Leonard Cohen's Undertow: When Providence Seems To Betray Us

Of all the profound and sacred dirges of Leonard Cohen's song catalog, "Undertow," from the album Dear Heather, has been overlooked more than most.  It has, at times, assured me that emotional valleys - particularly my own unexpected ones - are actually the most beautiful blessings of life.    It holds and carries the redemptive gravitas that only total personal breakdowns and heart-shattering tragedies can render; and for the right person, this is the song that states most poignantly -  in a much less cheesy way- the old adage from Footprints In The Sand, "I carried you."

I set out one night, when the tide was low,

 There were signs in the sky,

 But I did not know....
— LC

Neither did we, Leonard.  We didn't know life would quite turn out this way.  We didn't know such profound unraveling and skin-shedding transformations were possible inside our human psyches, psyches we once believed to be insanity-proof.  This, at least, is how I imagine some die-hard Cohen fans reacting, or what the thoughts might be of a sensitive and disillusioned dreamer discovering the bard for the first time through this song. 

I’d be caught in the grip of an undertow

 Ditched on a beach where the sea hates to go

 And child in my arms and a chill in my soul

 And my heart the shape of a begging bowl....

The seeker is left less powerful than before, as destructive spells tend to ravage their vessels.  Here we find ourselves: powerless, sad, but also - as Leonard reminds us - mesmerized by the sad beauty of loss.  Indeed, what I like about this song is that the melody matches the words; the eternal song of loss echoes across oceans in the voice of an ancient Mediterranean mermaid - or, more specifically, Anjani Thomas, a frequent creative partner of Cohen's, whose voice matches his lyrics like no other.  Moreover, the power of this funereal lullaby is the sense of the sacred invoked, as if what has gone wrong in every dreamer's life had been originally ordained by Providence, and Undertow, without downplaying the magnitude of the pain, tells us that Providence has not forgotten us after all.  In fact, Providence knew all along, even though we didn't.   The signs in the sky told of our struggles to come ahead of time...and remind us of some long-forgotten and distant promise of redemption that may or may not come. 

Listen to the great song below: