This miraculous song is another firm favourite of mine. It transcends and touches the depths of essential truth. The song is based on a prayer chanted in Hebrew on the day of Atonement, the day one has to stand solemnly before the judge. ‘Who by Fire’, like the prayer that inspired it, solemnly calls out the different ways we might die, some by fire, some by water, some by slow decay. Cohen adds his poetic wit to the chant with the line at the end of every verse: ‘Who shall I say is calling?’

I realised, after having written it, that my song, ‘Time of Nought’, was inspired by this extraordinary song and had I never heard ‘Who by Fire’ I most certainly would not have written it. I read that Leonard Cohen described his songs as muffled prayers; sometimes I think of my songs as religious music for non-believers so perhaps we have a little something in common, at the very least in the way a pupil might look up to his master.

Artwork : portrait of Leonard Cohen by Piers Faccini
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