Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)
anonymous Dec 23rd, 2015 12:24pm report
Hallelujah reflects on the dichotomy between romantic and spiritual love. While each verse describes the bittersweet heartache of a lost love affair, the chorus is just the repeated word "hallelujah", the essence of spiritual love. When "hallelujah" appears in a verse it refers to earthly joy that ebbs and flows and in this case finally turns cold and broken. In the chorus, "hallelujah" takes on a different meaning. With each successive utterance it moves from reflection to inspiration to conviction and finally, resignation. The chorus is compelling and satisfying because it tells us there is meaning in life and reason to celebrate, even in failed relationships. It is the spiritual distillation of romantic love that lingers in the heart.
I think it's crazy how much people project their own lives into songs. I suppose that is what music is supposed to do. :). Here is the way I see it:
The song is about a man (like Sampson and David) who has succumb to his desires and becomes completely enveloped by the love of a woman who ends up shattering both his heart and his belief in existence of God, brought about by the intense spiritual connection he once had with her. In the end, he is grateful for the experience. Hallelujah!
anonymous Dec 1st, 2015 12:04pm report
While acknowledging the efficacy of the biblical references, I choose a secular interpretation, in which a young man uses them as analogies to the bittersweet reflection of first passionate love to a woman who first awakens his passion. But she will not let that evanescent feeling bind her to him and eventually leaves him. He is at first left with the bitter anger of memories when their physical and spiritual love enthralled him, only to be cruelly abandoned. But now he can appreciate what she gave him, if only briefly, that will endure to other relationships. She will remain his instructor to the deeper meanings of feelings of the heart. And he can now remember her with gratitude for having started him on that heart-rending but necessary path through life.
ClarkTerry Nov 29th, 2015 11:59am report
Cohen's original version had only four verses and was deeply spiritual. It has evolved, or should I say "de-volved" to contain more physical references.
Here my interpretation of Cohen's original four verses:
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Pleasing the Lord brings you joy, but cohen acknowledges that it's not a priority for everyone.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
This is about how lust can "overthrow" you if your faith in God is not strong" enough. It will reduce your status in life to something less than it is now, like being "tied" to the "kitchen". Then he gives biblical examples of David and Solomon. Lust is so powerful that while you are destroying yourself you will still stay "Hallelujah" to the glory of the flesh. Note that he didn't say adulterous lusting for "her beauty overcame you" it "overthrew you".
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Our nature is to rationalize sin. He points out that the glory of God AND the glory of the flesh can cause you to say Hallelujah because both instances have "a blaze of light".
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
This is judgement day. He confesses that he tried but wasn't as faithful has he should have been. He couldn't "feel" the spirit of God so he turned to the "touch" of flesh in an attempt to find joy in life. He acknowledges that "It all went wrong" but he has come full circle and again praises God again with "Hallelujah".
This song is beautiful in its original version, but has since been corrupted to celebrate lust. God made s-e-x to be a beautiful thing that brings joy a husband and wife, something worthy of Hallelujah for sure. However, the hallelujah in this song is not about that, it's about adulterous lust and how it can destroy you.
anonymous Nov 29th, 2015 11:03am report
We put our actions towards perfectionism, beauty, strength, wisdom, and earthly love and believe if we can attain all of those things we will become God-like. However there is a paradox to life on earth, and perfectionism, beauty, strength,wisdom, and earthly love can crumble to fascism, ugliness, weakness, ignorance, and hate.
We sing hallelujah to ourselves - like a pat on the back - when we accomplish great things, or luck goes our way, and feel like the spirit is a part of our very being- stirring within us.
We sing hallelujah to God - with a broken heart - when all of our earthly accomplishments turn to dust and we lose faith that God really exists. At those times we hope to hear a sound, or see the light or be provided with evidence that there is a God. But all we have in the meanwhile is an uncertain hallelujah until we feel the spirit move within us again.
anonymous Oct 15th, 2015 10:54am report
This song is an essay on the vanishing point at which the confluence of erotic, spiritual, and filial Love intersect. But there are no naked singularities. There is only Leonard Cohen reporting from the event horizon.
anonymous Jul 14th, 2015 7:15pm report
I sing this song from a woman's viewpoint -- but my interpretation is much like the first comment. Without that final verse, the song and the singer both end broken. But with that final verse:
"I did my best, it wasn't much
"I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
"I told the truth, I didn't come to fool yah
"But even though it all went wrong
"I'll stand before the Lord of Song
"With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!"
This is triumphant -- somewhat bitter, but still triumphant. The singer doesn't need to follow a Judeo-Christian tradition (I don't) to understand this. The "Lord of Song" could be any of a number of Gods -- Apollo, Herne, Lugh and so many more. Still, to stand before that god, still praising even in sorrow -- that's triumph
anonymous Jul 14th, 2015 7:20am report
On a very simple level, it means "Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
anonymous Jul 2nd, 2015 7:35am report
For a moment, imagine the song as though it was written from a woman’s perspective. Let’s refer to this woman as ‘woman’. The noun and verb tenses align best this way.
I’ve heard there was a secret chord // That David played, and it pleased the Lord // But you don't really care for music, do you? // It goes like this // The fourth, the fifth // The minor fall, the major lift // The baffled king composing Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah
FIRST STANZA INTERPRETATION
David can please the Lord through musical worship. However, the woman supposes that even the best song of devotion couldn’t please the boy (the one she refers to as “you”). She repeats the secret cords anyways, and imagines the “baffled” King David pleasing the Lord through the chords. The Hallelujahs that follow can be interpreted as the 'woman’s longing desire to please her boy as King David pleases the Lord.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof // You saw her bathing on the roof // Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you // She tied you to a kitchen chair // She broke your throne, and she cut your hair // And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah
SECOND STANZA INTERPRETATION
Now the ‘woman' is addressing the boy (the same “you” she longed to please within the first stanza). The ‘woman' accounts the boy falling in love with another girl. As the boy is understood falling for a girl “bathing on the roof”, the boy is thus reflected back onto King David, through the king's first encounter with Bathsheba. In the next verse, the woman makes a similar reference to another relationship in the bible, Samson and Delilah.
Extra biblical context: Both King David and Samson were followers of the Lord, but along the way, lost sight of their morality and faith due to their broken relationships with women. King David basically murdered Bathsheba’s husband so that he could win the woman, Bathsheba, he had lusted over; Samson shared the source of his strength (his hair) to his lover, Delilah--who in return cuts his hair, and takes Samson’s strength from him.
The ‘woman’ thus is accounting the broken relationship(s) that the boy is currently enthralled by. The Hallelujahs that follow can be interpreted as the boy’s hallelujahs, praising the girl(s) he momentarily enthralled by.
Maybe I have been here before // I know this room, I've walked this floor // I used to live alone before I knew you // I've seen your flag on the marble arch // Love is not a victory march // It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah
THIRD STANZA INTERPRETATION
The ‘woman’ addresses the boy’s situation. She notes that she herself has been in the same place he currently is residing. Just as the boy is enthralled by a lover who was no good for him, the ‘woman’ claims that she herself has “been here before”. She too has fallen for a boy that is no good for her. In the third verse of this stanza, she notes that she “used to live alone before [she] knew [the boy]”. In turning the attention to the boy, one might interpret the ‘woman’ and the boy to be previous lovers. As such, it is not a far stretch to assume that the boy was the ‘woman’s no-good-for-her ex. In the fourth verses of the stanza, the ‘woman' accounts the boy’s bravery in professing and expressing his love for these other girls, his “flag on the marble arch” so to say. The ‘woman’ rebuttals and claims that the love the boy is so enthralled by is deceitful. Her cold response leaves one to believe that the boy left the ‘woman’ broken-hearted. The Hallelujahs that follow can be interpreted as the ‘woman’ either giving in to the fact that she isn’t over the boy OR that the ‘woman’ is mockingly repeating hallelujah as the boy gets his heart-broken.
There was a time you let me know // What's real and going on below // But now you never show it to me, do you? // And remember when I moved in you? // The holy dark (or holy dove, depending on the rendition) was moving too // And every breath we drew was Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah
FOURTH STANZA INTERPRETATION
The ‘woman’ is directly addressing her relationship with the boy in this stanza. Whether interpreted as a sexual reference or as a deep and emotional connection, we know the boy has pushed away the ‘woman’. But the ‘woman’ places older memories in the face of the boy. The ‘woman’ claims that “every breath [they] drew was Hallelujah”. The Hallelujahs that follow can be interpreted as the ‘woman’ replaying the memories over and over again in her head, and in a similar sense, displaying the memories over and over again for the boy.
Maybe there's a god above // And all I ever learned from love // Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you // And it's not a cry you can hear at night, // It's not somebody who's seen the light // It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah // Hallelujah, Hallelujah
FIFTH STANZA INTERPRETATION
The ‘woman’ says that “maybe there’s a god above”, but she obviously has never know God’s unfailing love because “all [she’s] ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew [the boy]”. By “shoot”, the ‘woman’ is referring to herself as she bashes the other girls that challenge herself for the boy’s affection. In this sense, the earthly love the ‘woman’ has only ever experienced has been spiteful and plagued by jealousy. The cupid reference is thus understood as the ‘woman’ mocking herself as she attempts to inform the boy that the relationship(s) he’s in are not good for him. “It’s” refers to love. The ‘woman’ claims that love is “not a cry [the boy] can hear at night” and love is “not somebody who’s seen the light”. She claims love is “cold” and “broken Hallelujah”. The Hallelujahs that follow can be interpreted as the ‘woman’s surrender to her broken heat, to her cold and broken surrender to love’s defeat.
The final hallelujahs that follow the fifth stanza can be interpreted as a repetition of surrender to love’s defeat. HOWEVER, I would like to imagine that these final two verses of Hallelujah were not written by the ‘woman’. I would like to imagine the final two verses as the boy, himself, coming to realize the bitter sting of a broken heart. As he agrees with his ex-lover, the ‘woman’, the boy is reflecting over his own broken relationships.
**A STRETCH, BUT READ IF INTERESTED**
Imagine the ‘woman’ wrote the boy a letter. The letter reads:
I’ve heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord... but you don't really care for music, do you? It goes like this *insert music where the minor falls and then the major lifts*. The baffled king composing Hallelujah.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof. You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you. She tied you to a kitchen chair. She broke your throne, and she cut your hair. And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.
Maybe I have been here before; I know this room, I've walked this floor. I used to live alone before I knew you. I've seen your flag on the marble arch, but Love is not a victory march... It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.
There was a time you let me know what's real and going on below, but now you never show it to me, do you? And remember when I moved in you? The holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujah.
Maybe there's a god above, and all I ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you. And it's not a cry you can hear at night; It's not somebody who's seen the light; It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.
*LC ends a broken relationship.*
*He then recalls a letter, written by a lover long ago, where she spoke of heartache and sorrow caused by love.*
*LC pulls the letter out and reads it over.*
*He now understands the ‘woman’s sorrow*
*LC can’t help but sing, "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah”*
I apologize for the last part. It is a bit of an imaginative interpretation. However, to the best of my knowledge, the relationships and outlooks on love in the song follow along with my argument.
anonymous May 26th, 2015 5:49am report
I believe the first interpretation is most accurate...Except for the 2nd verse. No one here gets from the second verse what I hear in it. I think that getting his hair cut and his throne broken could not be making him desperate or despairing if it draws an hallelujah from his lips. I believe Cohen is speaking his own truth (not the biblical one) and describing the moment when his ego finally surrenders and lays down before the glory of love (= his heart surrenders to the glory of God). It is the laying down of the greatest burden of man (the ego= that which separates him from God) and he experiences his first real epiphany.
anonymous Mar 22nd, 2015 3:40pm report
“You see, Mario, I can’t tell you in words different from those I’ve used. When you explain it, poetry becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it.”
Pablo Neruda to Mario Ruoppolo
(when asked about the meaning of a line in one of his poems)
From “Il Postino”
anonymous Mar 20th, 2015 3:22pm report
In the life of David, his worst almost unforgivable blunder was the taking of the woman bathing on the roof who is Bethsheeba. In order to call her his own he had to send her husband, Uriah, the Hitite, to the front lines where he was almost certain to die and he did get killed and David claimed her for his wife. The karma lives on with their son Solomon who achieves greatness in wisdom with the Lord but also falls to lust with many princesses from other nations for political reasons and Solomon ends up worshipping many gods of foreign lands and loses his one-pointed devotion to God. David enjoyed such a closeness with God also before his sin. LC goes through the human drama of love, ups and downs, the highs and the lows. It is such a painful song about putting too much faith in human love and when that fails you are left empty and alone. In spiritual love, there is no pain but an eternal blossoming. But being human, like David, we easily fall prey to the enticement. Human love can be very beautiful and fulfilling if you love without attachment. But that is quite difficult sometimes. We love one person and forget the creator of that Love which is the Lord. Earthly love needs balance or it most definitely will end in pain. If the Lord is first in your life, if following the truth in your heart is first, then you will develop wisdom and balance and that will extend into your love life. It will be long lasting. If you love another without seeing God in that person, that love is doomed because there is always a chance for conflict. If your human love is viewed as but one aspect of the whole of your life, there will be balance and success in all undertakings. your marriage will last into a Golden anniversary. Hallelujah. But LC is not saying all that. He is hanging on to the power and passion of a purely physical mental emotional bond that has now lost its magnetism and it is a song of loss for a shattered dream. But he also remembers the power that the love once had and that in essence "It is better to have lived and loved than to have never loved at all." As human beings we are also very attached to our dramas be they sad or happy. Sad dramas carry deep passion and we are very attached to our great sadness. It ensures us that we are human and the pain reinforces that fact over and over again. This never ending drama also ensures our rebirth in the Buddhist sense of reincarnation to keep on experiencing our passions time and time again until we finally decide that the pain is either too much or too boring and then we make the final decision to disengage from the world and journey inward for true satisfaction...Hallelujah
Inmyhumbleopinion Mar 13th, 2015 3:52pm report
Upon first hearing this song, I was just moved to hear "Praise God" in a secular setting, but, in listening for the lyrics, I realized that I'd assumed it was a song of worship, when it was obviously about love-making. I was originally distracted by the first few words, and I was very impressed with the use of musical terms to describe the Fall in the Garden, and the crucifiction [the minor fall and the major lift] but, after this song has become a part of my daily experience, I've come to understand it as a gifted expression of the spiritual aspect of the apex of physical love. [drawing the Hallelujah from his lips ... The word 'hallelujah', glorifying the One who created the act, and the bodies of men and women.]
So, now that I've contributed my interpretation, lemme just add that, I think it is a little off-base to have a lot of third-party interpretations w/o having Leonard's own contribution about how the lyrics came about.
*Yet, sometimes the writers come up with words and themes without having a real agenda in mind, and the beauty of poetic expression is in leaving it open to be understoo
N d in meaningful ways by the individual. [There
is one song that is a favorite of mine, but, I've heard the author say that he didn't ùnow what it means (to which, I responded I know what it means!' And, I do. It means so much. I appreciate the fact that The world has been graced with gifted writers, who can so artfully use language to draw word pictures.
Thank you, Leonard! You have enriched my life. Now, can we please have your input here? <3
More Leonard Cohen song meanings »
Submit Your Interpretation
|Keep Holding On||anonymous|
|Fake You Out||anonymous|
|Roll In Peace||anonymous|
|What I Know||anonymous|
|Go To Hell, for Heaven's Sake||anonymous|
|The Last Of The Real Ones||anonymous|