Alexandra Leaving – a short history

This song is based on a poem by the Greek poet,¬†Constantine P. Cavafy. His source material was a story from Plutarch about Mark Anthony, as he watched his allies and supporters leave Alexandra before his enemy Octavian attacked the city. The original poem is called “The god forsakes Antony,” and is a meditation on the vagaries of fate. It’s a beautiful and poetic warning that casts Anthony in a tragic light and encourages him to accept his end in a manly way. And there’s no doubt: he’s losing Alexandra, but he’s losing his life too. [Poem here.] Mark Anthony was a larger-than-life guy, and he came to a larger-than-life end.

Cohen kicks it up a notch, of course, and retools this legend for the 21st century. He makes this about personal relationships, and how we should face their endings.

My favourite line is: “Do not choose a coward’s explanation¬†that hides behind the cause and the effect.”

Co-written by Sharon Robinson, who sings it beautifully here:

Alexandra Leaving

Suddenly the night has grown colder
The god of love preparing to depart
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder,
They slip between the sentries of the heart

Upheld by the simplicities of pleasure
They gain the light, they formlessly entwine
And radiant beyond your widest measure
They fall among the voices and the wine

It’s not a trick, your senses all deceiving
A fitful dream, the morning will exhaust
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Even though she sleeps upon your satin
Even though she wakes you with a kiss
Do not say the moment was imagined
Do not stoop to strategies like this

As someone long prepared for this to happen
Go firmly to the window, drink it in
Exquisite music Alexandra laughing
Your first commitments tangible again

And you who had the honor of her evening,
And by the honor had your own restored
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Alexandra leaving with her Lord

Even though she sleeps upon your satin
Even though she wakes you with a kiss
Do not say the moment was imagined
Do not stoop to strategies like this

As someone long prepared for the occasion
In full command of every plan you wrecked
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
that hides behind the cause and the effect

And you who were bewildered by a meaning
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen / Sharon Robinson
Alexandra Leaving lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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