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The Spice-Box of Earth

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96 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

Leonard Cohen

163 books1,742 followers
Leonard Norman Cohen was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist. Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963.

Cohen's earliest songs (many of which appeared on the 1968 album Songs of Leonard Cohen) were rooted in European folk music melodies and instrumentation, sung in a high baritone. The 1970s were a musically restless period in which his influences broadened to encompass pop, cabaret, and world music. Since the 1980s he has typically sung in lower registers (bass baritone, sometimes bass), with accompaniment from electronic synthesizers and female backing singers.

His work often explores the themes of religion, isolation, sexuality, and complex interpersonal relationships.

Cohen's songs and poetry have influenced many other singer-songwriters, and more than a thousand renditions of his work have been recorded. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008 for his status among the "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters".

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5 stars
328 (42%)
4 stars
283 (36%)
3 stars
138 (17%)
2 stars
25 (3%)
1 star
3 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 64 reviews
Profile Image for Mutasim Billah .
112 reviews185 followers
July 5, 2020
Leonard Cohen's second collection of poems, The Spice Box of Earth was published in 1961, when Cohen was 27 years old. One of his earlier works, the collection contains 59 poems and a photograph of Cohen taken by Sophie Baker.

Profile Image for Raegan Butcher.
Author 15 books116 followers
April 21, 2008
This is the second book of Cohen's poetry and it is filled with his unique brand of religion and sexuality, the sacred and the profane. One of the fascinating aspects of Leonard Cohen's poetry has been its elasticity and it's interesting to see how it has evolved over the years; you only have to look at the poems in THE SPICE BOX OF EARTH(1961) compared to the poems in THE ENERGY OF SLAVES(1972) to see the difference.It seems to me that Leonard Cohen has always been on a spiritual path--always changing, evolving, searching for the answers that we all look for. There are some breathtakingly lovely poems in this book.
Profile Image for Michèle Dextras.
108 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2017
This was part of the curriculum for my grade 9 English class in 1962! It was my introduction to Leonard Cohen and I am forever grateful to that grade 9 English teacher.
Profile Image for Derrick Simerly.
35 reviews18 followers
April 9, 2022
Been on a Leonard Cohen kick, lately. Most of the poems are good-to-great in this one. An improvement to his first; Which was pretty good especially for a 22 year old.
Profile Image for Nikea Rurounin.
30 reviews3 followers
May 7, 2020
կարդալու ընթացքում անընդհատ մտածում էի՝ ասենք կոհենի բախտը բերած չլիներ ու խորհրդային հայաստանում ծնված լիներ, խեղճին կաքսորեին սիբիր, ու դա լավագույն դեպքում։
Profile Image for Marijana Markalaus.
25 reviews7 followers
March 3, 2018
Beautifully and deeply written verses. It shows Cohen's truly poetical facility and also the capability of coherence. In fact it shows Cohen's increasing being from religious tradition. Some poems evoked the biblical prayer like Twelve O’clock Chant, but many poems are really sodden with biblical motives. It is interesting that Cohen uses them, except primarily for honoring the ancestors, to show some kind of detachment, sometimes irony? The core of the collection is in my opinion the Out of the Land of Heaven witch reveals the metaphorical theme. The love poems reflect the same motives, some in the troubadour manner and some in erotic but always special. A Poem to Detain me addresses the reader in its pain for the right words:

"O you will be listening for music
while I turn on a spit of song;
you will increase your love
while I experiment with pain;
while others amputate their limbs
you will master a ballet-step
away from voluntary gangrene.

Believe nothing of me
except that I felt your beauty
more closely than my own.
I did not see any cities burn,
I heard no promises of endless night,
I felt your beauty
more closely than my own.
Promise me that I will return"

that shows in The Cuckold's Song as brilliance:

"I don't want to turn anything into poetry.
I know all about her part in it
but I'm not concerned with that right now.
This is between you and me.
Personally I don't give a damn who led who on:
in fact I wonder if I give a damn at all"

Cohen leads the poems with such elegancy and easiness that many poets struggle with. It truly captivated me, spicy.
363 reviews
October 12, 2020
I thought I'd be more nostalgic about this one. I read this book years ago. Cohen is still a master but the subject matter is very naive in a way I found harder to enjoy outright. His skill is on display in full force in each line but his observations fall flat. I wish he'd say something more than what is here.

I'm definitely going to read some of his older work next. Cohen is still a very dear poet to me and I recommend reading him, but only read this if you want the full image of his career. His older poems are just better.
Profile Image for Jessie.
142 reviews
July 26, 2018
Some bits of really beautiful writing but overall p dark and dense poetry that's just not my thing.
Profile Image for Morgan.
342 reviews14 followers
August 17, 2022
The poems that worked best for me tended to be the simplest. I love his work when he is really frank, with a wry wit. He creates delightful twists and reveals. And his lust poems are all rather charming.

Then scattered between them are poems that seem so internalized that I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Some of it felt like cockney rhyming slang in the sense that there are logical steps to get to the conclusion. But if you aren’t privy to the process you end up with an answer with no context to the original subject.

So, not infrequently, I would find myself wading into a garble of beautiful words about spires and reference to Solomon or Abelard. I just half assume that it’s some oblique reference to sex. It’s hard not to think that some of these poems were inside jokes to himself.

Still, I quite liked it, and was always engaged.
Profile Image for Andrada.
Author 3 books48 followers
December 20, 2016
I recently went to a tribute concert for Leonard Cohen and during it they also read some of his poems and I found them quite interesting so I asked one of the poets what collection they were from. It was The Spice Box of Earth and they pretty much read the best poems included in the collection. There were still some hidden gems in there though. Some were harder to follow than others, but I found that reading them out loud seemed to unlock their meaning and give them new depth. I suppose that’s only natural when their writer was first and foremost a singer.
Profile Image for Lois.
133 reviews16 followers
July 26, 2013
This collection felt a bit patchier and often more personal than his others that I've read. I liked him best here when he was at his simplest, like in the 'Summer Haiku' or 'For Anne', although the 'Lines From My Grandfather's Journal' were very interesting. To be honest, I felt like I didn't really get a number of these poems - I'd like to try reading them again in more depth later.
7 reviews2 followers
Currently reading
September 9, 2009
Digging it so far. Leonard Cohen really speaks to me. I love his humanity and nakedness.
Profile Image for Corey.
Author 78 books242 followers
April 28, 2017
Re-read this for the first time since my 20s. There's no one else like him.
Profile Image for Greta.
338 reviews39 followers
August 17, 2017
Summer Haiku


and a deeper silence

when the crickets

Profile Image for M.W.P.M..
1,678 reviews12 followers
January 23, 2022
You tell me that silence
is nearer to peace than poems
but if for my gift
I brought you silence
(for I know silence)
you would say
This is not silence
this is another poem

and you would hand it back to me.
- Gift, pg. 11

* * *

I wonder how many people in this city
live in furnished rooms.
Late at night when I look out at the buildings
I swear I see a face in every window
looking back at me,
and when I turn away
I wonder how many go back to their desks
and write this down.
- I Wonder How Many People in This City, pg. 19

* * *

Sing to fish, embrace the beast,
But don't get up from the pond
With half your body a horse's body
Or wings from your backbone.
Sleep as a man beside the sleeping wolves
Without longing for a special sky
To darken and fur your hands.
Animals, do not kill for the human heart
Which under breasts of scale or flesh will cry.
O swallow, be a heart in the wind's high breast,
River the limbs of the sky with your singing blood.
The dead are beginning to breathe:
I see my father splashing light like a jewel
In the swamp's black mud.
- Sing to Fish, Embrace the Beast, pg. 35

* * *

Lower your eyelids
over the water
Join the night
like the trees
you lie under

How many crickets
How many waves
easy after easy
on the one way shore

There are stars
from another view
and a moon
to draw the seaweed through

No one calls the crickets vain
in their time
in their time
No one will call you idle
for dying with the sun
- Song to Make Me Still, pg. 44

* * *

I almost went to bed
without remembering
the four white violets
I put in the button-hole
of your green sweater

and how I kissed you then
and you kissed me
shy as though I'd
never been your lover
- Song, pg. 71

* * *


and a deeper silence

when the crickets

- Summer Haiku, pg. 77
Profile Image for a_song_for_Simeon.
11 reviews1 follower
November 8, 2019
"Come molte notti resistono
Senza stelle né luna,
Così noi resistiamo
Quando l'altro va via e s'allontana."

Ho letto questo libro per una persona. Potrei dire che si tratta di un consiglio, ma la faccenda è più complicata di così. Comunque sia, ci sono due nuclei nella poetica di Cohen, che in fondo sono uno solo: l'immaginario simbolico dell'Antico Testamento, che è un sigillo di identità, e la presenza di una carne senza carnalità, senza addizioni semantiche, una carne che è trafitta dai significati. I versi più forti sono quelli in cui assistiamo alla trasformazione della carne in mondo: "Chiamarti erba/chiamarti erba sottile piegata dal vento/dirti piena di grazia/e cresciuta lungo il fiume.", al suo tentativo di attualizzare il simbolo, così da finire per riempirlo. "Mi sono legato alle tempie una scatola di carne/piena di lettere sacre e poesie catturate/[...] il fortunato Caino lasciò la retta via/per un crimine solo/[...]ho sentito la tua bellezza/più intimamente della mia/promettimi che ritornerò.": si intravede il precipitare della narrazione, una narrazione sovranamente antica, nella temporalità della materia, ed è probabilmente questo meccanismo poetico ad animare l'intera galleria di trasformazioni, il circolo fra parola simbolica, verso e carne. "Io sono uno di quelli che potrebbero raccontare ogni parola che venne trafitta dallo spillo".
Profile Image for Jason.
1,170 reviews103 followers
May 16, 2017
This book is from early on in Leonard Cohen's poetry. You can see signs of himself in the writing, most of it is quite standard, a bit of rhyme here and there, lots of descriptive stuff but no real life to it. A huge amount of the book features poems about his religion and with me not understanding that religion I couldn't really get what was being said. There is also no stand out poem, whilst reading his work nothing much jumped out at me.

At the end of the book he has included some lines from his Grandfather's journals and there you can find some brilliance. Some are obviously his experiences of the holocaust and it was an experience reading them, so much emotion packed into a few lines. A sample of his Grandfather's writing;

Erase from my flesh the marks of my own whip. Heal
the razor slashes on my arms and throat. Remove the metal
clamps from my fingers. Repair the bones I have crushed in
the door.

Do not let me lie down with spiders. Do not let me
encourage insects against my eyes. Do not let me make my
living nest with worms or apply to my stomach the comb of
iron or bind my genitals with cord.
Author 1 book2 followers
June 28, 2022
The Spice-Box of Earth comes five years after Cohen's first release, published when he was twenty-seven.

To me it looks like he improved quite a bit in that time, mainly recognizing that it's fewer syllables, not more which make a great writer. First you get the slab of concrete down, then you chip away at it until you get what's essential, as few words as possible.

This seems to be what Cohen did here: achieve a simplicity and a sensuality that wasn't found in Let us Compare Mythologies. You start to see some elements of his later writing in deep embryo, a bit more romanticism, a bit more modesty, a bit more genuineness. I was actually a bit surprised how much I enjoyed this book, although something like 'Death of a Lady's Man' written seventeen years later towers over it.
Profile Image for Scott Holstad.
Author 22 books58 followers
September 27, 2022
I've got to be honest, I've never been a huge Leonard Cohen fan, though I've recognized talent and probably every native German I've ever known has been a huge fan. (Which means nothing. I just thought it was an interesting piece of trivia.) But I've been going way back before Cohen ever even thought about becoming a musician and reading some of his old poems and I've found myself blown away over and over again. It's given me a major newfound appreciation of Cohen, which has given me an incentive to try out his music with a fresh start. The guy was mad talented and could string words like few. He would have fit in pretty well amongst the 1950s/60s Beat/surrealist/populist/dadaist, etc., poetry scenes, which is good by me. Probably not a modernist or traditionalist's favorite, nonetheless highly recommended. (Any of his poetry books to be honest.)
Profile Image for Jennifer O'Kelly.
128 reviews6 followers
December 7, 2017
There are some beautiful poems in this volume. An example:


You tell me that silence
is nearer to peace than poems
but if for my gift
I brought you silence
(for I know silence)
you would say
This is not silence
this is another poem
and you would hand it back to me

I also really like 'Beneath my Hands', which I first heard a few months ago when my partner was reading me poetry to distract me from a nasty dental infection. There are several other stand out pieces. The overall tone, tho, is a little terse and unemotional. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't particularly move me, which is why I'm rating 2 stars in spite of some really nice poems.
Profile Image for Mark Valentine.
1,795 reviews18 followers
June 24, 2018
Part of the pleasure of reading these poems is in finding his footprints in verse, his lyrics scaled to a book of poems, his scansion laced with cinnamon, all-spice, and ginger. He takes great flights with images--quick as a swallow's dash--and I found great pleasure in the incongruity of his familiar patterns.

Plus, there were some damn fine lines. Here's one, "only strangers travel." And this triplet:
"It is good to live between
a ruined house of bondage
and a holy promised land," from "Credo."

His love poems, "When I Uncovered Your Body," and "A Poem to Detain Me," and "Celebration," are highly charged with eroticism and candor.
Profile Image for Marshall A. Lewis.
159 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2019
I've wondered if I would like Cohen's poetry since I first found out about it. An influential musician and influenced by the Beat Generation and their love of poetry and jazz, I really hoped to enjoy my fellow Canadian's poetry. And with a title like 'the spice-box of earth' I was really hoping it would be reflected within by beautiful word choice and images. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy much of the poetry; perhaps my own taste does not coincide with Leonard's, but I at least had to try. I did enjoy the poems 'there are some men', 'you have the lovers' & 'the priest says goodbye'. I also enjoyed the final poem at the end of 'lines from my grandfather's journal'.
Profile Image for Rebecca Rebecca.
68 reviews
December 9, 2017
An interesting collection, with poetic forms varying from ballad stanza to free verse to prose-poems. The poems that engage with biblical figures and Jewish traditions are the strongest and quite fascinating for Cohen's thought and later work. The poem "Isaiah" (included also in _Stranger Music) is a gem.
Profile Image for Aitana.
71 reviews
February 19, 2018
Believe nothing of me
except that I felt your beauty
more closely than my own.
I did not see any cities burn,
I heard no promises of endless night,
I felt your beauty
more closely than my own.
Promise me that I will return.

Profile Image for c..
125 reviews11 followers
November 3, 2020
in his second collection of poems, cohen loses completely the naiveness that tainted his first release. the awkward college student who does not truly know how to deal with women is gone, the sometimes over-explicit crudeness of gore in his poetry is toned down, more defined.
Profile Image for Libby Wight.
106 reviews
October 27, 2022
This was a really special read for me. My Dad made me fall in love with Cohen's music through sheer persistence, and this book came from the collection of someone really important in my life. Cohen's poetry is beautiful, with (unsurprisingly) a really lyrical turn of phrase. Stunning read.
Profile Image for Matteo Ippolito Heimann.
27 reviews26 followers
September 4, 2018
A powerfull and fellingfull book about losing love, finding a voice by the candelligt. About travel, inside and out. Read it. Please, for your own sake.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 64 reviews

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