were his early influences.

His first successful song as a songwriter was "Suzanne" which became a hit for American singer, Judy Collins in 1967. His muse was Suzanne Verdal, the wife of a sculptor friend. Suzanne took Cohen to her loft near the St. Lawrence River and offered him Constant Comment tea in a small moment of magic.  

Elements of the city of Montreal feature in the song: the St. Lawrence River and Notre-Dame-de-Bon Secours (Our Lady of Good Help), a little chapel which appears with the morning sun on the east side of the harbour. The chapel was a mariners' church in old Montreal with a figure of the golden virgin at the top turned away from the city as if to bless departing seamen, thus the nautical imagery in the song.   

Later, Verdal disclaimed that she and Cohen had ever been linked romantically.

After the success of "Suzanne", international fame eluded Cohen, and his records sold mainly in Canada and Europe.

In 1994, Cohen retreated from public life and entered a Buddhist monastery at Mount Baldy Zen Centre near Los Angeles.  In 1996, Cohen was ordained as a Buddhist monk.

In 2001, following his years in seclusion at the monastery, Cohen returned to the music world and began to tour again around the world at the grand age of sixty-seven years old.  Leonard Cohen became the quintessential Renaissance man; his music soared to the top of the charts again.

In his lifetime, Leonard Cohen has received many prestigious awards and honours.  In 1968, he received a Governor-General's Award for his poetry which he refused.  In 1991, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  1993 saw Cohen receiving his first Juno Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.  Canada's highest civilian honour, Companion of the Order of Canada was bestowed upon Leonard Cohen.  In 2007, Cohen received his first Grammy Award as a featured artist in Herbie Hancock's jazz album, "River:  The Joni Letters".  The Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him in 2008.  Most recently, Leonard Cohen became a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec. 

The world lost a multi-talented artist when Leonard Cohen passed at age 82 in 2016.  

This is the real Suzanne Verdal, who enchanted Leonard Cohen to write a song about her.