The beautiful poem and love song was originally inspired by the view of the Montreal harbour from the observation tower of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel, known as the Sailors’ Church. Remnants of the chapel are found in the lines, “And the sun pours down like honey/ On our lady of the harbour” which are in reference to the Our Lady of the Harbour statue that stands, with arms outstretched, towards the St. Lawrence river.
It was after Cohen’s chance meeting with Suzanne, the wife of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, that life was breathed into the piece. She invited him to her home located near the river where the pair shared a cup of tea. “Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river,” begins the beautiful and descriptive narrative of the woman who “feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.”
Suzanne is poetry set to music. The beautiful and descriptive narrative was published in Selected Poems 1956-1968 (Toronto 1968) and later released on his debut LP, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967. Judy Collins would be the first to record the song after having heard it sung to her over the telephone by Cohen, himself, and Noel Harrison would take the single to Number 56 on the pop charts. The song would go on to become one of Cohen’s most covered singles with over 100 versions to its credit.