Ballad Of The Absent Mare

Album: Recent Songs (1979)
  • This song's metaphorical lyrics are based on the twelfth-century work Mare Ten Bulls (or Ten Ox-herding Pictures), a series of short poems and accompanying pictures that are intended to illustrate the stages of a Mahayana Buddhist practitioner's progression towards enlightenment.
  • The Canadian's longtime friend and guest singer, Jennifer Warnes, shared on her website how a radiant Cohen came over to her house to share this song with her after he'd been away on a silent retreat. She recalled sitting at her little rented piano, "as Leonard's twelve elegant, spartan verses unfolded. I remember thinking... something miraculous is happening, right this minute, in my stupid little living room."

    "Leonard had found some old pictures somewhere," Warnes continued. "They were called The Ten Bulls, old Japanese woodcuts symbolizing the stages of a monk's life on the road to enlightenment. These carvings pictured a boy and a bull, the boy losing the bull, the bull hiding, the boy realizing that the bull was nearby all along. There is a struggle, and finally the boy rides the bull into his little village. 'I thought this would make a great cowboy song,' he joked."
  • Warnes asked Cohen if he would bend the lyric in a couple of places, for a cowgirl, and he sent her a new version, titled "The Ballad of The Runaway Horse," which can be found on the 20th anniversary reissue edition of Famous Blue Raincoat. Emmylou Harris also recorded this new version for her 1993 album Cowgirl's Prayer.
  • Warnes: "I was recently asked to write something about 'Ballad of the Runaway Horse.' 'Tell them it's not about a horse,' a friend advised, tongue in cheek. But Leonard was a member of a teenage band called The Buckskin Boys. Maybe his song is about a horse, I don't exactly know. Best to ask Leonard."


Be the first to comment...

Lita FordSongwriter Interviews

Lita talks about how they wrote songs in The Runaways, and how she feels about her biggest hit being written by somebody else.

Brenda RussellSongwriter Interviews

Brenda talks about the inspiration that drove her to write hit songs like "Get Here" and "Piano in the Dark," and why a lack of formal music training can be a songwriter's best asset.

They Might Be GiantsSongwriter Interviews

Who writes a song about a name they found in a phone book? That's just one of the everyday things these guys find to sing about. Anything in their field of vision or general scope of knowledge is fair game. If you cross paths with them, so are you.

Terry Jacks ("Seasons in the Sun")Songwriter Interviews

Inspired by his dear friend, "Seasons in the Sun" paid for Terry's boat, which led him away from music and into a battle with Canadian paper mills.

Zac HansonSongwriter Interviews

Zac tells the story of Hanson's massive hit "MMMbop," and talks about how brotherly bonds effect their music.

Cheerleaders In Music VideosSong Writing

It started with a bouncy MTV classic. Nirvana and MCR made them scary, then Gwen, Avril and Madonna put on the pom poms.