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A Way to Say Goodbye

Leonard Cohen's beautiful letter to his dying muse

Cohen & Others In Greece

"I think I will follow you very soon," Leonard Cohen wrote to Marianne Ihlen—the inspiration for "So Long, Marianne"—immediately after learning this summer that his former lover and muse was dying in a hospital in Norway. The deeply moving farewell note now seems prescient, given the news of Cohen's death at the age of 82.

"Well Marianne," the poet turned singer-songwriter said in his final letter to the woman he lived with for seven years in the 1960s, "it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart.... Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine."

Ihlen, 81, reportedly lifted her hand and reached out when a friend read the letter to her on her deathbed in Oslo. She died two days later on July 29.

"And you know," Cohen's message continued, "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."

"So Long, Marianne" appeared on the singer's debut album, 1967's "Songs of Leonard Cohen." He also wrote two more songs for the Norwegian model he met on the Greek island of Hydra when they were both 23: "Bird on a Wire" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye."

Cohen found a better way to say goodbye a half-century later, just in time and without singing a note.

But the lyrics to "No Way to Say Goodbye" still resonate:

I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time,
Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
It's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea....

Photo by James Burke/Time Inc. via Getty Images

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