Leaving Greensleeves


Leonard Cohen takes a song that’s been around for five hundred odd years and uses it for his own ends. Greensleeves was not composed by Henry VIII as the legend goes, but it dates back almost as far. In the course of those centuries, Cohen was not the first to insert his own lyrics into the tune. That’s a pretty common practice with folk songs, which tend to evolve and mutate along with the culture that keeps them alive. Cohen has taken the melody and the first few lines of the what’s generally accepted as the original text, and flies from there, though he doesn’t much change the basic gist of the song. It’s still an ode to thwarted love, and if anything, in Cohen’s telling it’s strikingly more bitter. I don’t know if there’s any such thing as a definitive set of lyrics or interpretation of a song so old, so I can’t offer you that. Nor do I have the patience to filter through the myriad versions available to me through the magic of interwebs. All I can say is, after a cursory search, I liked a performance by French chanteuse Nolwenn Leroy, so you can use that as a basis of comparison.

Alas, my love, you did me wrong
To cast me out discourteously
For I have loved you so long
Delighting in your very company

Now if you intend to show me disdain
Don’t you know it all the more enraptures me?
For even so I still remain
Your lover in captivity

Green Sleeves, you’re all alone
The leaves have fallen, the men have gone
Green Sleeves, there’s no one home
Not even the Lady Green Sleeves

I sang my songs, I told my lies
To lie between your matchless thighs
And ain’t it fine, ain’t it wild
To finally end our exercise?

Then I saw you naked in the early dawn
Oh, I hoped you would be someone new
I reached for you but you were gone
So lady, I’m going too

Green Sleeves, you’re all alone
The leaves have fallen, the men are gone
Green Sleeves, there’s no one home
Not even the Lady Green Sleeves

Green sleeves, you’re all alone
The leaves have fallen, the men have all gone home
Green sleeves, it’s so easily done
And he leaving the Lady Green Sleeves

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