Leonard Cohen Commemorates November 11th Wearing The Emblematic Poppy

November 11, 2012

Yesterday, when exiting the hotel in Seattle to  make my way to Portland for the next concert, I ran into Leonard Cohen with guitar on his back who was doing the same thing, albeit heading for a different vehicle.

I pointed to his poppy and recited the first two lines from the poem In Flanders Fields. Those two lines were all I could remember from my Toronto school days when we had to recite the poem every year to commemorate "Remembrance Day".

What happened next was thrilling.

But first, a little background,
Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries.
Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month," in accordance with the Armistice, signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. ("At the 11th hour" refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 a.m.) World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem "In Flanders Fields". These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
In Flanders Fields
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields

So what happened after I recited only the first two lines of the poem?

Leonard Cohen recited the entire poem back to me.

That was thrilling to say the least.

I call November 11th Remembrance Day. He referred to it as Armistice Day and added that his father was in the military and fought in the war.

  • Yes I will admit, it took a lot of chutzpah on my part to recite a few lines of a poem to Leonard Cohen
  • More about the poem and author here
  • Thanks to Kelsey (KaimikK) for snapping the great photo.


  1. Well done Arlene... you are truly amazing. I can only imagine what a thrill this was!

  2. Thank you Arlene this is so beautiful and you are simply incredible.
    In Poland we also celebrate National Independence Day every year on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of Poland's assumption of independent statehood in 1918 after 123 years of partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

  3. Elizabeth BaconSmithNovember 11, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    Ohhhh, Arlene... such a precious moment of shared national heritage between you and Leonard. There are times when love must conquer all fear and your 'chutzpah' was rewarded as an indelible memory. I'm so happy for you... good on you for speaking up on behalf of the fallen to connect with Leonard's own symbolic remembrance of them. An rare and beautiful encounter. Love, Lizzy xox

  4. Of course,I can imagine our man would do that;So pleased for you.what a divine moment for you.
    Thank you for sharing with us.Arlene.

  5. I live in Flanders and they broadcasted the official remembrance ceremony in Ieper (Ipres) live on tv. Always so moving to hear the Last Post there. They still play it live every single day at the "Menenpoort" in Ieper. You can see many vedeo's of it on youtube. Very moving!

  6. Elizabeth BaconSmithNovember 12, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    Finally, I found this again, via the Forum... couldn't find it by coming to your site directly... not sure why.

    Anyway, as some poetry and prose were recited on NPR this morning, I thought again of you and your privileged experience with Leonard. I have every reason to believe that he recited the remainder of this poem as though he had written it all himself. The time and attention and unique memory that he gave you in responding as he did... nothing short of amazing. So symbolic and beautiful. Such a Canadian moment in shared tribute and honour of the fallen. I know how much it means to you to share with Leonard not just your Jewish heritage, but your Canadian homeland, as well.

    You have given Leonard and us so much in your many, various ways, and this was a gift that fate deemed only for you, led by the brilliance of your spontaneous thought to recite the lines you remembered. You unknowingly opened the door, and Leonard graciously walked right through. I just don't know how I could be any happier for you, Arlene. So beautiful.


  7. The picture turned out great, Arlene!

  8. Thanks Arlene for posting this. I only remember the first 4 lines from reciting it in school.
    It must have been quite something for you to hear Leonard recite it in its entirety.
    Beautiful moment for both of you...