Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)
anonymous Mar 7th 2018 report
As a Bible student and someone who spends a bit of time analyzing song lyrics I think the song has multiple layered meanings, however this is what it is about...
The song is about two biblical characters who allowed themselves to be lead away from God
for a time through sin by their lusts for a woman. Forbidden love and the consequences thereof that puts a might man of God in a weakened state and their praises to God a tainted.
David with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) whom "he saw bathing on the roof". He sent Bathsheba's husband out to war and got the army to pull back and her husband was killed and David got Bathsheba pregnant but the child died and he was in great grief for a time. Halalujah or praising God became broken and hypocritical.
Samson, a Nazerite,(Nazarites were forbidden to cut their hair) he was the other biblical character who was decieved by Delilah and when she cut his hair his amazing stength was taken from him. By cutting his hair she took away his strength... "from your breath she drew the Halalujah".
At the start of the song it talks of David and the mysterious "secret cord"...
The line ‘the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall, the major lift’ is in fact a description of the chord sequence taking place under those words.
The IV chord, otherwise known as the fourth or the subdominant, is the chord built on the fourth tone of the scale. The V chord, a.k.a. the fifth or dominant, is the chord built on the fifth tone of the scale.
The ‘minor fall’ refers to the minor sixth chord, sometimes written as vi (to distinguish it from a major sixth chord, written as VI) which is the chord played under that phrase, and the ‘major lift’ is a reference to the fact that the chord has moved down to the major IV chord again, the same chord that was played under ‘the fourth’. It’s a ‘lift’ because although the harmony moves downwards, the melody keeps ascending. A song within a song! Those who do not understand music may not get this because...
"you don't really care for music do you"
Or Possibly Bathsheba in this verse is the woman that David killed for, and that the sarcasm is that the woman doesn't realize how great David's sacrifice was through breaking his relation with God by displeasing him.
(Either way Clever by Cohen)
The "Secret Cord" could be by Cohen an allusion to Arthur Sullivan’s immensely popular 1877 song ‘The Lost Chord’, a setting of Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem ‘A Lost Chord’. (Also the “secret chord” may refer to the Jewish tradition of an esoteric “eighth note” (to the diatonic?) which will be heard only when the Messiah comes. This would fit nicely with the fact that King David is considered, in many Jewish prayers and texts, to be a forerunner of sorts to the Messiah.)
David would play his lyre in order to soothe King Saul’s bouts of despair and depression. David’s chord pleased the lord,(King Saul?) Later, after David killed Goliath and his legend grew, King Saul grew jealous of David. One day when Saul was in bad state, David attempted to soothe him with the lyre. But Saul’s rage got the best of him and he attempted to kill David.
David eventually became the baffled King.
" the minor fall" David sinned and fell from God's favour for a time but "the major lift" he later became the King God needed!
The song is basically about the lust of the flesh or forbidden love that causes us to stray from God and causing our praise to the Lord to become tainted, broken and corrupted. It shows that even the best of us, no matter how nonle we are, whether we be saints or sinners, or go from one to the other we can all become lost, sweeped away, crazy and broken because of love, namely forbidden love.
anonymous Feb 21st 2018 report
Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is a curse being hurled to undermine faith in God. If one believed, as did the practitioners of the ancient religions, that music facilitates the trance-like state in which a person transcends normal consciousness, the song is a "gift" from an intelligence beyond Mr. Cohen.
The writer tells us that: "I heard there was a secret chord. That David played and it pleased the Lord." The story is from the Old Testament. But the writer goes on to tell us what the secret cords were. How could the writer know the secret cord that David played for God? He/She/It knows the cord meaning that the writer must be David, God, or perhaps some-one or some-thing else?
If you are not persuaded by this argument, and who would be, the writer then calls David a baffled king who composed a "Hallelujah". A hallelujah, as a previous commentator on tis thread wrote, is an exhortation to praise God. Does the writer want us to think that only a baffled king would exhort the faithful to praise God?
I will not bore everyone with a verse by verse interpretation of the lyrics, merely drawing your attention to a few verses. The writer asks us to:
"Remember when I moved in you/
And the holy dove was moving too"
You might assume that the writer had adopted the perspective of God, since He can move in you through the Holy Spirit, aka, the Holy Dove. But he is clearly not moving through you as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Dove was, after all, moving too. The next stanza removes any doubt as to who the writer is. The writer says, "Maybe there's a God above." Who but the Devil sows doubts about God's existence?
Following the plain meaning of the song, which I have done, Hallelujah is not about exhorting one to praise God. It is about a cold and broken Hallelujah. The dark lyrics and haunting melody are intended to allow another intelligence to bring you subtly and through the spirit of music into opposing your faith. It is done in the guise of calling the faithful to praise God.
anonymous Feb 20th 2018 report
I believe what throws people off is the phrase, "kitchen chair". It is hard to imagine in David's time that someone would tie you to a chair. Yes, she (delilah) cut his hair/either physically, but more so in a spiritual sense, bringing him to a place he could still say "hallelujah" even through all of he could feel was his pain in life.
anonymous Feb 20th 2018 report
Perhaps someone can explain how Elvis Presley was singing this song long before Leonard Cohen claimed to have written it
Verse 6: (continued)
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah and I think that's really what God wants humility, real love from us, and then an eternity with us just that way, which is how we should spend eternity with the source of all true love....and that's why the night needs to come before the day.
We have to remember that he only knew the 1st person of God, the Father. I think he sensed that incompleteness in his understanding and Love of God, as this was the only true love he found after disappointments in human relationships...he longed to know his one true love who would never fail him but didn't understand, why all the suffering, why do I have to go thru these betrayals and the chaos and pain...so part of would be answered by Jesus coming and teaching and of course the next ones turn with of the holy spirit....I think he probably understood part of it as we can tell from reading psalms, and understanding Gods thoughts...like the Jewish day starts at night (like our life on earth) and then the light is second and will someday be eternal culminating with darkness no more in eternity) but for him it was still like looking through a glass darkly...anyway that's my 2 cents...love that song
anonymous Feb 19th 2018 report
No interpretation needed.
I love the absolutely awesome music. I put my head back and close my eyes. It is so powerful, heartwarming and peaceful that I feel I'm soaring like an eagle up to Heaven to meet my Lord Jesus. It totally engulfs me with the most beautiful thoughts of God and how great he is.
anonymous Feb 18th 2018 report
It seems the genius of this is both the melodic and lyrical truthfulness of our human experience of the faith struggle. Our embodiment creates both our "I/thou" relationship with God, while it simultaneously invites us to our striving for survival and sexuality, and thus our need for human relationship. The drives that keep us alive and perpetuate our existence.striving for both relationships is our hope as people of faith. As a Christian, I see the life of Christ as our reconciliation of this impossible situation. Christ experienced this brokeness, this struggle as God/human, and gave us this hope. Our choice, under whatever we label it, is to accept this gift, as we will never attain it through our "goodness." I think a relationship with God can only be attained such a reconciliation. This is no denigration of other beliefs. It just rings true for me. I accept this life of struggle because it may be my only hope of reconcliation and all Hod seems to want is this statement of often a pain-filled "Hallelujah."
anonymous Jan 20th 2018 report
Such an amazing song... It's really hard to not get goosebumps when I listen to this chef-d'oeuvre!
I think, in the context of the hallelujah being a bitter sweet thing, it is important to mention the music theory behind these repeated hallelujahs;(coupled with the chords) and how they make us feel. We have alterations between an F Major (or happy chord), and A minor chord (a sad chord) occurring with each of the repeated hallelujahs. It all kind of makes sense to me, as a music student, because I knew what was going on; I just never really thought about it until I discovered this interpretation website, and it's kind of cool. What we have going on is a swinging back and forth between the happiness and sadness of the repeated hallelujahs from a music theory standpoint. Super cool to me in context of the rest of the song and the interpretations and thoughts and comments that I've read here.
anonymous Dec 22nd 2017 report
I was taken aback to hear this song (more than a few times) sung in celebration of Christmas! A song so sad, about the cold and lonely feeling that persist after a breakup while beautiful is not making Christmas merry for me.
anonymous Dec 13th 2017 report
The song is about brokenness.
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