Thoughts on Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep

My paternal grandparents promised to love and cherish one another until death.

Confined to sex
We pressed against
The limits of the sea
I saw there were
No oceans left
For scavengers like me
I made it to
The forward deck
I blessed the rambling fleet
And then consented
To be wrecked
A thousand kisses deep
from A Thousand Kisses Deep by Leonard Cohen

I hope they took the spirit of the full vow, because after fifty years my grandfather passed away, leaving Grandma alone.

The phrase “until death us do part” is one of the few times in Christian ritual where death is acknowledged without recourse to eternity. There is no talk of being reunited in Heaven. And although there was plenty of that at Granddad’s funeral, I hope that Grandma was beyond wanting a gauzy veil by the time he left. I don’t picture her holding Geoffrey in her mind as as an angel reborn, but as the frail, vulnerable man overtaken by death as we all are due to be.

These days we know the certainty of death, and yet a cultural imperative has arisen to say “forever”. Walt Disney and the pop music industry have a lot to answer for in my book, because we can only ever mean “for now”.

We sail beyond sight of land to the deep, blue water, with only memory as a compass, and we swim together for a while … and then we sink into our own death or we drift apart. Neither outcome need be so shocking, except we were raised with modern images of “happily ever after”.1 It’s self-indulgent and dishonest.

Granddad’s final dissolution, premature as it could only ever be, was in the eyes of pop music a betrayal. His death was, of course, an abandonment. But it was also a tender illustration of the humanity that we all loved about him in life.

Thankfully the 20th Century also gave us Leonard Cohen, poet and mystic.

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
You see, I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second hand physique
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep

I hear their voices in the wine
That sometimes did me seek
The band is playing Auld Lang Syne
But the heart will not retreat
There’s no forsaking what you love
No existential leap
As witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep

He rethrones contradiction as the very heart of love; he tenderises adoration’s inevitable betrayal. Rejecting smugness, he edifies the paradox of giving ourselves to a person, to love, to duty, and to the world, knowing that one day it must all be lost beyond the horizon. In doing so, he restores love to its true grandeur, beyond the sickly packaging of a Broadway song and expresses the fatal human yearning to both experience all of life and yet to escape its ending.

And now he has led the way in death, as he did in life.

In Memoriam
Leonard Cohen
1934 — 2016
~ you win a while and then it’s done, your little winning streak ~

Note: The poetic content of A Thousand Kisses Deep has changed numerous times. This video differs from the one on the album.


  1. Authentic Russian and European fairy tales end with “happily until their deaths” or “and they lived long and happily”.