syllables

I read once that Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda, an Argentinian and a Chilean, a conservative and a Communist, formed a bond over the one thing they agreed on: English is the best language in which to write poetry because it has so many one-syllable words. How those native Spanish speakers envied all the one-syllable Anglo-Saxon words! 

I wrote a post a while back about the power of the monosyllabic, and I have a new example: “Seemed the Better Way,” from Leonard Cohen’s final album. (Yeah, I quoted the title song recently — I’m obsessed with the record right now.) 

Here are the lyrics: 

Seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
Now it’s much too late
To turn the other cheek

Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
First he touched on love
Then he touched on death

Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today

I better hold my tongue
I better take my place
Lift this glass of blood
Try to say the grace 

Ninety-six words, thirteen of which have two syllables; the rest are monosyllabic. Another way to count, removing repetition: The song uses fifty-one different words, four of which have two syllables. The spareness and simplicity of the language match the spareness and simplicity of the music: 

March 8, 2021

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