Hydra: Anything
that moves is white

Photography: James Burke (Hydra, 1960)
Poems: Leonard Cohen (Hydra, 1960-1967)

Anything that moves is white,
a gull, a wave, a sail,
and moves too purely to be aped.
Smash the pain.

Never pretend peace.
The consolamentum has not,
never will be kissed.
Pain cannot compromise this light.

Do violence to the pain,
ruin the easy vision,
the easy warning, water
for those who need to burn.

These are ruthless: rooster shriek,
bleached goat skull.
Scalpels grow with poppies
if you see them truly red.


When Leonard Cohen arrived on Hydra in 1960 he quickly discovered a Bohemian community headed by the Australian writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift who settled there a few years earlier after they had given up their careers in journalism and escaped London’s high life for the vagaries of the literary life on a remote Greek island. Cohen later said: “The Johnstons were central figures. They were older. They were doing what we all wanted to do, which was to write and to make a living out of writing.
They were very wonderful, colorful, hospitable people.” During 1963, amid the partying and the drinking, George began his iconic novel “My Brother Jack”. Daily, George pounded at the typewriter with Charmian sitting next to him correcting the typescript and helping him to remember life and events in Melbourne. Their routine was taxing. Every morning they would write until midday and then go down to the Katsikas cafe on the waterfront for lunch and wait for the ferry from Piraeus that would bring the mail and new artists and writers looking for adventure.
There they would meet friends and George would regale them with stories about Australia and his adventures as a war correspondent. It was during one of these conversations in 1963 that George was discussing his latest book with Leonard, and said, “I just don’t know what to call it”.
“What’s it about?” Leonard asked. “My brother Jack,” George replied. Leonard said: “There you are.”

The stony path coiled around me
and bound me to the night.
A boat hunted the edge of the sea
under a hissing light.

Something soft involved a net
and bled around a spear.
The blunt death, the cumulus jet
I spoke to you, I thought you near!
Or was the night so black
that something died alone?
A man with a glistening back
beat the food against a stone.


They are still singing down at Dusko’s,
sitting under the ancient pine tree,
in the deep night of fixed and falling stars.
If you go to your window you can hear them.
It is the end of someone’s wedding,
or perhaps a boy is leaving on a boat in the morning.
There is a place for you at the table,
wine for you, and apples from the mainland,
a space in the songs for your voice.
Throw something on,
and whoever it is you must tell
that you are leaving,
tell them, or take them, but hurry:
they have sent for you
the call has come
they will not wait forever.
They are not even waiting now.