There’s only one table and only one chair

As I became older, I could see more clearly how language and image worked together to create the forms of reality that, without doubt, determined much of how I had both come to live and how I was continuing to live. In short, I had come to be increasingly aware of the stories and their associated imagery which underpinned and determined my values, my conduct and preferences; for good or ill, I understood how the ‘film’ of imagination stood between myself and the more basic texture of the world.

Sometimes the words and images were provided by songs: for example, a long time ago I listened to a particular song entitled, ‘Tonight will be fine.’ It featured on a long-playing record (the second album by Leonard Cohen) which itself was called ‘Songs from a Room’. The back cover of the album featured a photograph – a truly attractive photograph – which has been the subject of a number of affectionate commentaries: in a black and white informality, it shows Leonard Cohen’s muse, the famous Marianne, wrapped in a towel and seated on a chair at a table upon which is a single typewriter. The setting is a simple room on the Greek island of Hydra. Of the photograph one such appreciative writer takes the viewpoint of Leonard Cohen himself as follows:

You look out from your house on the Greek island of Hydra. The sun is shining and you can actually hear the sea in the distance. There are some birds on the cables of a telephone mast …You walk to the bedroom. Marianne has just woken up and is sitting behind your typewriter, just for fun. You grab your camera and take a picture of her. Life is perfect, not a shadow in sight.’ (Gerrit-Jan Vrielink 2021)

Another notes:

Hydra promised the life Cohen had craved: spare rooms, the empty page, eros after dark. He collected a few paraffin lamps and some used furniture: a Russian wrought-iron bed, a writing table, chairs like “the chairs that van Gogh painted.’ (David Remnick 2016)

And when I first listened to the album, ‘Songs from a room’ I also imagined how wonderful it would be to ‘take off’ from the overcast skies of the United Kingdom and write poetry on an, as yet, unspoiled Greek island. (It was, after all, the late 1960s) But I also always associated the photograph of Marianne with the song, ‘Tonight will be fine’. And this is because, in imagination, I unwittingly adjusted Cohen’s original lyrics and substituted the lines: ‘And I choose the rooms that I live in with care, there’s only one bed and there’s only one prayer’ with: ‘And I choose the rooms that I live in with care, there’s only one table and only one chair.’ There was something perfect about a simple room with only one table and only one chair.

I still try to ‘choose the rooms that I live in with care’ and recently I managed to recreate something of the atmosphere and ethos of the past whilst I was in Crete: in the old quarter of Chania I really did find myself staying in a room that had only one table and only one chair. And in response to their inspiration, I began making notes, in pencil, in a tiny book with blank pages and a red cover. I wrote not so much about anything romantic or sentimental but more about the darkness that may befall us. But all along I was fully aware that the album, its songs and the back cover photograph made for something I referred to during my travels in Crete as a ‘Leonard Cohen moment’. I still live through some of the literary and image-laden forms of reality that were bequeathed to me throughout the 1960s.

The photograph shows the table and chair in my room in Chania. I appear in the reflection of the mirror

1 thought on “There’s only one table and only one chair”

  1. Dear Rob Well done Evocative Will write more Just out of hospital after viral infection – a new experience for me! Take care Best wishes Peter PS. An American general, 4 star, was interviewed by the lovely Sophie SNU on the BBC about the Ukraine, and spoke well – but tried to draw a distinction between capacity and capability, using both words to explain the other. When shall we ever learn, I wonder?


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