Life According To Leonard Cohen: Find Solace In His Wisdom-Packed Quotes

The great poet, writer and musician Leonard Cohen died today (November 11, 2016) aged 82. Seek solace through the late icon's own words, as we look through some of the most moving and inspiring quotes he gave in interviews over the years.

On transforming pain into work

“A cry of pain in itself is just that. It can affect you or you can turn away from it. But a piece of work that treats the experience that produced the cry of pain is a different matter altogether. The cry is transformed, alchemised, by the work by a certain objectivity that doesn’t surrender the emotion but gives it form. That’s the difference between life and art.” – The Guardian, 1976

On optimism

“I don’t consider myself a pessimist at all. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin,” – Daily Telegraph, 1993

On studio interference

Leonard Cohen 'Hallelujah'

“The record companies pressure me to force my songs because the stores want them to sell. I will not force my songs for them.” – NME, 1973


On love

“This is the most challenging activity that humans get into, which is love. You know, we have the sense that we cannot live without love, that life has very little meaning without it.” –The Guardian, 2009

On self-actualisation

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

On his simple lifestyle

“I have always been attracted to the voluptuousness of austerity. I never chose the style of my life because it hurt. It was on the contrary. I feel most comfortable and most abundant when things are very simple and I know where everything is and there’s nothing around that I don’t need.”

On fighting depression

“When I speak of depression, I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse. I’m happy to report that, by imperceptible degrees and by the grace of good teachers and good luck, that depression slowly dissolved and has never returned with the same ferocity that prevailed for most of my life.” – The Guardian, 2012


On secrets and scars

“Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal.”

On giving hope to this fans

“I don’t get a lot of mail but some of the mail I get says if a song or something got them through the night. I think it’s important to be able to name the sorrow from time to time. We are living in a butchers’ shop and if your embrace is wide enough you can take in some of those corners.” – Hot Properties TV interview, 1985

On capturing inspiration

“When something good comes, you have to be prepared to polish it, carve it and chisel it, that’s the work. But the actual intention, what you are really going to be writing about, that’s going to come up from a really authentic place that is deep and over which you exercise no conscious control.” – The Telegraph, 2014

On defying his image

“I’m a closet optimist” – The Telegraph, 2014


On finding happiness

“There’s been so much talk about the mechanics of happiness. Psychiatry and pills and positive thinking and ideology. But I really think that the mechanism is there. All you have to do is get quiet for a moment until you know where you are… You can cooperate with the vision that alcohol gives you, you can cooperate with the vision that LSD gives you. All those things are just made out of plants, and they’re there for us and I think we ought to use them. But also there’s another kind of high to get from refusing to use them.”

On being a loverman

“I remember one day I was in a very exalted state and I saw a bunch of cows in a field. And I noticed how beautiful they were that I got down on my knees to worship them. And, do you know, those cows were so happy. The more I worshipped them the happier they became. And to make a metaphor out of it, it’s exactly the same with ladies.” – The Evening Standard, 1968

On managing to make it as an artist

“I’d been living on an island in the Mediterranean for some time. Never completely—I’d always have to come back to Canada to put money together—but I was living for a thousand dollars a year there. I’d come back to make a thousand dollars and my boat or plane fare then go back for as long as that would last. I wrote a lot of books there and a lot of songs.” – KCRW-FM radio interview, 1988

On exorcising demons

“My tunes often deal with a moral crisis. I often feel myself a part of such a crisis and try to relate it in song. There’s a line in a poem I wrote that sums this up perfectly: ‘My betrayals are so fresh they still come with explanations.’

On practising Buddhism at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in Los Angeles

“My life was filled with great disorder, with chaos, and I achieved a little discipline there. So I decided to return to music.”


‘It was dangerous to accept a potato chip at a cocktail party [in 1960s new York]. I speak literally. It could be sprinkled with acid. I went to somebody’s room who was having a cocktail party, had a few chips, and four days later was still trying to find my room. The Guardian, 2001.

On death

“At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.” – The New Yorker, 2016