Suzanne Cohen

Suzanne - 1966 #

Suzanne is the first track on Leonard Cohen’s 1967 debut album: Songs of Leonard Cohen. It was first published as a poem in Cohen’s 1966 collection “Parasites of Heaven”.

Suzanne Verdal, a platonic friend of Cohen’s is the inspiration for Cohen’s most idyllic song, ‘Suzanne’ in Montreal in the 1966’s. She was a single mother, a dancer, much younger than he, with an apartment overlooking the St. Lawrence River where she served him Jasmine tea.

Both were involved in fringe, alternative or hippie cults advocating free love and the liberation of the sixties. They had a short platonic relationship before he leaves for a Folk Festival in Nashville.

Suzanne was unaware of the song until she heard about it from a mutual friend. She claims she first heard it on her car radio. She claims Leonard never discussed it with her or contacted her about it.

Leonard is fascinated by women’s voices, feeling that his own voice, like Bob Dylan’s is harsh and disagreeable. Most of his live performances are accompanied by the sweetness of a chorus of women’s voices behind him.

Later he marrys Suzanne Elrod. The couple had two children: Lorca and Adam Cohen.

A common misconception is that Leonard wrote the song Suzanne after her, however, Leonard had published the song in 1966, long before meeting Suzanne Elrod.

Suzanne #

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On Our Lady of the Harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
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
While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind

You can listen to her side of the story @:
[link] (

Written in the style of folk music made popular by Tom Leherer, Woodie and Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Cohen soon became one of the most accomplished singer of folk fringe love songs.

Cohen is modest about his talent, acknowledging his voice is harsh and disagreeable. His melodies tend to be simply, limited to four chords - like a chant rising and falling. The song is full of near rhymes - river, forever, tower, counter, …. It consists of three stanzas, with 7, 6, 7 lines and irregular syllables.

The refrain:

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind

changes the subject from You’ve, he’s, and she’s touched ….

The lack of physical contact suggests a spiritual purity not compromised by carnality.

The post modern images refer to many Christian symbols, Christ walking on the water, dying on the cross (lonely tower) and the Lady of the Harbour - a chapel in Montreal. It could of course also allude to the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The song is unpretentious, emotionally engaging yet sincere, allowing the reader to make their own meanings.