Leonard Cohen was a struggling poet and author living on the Greek Island of Hydra in 1960 when he first met Marianne Ihlen, the ex-wife of Norwegian author Axel Jensen. Their whirlwind romance inspired many of Cohen’s earliest love songs including, of course, the 1967 classic “So Long, Marianne.” Cohen and Ihlen separated in the Seventies without marrying or having kids, but they remained in communication for the rest of their lives. In 2016, they died within months of each other.
That fabled relationship is the subject of Nick Broomfield’s upcoming documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, which chronicles their long relationship and the divergent paths they took once it concluded. Roadside Attractions will release it in theaters July 5th.
In an exclusive clip, Cohen, years after parting ways with Ihlen, reflects on the meaning of love. “Love is that activity that makes the power of man and woman,” he says, “That incorporates it into your own heart, when you can embody man and woman, when you can embody hell and heaven, when you can reconcile and contain, when man and woman becomes your content. In other words, when your women becomes your own content and you become her content, that’s love. And you recognize the full equality of that exchange because if she’s smaller than you, she can’t fill you. And if you’re larger than her, you can’t fill her.”
When Cohen learned that Ihlen was rapidly dying of Leukemia in 2016, he wrote her a letter. “Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon,” he wrote. “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”