Marianne Ihlen

Marianne Christine Stang Ihlen (Norwegian: [mɑɾiˈɑ̀nə ˈìlɛn]; 18 May 1935 – 28 July 2016)[nb 1] was a Norwegian woman who was the first wife of author Axel Jensen and later the muse and girlfriend of Leonard Cohen for several years in the 1960s.[4] She was the subject of Cohen's 1967 track "So Long, Marianne".

Marianne Ihlen
So Long Marianne Ihlen.png
Ihlen shortly before her death in 2016
Marianne Christine Ihlen

(1935-05-18)18 May 1935
Died28 July 2016(2016-07-28) (aged 81)
Oslo, Norway
Other names
  • Marianne Jensen
  • Marianne Stang
Known forRelationship with Leonard Cohen
Partner(s)Leonard Cohen (1960–67)

Early lifeEdit

Ihlen was born on 18 May 1935 in Larkollen, Norway, and was raised in Oslo.[5] She was the creative one of her family and wanted to become an actress. Her parents were opposed to that career choice; she lost courage and did not pursue that path but ran away.[6]

Relationships with Axel Jensen and Leonard CohenEdit

She fell in love with Norwegian writer Axel Jensen when they were both teenagers.[7] They married, against her parents' wishes.[5] The pair left for the Greek island of Hydra in 1958, where Jensen, already a poet and novelist, was going to write.[8] There, they had a son, Axel Jr. . Their home was simple with an outside toilet and electricity for only one hour in the evening and one hour in the morning. Otherwise, they used paraffin lamps.[citation needed]

Jensen abandoned Marianne, and their son, to live with another woman.[9] According to Marianne, she met Cohen, for the first time, shortly after she returned from a trip to Norway, only to learn her husband had abandoned her.[10]

After they met in early 1960, Cohen and Ihlen began living together on Hydra;[11] she said, she became Cohen's "Greek muse"; she sat at his feet while he wrote and she carried the groceries up from the harbour to their home. later that year, Cohen drove her to Oslo where she finalized her divorce from Jensen.[12] For the next few years, Ihlen became Cohen's muse, inspiring him to write several songs on his first two albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) and Songs from a Room (1969). The back sleeve of Songs from a Room features a famous photograph of her at Cohen's typewriter, draped in a white towel in their simple home in Greece.[5] The song "Moving On" from Cohen's posthumous 2019 album Thanks for the Dance is also a tribute to Marianne.[13]

From a window in that home, Ihlen once saw a bird perched on a newly installed telephone wire and remarked to Cohen that they looked like musical notes; she suggested he write a song about it. Bird on the Wire was the result, one of his most successful songs, with the opening lines:[6]

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried, in my way, to be free.

Later lifeEdit

Ihlen married Jan Stang in 1979, worked in the oil industry, and lived in Oslo.[7] She developed an interest in Tibetan Buddhism and spent time painting.[5][6]

Illness and deathEdit

She was diagnosed with leukemia in late July 2016.[10] Her close friend Jan Christian Mollestad contacted Cohen to tell him Ihlen was dying. Leonard Cohen penned a poignant final letter to her, which is often misquoted by the media and others.[14] However, the widely circulated version of the letter was based on an inaccurate verbal recollection by Mollestad which was then transcribed in a radio interview. The actual letter (actually an email) obtained through the Leonard Cohen estate reads:[15]

Dearest Marianne,

I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too. I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Endless love and gratitude.

your Leonard

She died aged 81 on 28 July 2016, in Oslo.[16] Cohen died later that year on 7 November 2016.[17]


Kari Hesthamar [no], an award-winning Norwegian journalist, won the 2006 Prix Europa for her 2005 radio documentary about Ihlen.[18][19][20] In 2008, Hesthamar published her biography of Ihlen, So Long, Marianne. Ei Kjærleikshistorie; ECW Press published the English translation So Long, Marianne: A Love Story in 2014.[21][22]

In 2014, in a review of Lana Del Rey's third album, Ultraviolence, Alexandra Molotkow compared Del Rey's persona of surrender to Ihlen's account of her search for independence.[23] Molotkow described Del Rey as an artist, fully in control of her career, who, paradoxically, had chosen a performing persona as a weak and helpless female, who sought to surrender to powerful men. According to Molotkow, who had just read Hesthamar's recently translated biography of Ihlen, even though Ihlen had the reality of the fantasy Del Rey shows in her videos, of the woman socially and economically reliant on a man, Ihlen has described how she became fully independent.[21] According to Molotkow, Hesthamar's book is "the story of a remarkable woman who was a muse – who has, until now, appeared in history as a man’s idea – and how she found herself. Often, the book reads as a caution against giving up your power."

Her life and relationship with Cohen was depicted in the 2019 documentary film Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.[24]


  1. ^ Some sources initially reported her death erroneously as 29 July.[1][2][3]


  1. ^ Jan Christian Mollestad, Facebook, 29 July 2016 (mirror)
  2. ^ "Marianne Ihlen, Leonard Cohens norske ekskjæreste, er død" [Marianne Ihlen, Leonard Cohen's Norwegian ex-lover is dead]. Aftenposten (in Norwegian). 29 July 2016. Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  3. ^ Lopes, Mário (6 August 2016). "Até já, Marianne: Leonard Cohen despediu-se da sua musa dos anos 1960" [So Long Marianne: Leonard Cohen has taken leave of his muse of the 1960s]. PÚBLICO (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 10 October 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  4. ^ "I kveld ser hun gamlekjæresten igjen" [Tonight she sees old boyfriend again] (in Norwegian). 29 August 2012. Archived from the original on 29 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016. Jeg traff ham kolonialhandelen. Han sto i døråpningen og jeg var inne og handlet. Så inviterte han meg ut for å sitte sammen med han og de andre. Jeg fikk gåsehud. Han var så vakker, så søt, så oppmerksom og så annerledes enn andre menn. Han var gammeldags, minnes Marianne Ihlen.
  5. ^ a b c d McGillis, Ian (12 August 2016). "Marianne Ihlen: More than Leonard Cohen's muse". Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on 20 August 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Davidson, Phil (13 August 2016). "Obituary: Marianne Ihlen, Leonard Cohen's muse". Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  7. ^ a b Lasse Jangås (23 October 2013). "...og her er Marianne fra "So long, Marianne"" [...And here is Marianne, from "So long, Marianne"] (in Norwegian). Nordlys. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  8. ^ Alex Beam (20 November 2014). "From Greece, with love". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 7 July 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2016. Cohen and Ihlen embarked on a 10-year long love affair/shuttle romance that found them in Oslo, Montreal and/or New York, depending on circumstance. Cohen jokingly called Ihlen his “Greek muse,” as he launched into a decade of creative fervor, culminating in the ultimate breakup song, “So Long, Marianne.” (“We met when we were almost young. . . ”)
  9. ^ Ahmed Rashid (15 November 2012). "Why I love Leonard Cohen". New York Review of Books. Archived from the original on 11 November 2016. She was Marianne Ihlen, a former Norwegian model who ran away to the Greek island of Hydra with a Norwegian writer who soon after left her and their son.
  10. ^ a b "So long, Marianne. Leonard Cohen's final letter to his muse". As it happens. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2016. When Marianne came to Hydra after giving birth in Norway, her husband was not there. There was only one shop in town. And she came in there with her little basket, with her little baby and she was crying to this Greek lady. And then in the doorway, she was just seeing the silhouette, was a man who was calling to her and said 'I know that you're Marianne, and I know what's happened, come out in the sun and have a glass of wine.' And that was Leonard and he took such good care of her.
  11. ^ "Leonard Cohen's muse Marianne Ihlen dies at age 81". Toronto Star. 5 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  12. ^ Harvey Kubernik (2015). Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows. Musicroom. ISBN 978-1-78323-816-3.
  13. ^ Lindsay Zoladz, "A Last Dance for Leonard Cohen", New York Times, 19 November 2019
  14. ^ Collins, Pádraig (7 August 2016). "So long, Marianne: Leonard Cohen writes to muse just before her death". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  15. ^ "Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love". Irish Film Institute.
  16. ^ "In Memory Of Marianne Ihlen, Leonard Cohen's Muse". Cohencentric: Leonard Cohen Considered. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Leonard Cohen, singer-songwriter of love, death and philosophical longing, dies at 82". Washington Post. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  18. ^ "Internasjonale prisvinnere". Oslo, Norway: NRK. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  19. ^ "So long Marianne" (in Norwegian). Oslo, Norway: NRK. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  20. ^ Ihlen, Marianne (2005). "So long, Marianne. Ein radiodokumentar om og med Leonard Cohens norske muse" [So long, Marianne. A radio documentary about and with Leonard Cohen’s norwegian muse] (Interview) (in Norwegian). Interviewed by Kari Hesthamar. Oslo, Norway: NRK. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  21. ^ a b Kari Hesthamar (2014). So Long, Marianne: A Love Story. Translated by Helle V. Goldman. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-77090-501-6. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  22. ^ Kevin Courtney (6 August 2014). "Leonard Cohen's quest for something higher". Irish Times. Retrieved 6 August 2014. And it brought him to the Greek island of Hydra, a haven for poets, writers and artists. One of those was a young Norwegian writer, Axel Jensen, who had moved to Hydra with his wife, Marianne Ihlen, and their infant son. Abandoned by the volatile and capricious Jensen, Ihlen met and began a relationship with the fascinating young Canadian writer with the gentle, measured personality.
  23. ^ Alexandra Molotkow (20 June 2014). "Lana Del Rey and the fantasy of surrender". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 6 August 2016.

Further readingEdit