Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)
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.
This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
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
anonymous Feb 22nd, 2015 2:39pm report
This is one of my top ten favorite songs of all times. I am not, in any way, making light of one line that confuses me.
I ask: What was that woman doing bathing on the roof?
Oh ... sun bathing, I guess! I never thought of that. Duh!
I will read every interpretation a bit later. Then will come my total confusion!
Thank you for all that you have given us, Leonard.
Suzanne : )
anonymous Feb 19th, 2015 2:44am report
My interpretation is that this song reflects the post-holocaust agnosticism that is present in many parts of the Jewish community. It reflects a tension between wanting to believe, but not being able to believe in the face of the horrible suffering of the community at the hands of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.
anonymous Feb 17th, 2015 2:45pm report
i take it as a man who had a perfect relationship and was drawn to another woman, and in the end relized he had made a mistake and lost his perfect relationship. beautiful woman on the roof, tied him to a chair and cut his hair. lost his faithfulness to his love, and it was never that same in the end
anonymous Feb 5th, 2015 2:01am report
The speaker in the song has gone from being alone to the euphoria of falling in love,albeit with the wrong person, to finally learning how truly alone you can feel, while still in that same relationship.
I think the word hallelujah is not being used to praise God, but rather as a bittersweet "eureka", as in "oh, now I understand....how disappointing....how very, very disappointing".
anonymous Dec 22nd, 2014 12:49am report
Not an interpretation of the song, just something i felt. Replacing the "hallelujah" to "I love you" seems to work perfectly with almost every verse.
A hard relationship, when despite your feelings of lost power and self, she still pulls the words from your lips despite the way you feel.
When in the early stages of passionate new love, when every breath is I love you.
When the relationship gets hard. When you feel alone in your inner self, realising that learning to touch someone else or make them feel cherished, doesn't cure the feelings of isolation or self-loathing and the lack of fulfilment. When even though you've lost hope that they will be your redemption, when you're cold, and alone, and broken, you still love them.
When all is past and all is failed, he still stands in song, with the words I love you on his lips, whether referencing a person, or a safety and reliability in his passion for music.
anonymous Dec 5th, 2014 12:56pm report
It's about sex, impotence and getting old. It's a metaphor which uses biblical imagery to put forward an idea. It is composed by an heretic and it is absolutely beautiful in the message it tells. It also takes the piss! This is LC do you really believe he's producing hymns? Fcuk me you are a bunch of wankers.
anonymous Dec 3rd, 2014 12:36pm report
I think this is definitely about a relationship he was in and its stages. References to God and the bible just parts of his comparisons to what he has been thru from the beginning of the relationship to the end. The indication to me is most relationships run this course over time. I can relate to the stages he describes in each verse. The stages are not in order, he just describes each one as he feels or remembers them. From the beginning where you have the euphoric love relationship to the when the love ends, and his best protection is to be the one to end it first (shoot first), that way you don't get hurt as much. But his love of music (maybe writing it) will always be what gets him through it, and he doesn't understand how others could not relate to that. The reference to God above is just whether God controls our destiny or not in these affairs, he doesn't know. The different hallelujah's are the example of how you feel in each stage of the relationship. It's quite simple.
anonymous Oct 31st, 2014 10:03am report
To me the song is about finding our true selves and the realization of how truly powerful and beautiful we all are. The majority of our lives we are seeking the approval of others-our parents, lovers, employers, spouses, friends, children and society in general. We give away our power by always looking outside of ourselves and to others for love and validation. When we realize that EVERYTHING we have EVER felt, perceived or experienced was ALREADY within us and came from us and NOT from anyone else- THAT is both the Hallelujah and the BROKEN Hallelujah! Realizing our error of looking outside of self instead of looking within-The Joy and The Sorrow-Hallelujah!
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