At a school nativity play people hope that all the children will play their parts well.
At the end of the play the children are still in costume, and in some ways visually the scene still exists. However the girl who played Mary now says it’s pay back time. The boy who played Joseph is upset by this, and cries.
‘The woman in blue, she’s asking for revenge,
the man in white — that’s you — says he has no friends.’
This would be a normal interaction for children, however at Christmas we hope that people will make a special effort to get along. The children haven’t learnt to control this yet and can be very chaotic! Adults under extreme pressure are similarly uncontrolled. Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend had an abortion, and he was angry about it. A woman with an unwanted baby in her womb, may feel angry with the fetus for making her face a very difficult decision. A man who doesn’t want his girlfriend to abort a baby, might feel that she is angry with the baby and taking out cold revenge on it. Both reactions are immature but understandable because of the extreme pressure.
This happens in a recent episode of Black Mirror.
On discovering she is pregnant the woman drinks heavily. When her husband discovers this, he, like Cohen is angry and upset calling her a ‘bitch’ who would ‘kill a child’.
He didn’t suspect anything about her binge before – Christmas is a time of excess anyway. The natural flow of things is corrupted. Unhealthy food and drink clogs up our arteries like rusty cans in a river. This links back to ‘Dress Rehersal Rag’ in which he focused on his own life giving rivers – his veins.
‘The river is swollen up with rusty cans.’
We celebrate the birth of baby Jesus at Christmas time, so it is the most dramatic backdrop for the these abortion discussions.
The evergreen tree represents everlasting life, in the depths of winter when so much is dead. Cohen may feel that the unborn baby, like a Christmas tree represents hope and new life. However a Christmas tree is a cut tree severed from its roots – like a small baby severed from its mothers umbilical cord. Christmas trees are burnt, and aborted babies are cremated.
On Boxing Day, all the Christmas post has been received and opened. This leaves the mailboxes on the street barren. Most people would chose to focus on the cards strung up around the house, but Cohen in his depressed state contemplates all the mailboxes. The mailboxes once so cheerfully full of unopened delights – and now with nothing more to yield! He thinks only of her womb which now is stripped bare. The mailboxes will be filled again, but her womb never will be.
‘And there are no letters in the mailbox’
People binge drink at Christmas, and on Boxing Day, another emptiness is all the empty bottles. I think that is why he says –
‘and there are no grapes upon the vine.’
It is just a more poetic way of saying that all the wine has been drunk and the bottles are barren. Also a vine with no grapes can no longer reproduce. It is another image of sterility.
On Christmas Day women look for small gifts under the tree and, if they hope to get engaged, might wonder if there is an engagement ring under the prickly branches. On Boxing Day the presents have all been opened. If there was no ring, in the box which looked so promising they might feel very disappointed and even angry.
He had similarly high hopes when she heard she was pregnant, – and now those hopes have been destroyed and he feels angry.
‘and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore,
and there are no diamonds in the mine.’
People drink a lot at Christmas, and this increases the number of accidents on the road, and limbs are broken. In the madness of Christmas, people can also be very selfish. Rather than be sympathetic towards the injured person, they feel indignant that their festivities have been rendered imperfect.
‘Well, you tell me that your lover has a broken limb,
you say you’re kind of restless now and it’s on account of him.’
This also tells of how absurd he feels it is that she only thinks of her discomfort, when she has had an innocent unborn child killed. At the time a lot of abortions were undercover, and this means that the methods used where less humane.
He feels it is crazy to think about your own enjoyment, amid this terrible destruction. It would be like a very hedonistic man going down on a women, even though he is the middle of an arena of lions. Why is pleasure more important than human life? He feels that she is very shortsighted if she doesn’t think past what is under her nose!
‘Well, I saw the man in question, it was just the other night,
he was eating up a lady where the lions and Christians fight.’
He feels that everyone is connected. Destruction is not limited to the individual severed off – it affects everyone else too. He is also in the arena of lions, and he thinks that she should re-focus her eyes on the lions, and stop trying to make him think its okay. He is too angry to accept comfort from her. He rejects her attention because he wants her to realise the enormity of what she has done. Only then can he accept her as a good woman again.
Towards the end of the song he is much more specific about the theme –
‘Ah, there is no comfort in the covens of the witch,
some very clever doctor went and sterilized the bitch,
and the only man of energy, yes the revolution’s pride,
he trained a hundred women just to kill an unborn child.’
He mocks the idea, that the man who aborted the baby is a hero. His anger with her overflows and he starts to feel angry also with the team of people who carried out the abortion. He doesn’t think that the doctor is a proper doctor.
The final chorus is then sang not just to her, but to everyone involved.
The next song is ‘Love Calls You by Your Name’.