What does Hallelujah mean?

Search Login

Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning

Song Released: 1984

Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)

Get "Hallelujah" on MP3:

Get MP3 from Amazon
Get MP3 from iTunes

Hallelujah Lyrics

Play "Hallelujah"
on Amazon Music

Lyrics removed by the request of NMPA


    click a star to vote
    Dec 11th, 2012 12:47am report

    Okay, heaps of people are doing other ones so mine will be quick.

    The word 'Hallelujah' means 'faith.'

    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

    This part is about David and Bathseba, their story is at 2 Samuel 11

    Bathesba was a married woman that King David saw on the roof one night when she bathed. He had her brought to him, they slept togethor and she fell pregnant. Her husband died and she married David and God wasn't a happy about his chosen king's behaviour.

    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 references Samson and Delilah. Samson made an oath when he was very young to God that made him REALLY strong as long as he never cut his hair, or his strength would be diminished to its length. Delilah was a prostitute that he visited and fell in love with. However, Delilah's loyalties lied with the Phillistines, and after asking again and again what was the source of his strength and though knowing she was probably working for the enemy he told her the truth. Delilah waited for him to fall asleep in her lap and she cut off his hair. He was arrested and forced to work grinding wheat, but his hair began to grow and no-one cut it. He was summoned to entertain his Phillistine captors and as soon as he was no longer shackled he pushed against one of the support pillars, causing the building to collapse and killing hundreds of Phillistine men and women. This was the first time Samson ever prayed to God, and God helped him with his final task, giving him the strength he needed.


    click a star to vote
    Oct 24th, 2012 10:45pm report

    I just want to comment on a couple specific lines. I've read through a few interpretations and so far. Nobody has gotten the same message from these lines.

    "I've seen your flag on the marble arch"

    This line implies that his lover has claimed "victory" in love which is impossible. Hence the next line.

    "Love is not a victory march"

    I take this line to mean that being in love is not the end game in and of itself. Relationships are like a battle. They can be lost if celebrated as a victory while still underway. Ultimately that victory march could never happen because the only two possible outcomes are that you die while still together (you can't celebrate if you're dead) or you split up (not a victory).

    P.S. The Jeff Buckley version is my favorite.


    click a star to vote
    Oct 12th, 2012 10:27pm report

    I think it is incredibly bitter and sarcastic as song by LC himself. I've been through exactly the same stuff. am a prof. singer for 25 years. really well trained and educated. went thru a bitter divorce and have been suicidal, but live for my 19 yr. old son and my cat. am unemployed,flat broke and 20K in debt. I have not heard too many others sing this yet, but no one I have heard does it like LC, and at that deadly slow tempo! I've sung so many songs, and must do this one, but cannot find my guitar pegs. I believe in god, or at least angels, am not Jewish, but sang as a cantor at a reform synagogue- it is a profoundly beautiful religion. OH, the silent rage! It sounds so beauty-pageant-like(barf), but I strongly realize that I must use my music for peace and love, or I have not done my lifetime work. I am extremely ill(not fatal- except for possibly my very bad diabetes and stress/depression. This is one of the most profound songs I have ever heard, and baby, Ive heard a lot of songs! I really am sucky on the computer, 55 and female.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


    click a star to vote
    Sep 26th, 2012 9:35am report

    I definitely love this song. With my "band" (long time ago, unfortunately) we performed a cover of this song and we discussed a lot about its meaning before set up our arrangement.

    For sure, it has something to do with the spiritual side of a person. But I would not reduce it to religion, sin or love.

    So, I would not focalize attention to single lines that remind the Bible, because they could hide the general meaning.

    I think this is what LC would say in front of the "Lord of Song", explaining all his relationship with Music (seen as a higher power or better an "ultima Thule" - this could explain why he used so many biblic phrases). A relationship that is almost sexual, in some part. And everyone who has ever walked a stage (even in a smoky pub, in front of ten people) can say that the sensation of playing music is a sensation that can't be described, like an orgasm.
    I think all the song can be summarize in a "Thank you music".

    However, as TS Elliot said (I think it was him), poetry must never be explained: everyone must find his own meaning.


    click a star to vote
    Sep 16th, 2012 9:25pm report

    To me, "Hallelujah" is a poetic and beautiful expression of the artist's soul... I think it's about how the creative mind is eternally restless, the music and life in its depths forever smothered by its love of something that can never entirely love it back- the artist is in love with his own imagination and ideals, his words and his melodies, but they are cold and unfeeling in response; he is in love with mankind and its complexity, but it fails to appreciate him and his creations; it's not so much about unreciprocated love as it is unreciprocated passion.

    As in, "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?" I believe the singer is referring to other people here; the biblical referrence lends the idea power, bringing forth people's strong feelings of faith and holyness and then associating those feelings with music. "It goes like this- the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift; the baffled king composing Hallelujah." Then, despite stating that "you" don't care for music, he goes on to show you the music anyway- the way that the artist's resiliant idealism and limitless faith in his music force him to come back to it, despite the fact that it falls on deaf ears.

    "Your faith was strong but you needed proof, you saw her bathing on the roof, and her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you." Now, this is where the metaphor begins to sound far-fetched, so bear with me. I believe that the girl being described in the song is a metaphor for art (I use the word "art" to refer to all forms of self-expression, primarily music in this context). The singer believed in the importance of his art- but perhaps believing wasn't enough, until he saw it in its raw beauty, realized how unbelievably gorgeous it was when it came forth - undisguised, unedited, unhidden - from inside of him, cast in stark moonlight. "She tied you to a kitchen chair; she broke your throne, she cut your hair, and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah." So now he is hopelessly in love with this art. But the art is not tangible, just a dream, and it shows him no mercy; when he gives it all of himself and it leaves him still attached to reality (the kitchen chair being an object of bland domesticity), it tears him from his "throne" - his sense of being above the rest of the world in his state of delusion - and crushes his pride ("cutting your hair" referring to a part of one's appearence that people take pride in). But even so, it draws from him an Hallelujah, because - cruel as it is - he has created something.

    "Baby, I've been here before; I know this room, I've walked this floor. I used to live alone before I knew you." Having lost his vision, he expresses that he has been a part of this "real" world before - he knows this place, or did at one time. He used to live the same restless, lonely existance before he'd found deliverance in art. Now he's been torn from that state. "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." This part, I think, implies that he still sees sparks of inspiration in places that strike him as poetically powerful; he is also reminded, however, of how desolate he feels at the loss of something that had been important to him- something that he'd loved.

    "There was a time where you let me know what's really 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." I think this verse talks about the fact that there was a time where he felt the magic beneath artistic expression, but now he feels no sense of it; that he used that sensation to explore and to comprehend (to move) and that the feeling was something sacred and special, and filled him with joy.

    "Maybe there's a God above, but all I ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you." So we've seen the artist in love with his craft, and then be pulled away from his lofty romanticism by a cold reality check; the world beat him to the punch and forced him to realize that his ideals are not the same as his reality; but this line implies, also, that he's still fighting for it (still "shooting at someone who outdrew you"). "It's not a cry you can hear at night; it's not a person who's seen the light; it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah." I think this refers to the spectrum of emotions that art can express. Over the course of the song, the term 'hallelujah' is used to express a huge variety of emotions, whether celebratory or mournful- because with art comes emotion of all sorts, but he no longer experiences visions of cries in the night and people discovering enlightenment, and instead is left with his cold and broken hallelujah. There is no longer a story to tell; just a bitter memory of something he's lost.

    "You say I took the name in vain, but I don't even know the name. If I did, well, really, what's it to you? There's a blaze in every word; it doesn't matter which you heard- the holy or the broken Hallelujah." This one, I think, offers explanation for the disjointed - almost random - feel of the song. He is trying to say that these words contain power, and it doesn't matter whether they are showing you joy or sorrow, because they are there and they are blazing with the capacity to create something of beauty; he realizes that it doesn't much matter what his reality is meant to be ("what's it to you?") because he has found something with meaning and importance to him.

    "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." In the end, he decides that he has something of magnificence in his life; he vows to live his life within that. He has done his best to let go of something "unreal" but it is a part of him- and that's why he'll go to his grave singing "Hallelujah!"


    click a star to vote
    Sep 11th, 2012 9:55am report

    I think this song is about a long term relationship that's at the tipping point - either the hurts are mended, or it's over.

    The first verse describes the singer's love by comparing it to the love King David had for God and how he found a way to show his love that was appreciated by God. The singer says he hasn't found an equally successful way to show his love yet.

    The second verse describes the initial love starting with lust and infatuation, that even though it wasn't perfect, still he loves her.

    The third verse describes the relationship drifting apart, the estrangement,the ultimate loneliness, but still, even though it makes no sense, the love.

    The fourth verse talks about his memory of happy times together, when she demonstrated her love for him. How wonderful and fulfilling their shared love and sex was. But now, she doesn't communicate at all.

    The fifth verse shows how the singer protects himself from rejection by rejecting her first. It doesn't make him feel better though. He still doesn't know how things went so wrong but he doesn't know how to turn back and despite it all, he still loves her.

    The sixth verse tells us that the partner has accused the singer of never really loving her in the first place. That its his fault everything is going wrong. He responds by saying she can believe what she wants, but he still knows that he has always, and still loves her.

    The last verse, the singer tells how much he loves her. He's sorry he hasn't found the one thing to demonstrate his love that she'll accept and understand but he's still doing his best, and trying his hardest to prove his never-ending love, through thick and thin.

    The repeated word hallelujah throughout is the singer saying "I love you" over and over in as many ways as he can as often as he can. His prayer that their love can be rekindled and the assertion that he will keep on loving her anyway.

    I believe they get back together and start having a better relationship after this revelationary song.


    click a star to vote
    Sep 9th, 2012 9:50am report

    I believe that this song is about a man who heard so many stories about the pains of love, and that made him synical yet he fell in love anyways. At first, the hallelujah is praising god for giving him this love, but as he loses his power, and as his relationship seems to diminish as his lover loses interest in him, his hallelujahs become sarcastic as he does not understand how god could send him such pain. In the end, the narrator resembles a broken hearted man that is unsure of how he, the man who doubted the benefits of love, has fallen for this woman and is now just like the subjects of all his stories. He wonders how he has gotten to this point, and although his faith is now wavering and uncertain, he still believes that a god exists.


    click a star to vote
    Aug 10th, 2012 8:09pm report

    I've listened too it over and over; it sounds to me like the song of someone who didn't loose their faith really, but lost an intimate spiritual connection (with the almighty). don't feel like over analyzing it, but I don't know if a better song could be written about a dissipated spiritual reality.


    click a star to vote
    Aug 1st, 2012 8:40pm report

    I've heard there was a secret chord
    That David played and it pleased the Lord
    If you know your bible King David was favored and blessed by God, but King David had his weaknesses just like any other man or woman. King David used to play the harp just for God and it greatly pleased the lord God Almighty, King David played a certain chord or chords that greatly pleased the lord and today every musician that loves and knows the lord has prayed at one time or another for God to bless them with the cords that King David knew.
    But you don't really care for music, do you.
    Music is not just played by a musical instrument or in songs sung, music is our actions and faith that are a sweet savor and pleases the Lord, but people have lost their faith and hope, they just don’t care anymore.
    Well it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
    The minor fall, the major lift

    This is an effort to motivate, stimulate and educate people not to give up, its not too late to start trying. Learn the music that pleases the Lord. What is your music? The music that is inside you that pleases the Lord.

    The baffled King composing Hallelujah

    Kind David in all his weaknesses kept on trying, he never gave up, King David Loved the Lord and God Loved him just as he loves all of us, even in all our weaknesses we should always keep on trying, we may stumble, we may fall but never give up, just like King David.

    Well your faith was strong but you needed proof

    King David in all his weaknesses had tremendous faith in God, his test was no t to God but to himself. King David was hoping and believing that God would not leave nor forsake him. Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.

    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
    She broke your throne

    This can happen to any one of us, we are human and live in the world and in the flesh and sometimes we are overwhelmed by our circumstances, by what we see. The Bible says; “ we are not moved by what we see, we walk by faith and not by sight”, King David was moved by what he saw and experienced that night, and was overwhelmed by lust, and being in a position of power he gave strategic orders to have her husband moved to the front line in battle, That was a death sentence, knowing that he would be slain therefore removing any opposition and any commitment she might have had to her husband therefore setting her free to love another.” She broke your throne” symbolizes the consequences of King David’s action.

    She cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

    This refers to Samson, his hair was a symbol of his strength, his strength was of God and when Samson in his weakest moment and letting his guard down trusted a woman, the woman having ulterior motives cut his hair. The symbol of Samson’s strength and the power given to him by God was now removed, all because he let his guard down and now the powerful Samson was just as you and I, a regular person. Samson’s praise and glory, his Hallelujah was removed, Sampson was ashamed. Even though Samson was ashamed he never gave up, he prayed and worshiped God therefore Hallelujah.

    Well baby, I’ve been here before
    I’ve seen this room, and I’ve walked this floor
    I used to live alone before I knew you
    But I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
    And love is not a victory march
    It’s cold and it’s broken Hallelujah

    This referrers to being not alone but lonely, He has been lonely and knows the sadness of it. We have all been lonely at one time or another. We could be in a room filed with people and still be lonely! We can also be alone and by ourselves and not be lonely. We can all relate to this, but remember we are never alone if we have God. God files the loneness in our hearts, he fills the void in our hearts and comforts us in our most lonely times, God will never leave nor forsake you as long as you call out to him and ask God to be Lord of your live, God promised to send us the comforter. Even though we put on appearances that everything is great in our lives, we put on a good show for others to see, “we hang our flag on the marble arch”, our flag of love or that everything is ok in our lives, but love is not a victory march because we are not victorious at or in love, it’s cold and it is broken, expresses our true feelings and although we praise God, we have to remember he is the God that knows the hearts and minds of man, God knows when we are lonely. Never give up, even in your lonliest times, God can see your loneliness and will send you the comforter. Sing Hallelujah

    Well, there was a time when you’d let me know
    What’s really going on below
    But now you never show that to me, do you

    This is deep, it has to do with more than just physical, it is emotional and it is spiritual, and its powerful. What is down deep inside of you? You used to share it with God but now you don’t. Maybe you have given up, or maybe you think that no one is listening; but God wants you to remember when He moved in you through the Holy Spirit and every word that came out of your mouth was a praise, Hallelujah. Never give up, always praise and worship God. NEVER GIVE UP!

    Well maybe there is a God above
    But all that I’ve ever learned from love
    Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

    “Well maybe there is a God above” is the Start of believing. “But all that I’ve ever learned from love” is the excuse we use, we blame our current and failed relationships on our past failed relationships, and what we have experienced in them for the hurtful things we say today to the people we love the most today. “was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you” is part of the excuse we use because of our past relationships that didn’t work out. Maybe they were quick to say hurtful things to you before you had a chance to open your mouth, maybe they were verbally abusive, so now we say things that are hurtful to the ones we love the most before they have a chance to speak. We are practicing what we have been taught or experienced.

    It’s not the cry that you hear at night
    And it is not somebody who has seen the light
    It’s cold and it’s broken

    When your by yourself in your most dark times, your spirit speaks to you, God cries out to you, he is calling “It’s not the cry that you hear at night”, or in the most dark times of your life, and it’s not someone that has seen the light, someone who lives in the light of God sharing revelation with you, it’s your spirit crying out in the wilderness and in the dark, “It’s cold and it’s broken” never give up, sing Hallelujah, take courage and comfort knowing that God is your strength when you are weak, God is a faithful God even in the midst of what seems so horrible and unexplainable, He is your refuge and your fortress, He will make perfect that which concerns you, submit to God and rejoice, NEVER GIVE UP, sing Hallelujah.


    click a star to vote
    Jul 25th, 2012 7:10am report

    All I need to add is this: how can you use the word 'disgraceful' relating to sex?


    click a star to vote
    Jul 3rd, 2012 7:34am report

    why he said "it's not a cry you hear at night" and "it's not somebody who's seen the light"


    click a star to vote
    Jun 16th, 2012 6:57pm report

    I beg to differ about the "sex act as disgraceful". Something that God created Himself cannot be disgraceful. What's disgraceful is how mankind took something that is as intimately sweet, depth and breadth of spiritual beings as we are. Is actually representation of God's Holy Spirit that moves within us, filling us, rejoicing and singing in THE most intimate act of Worship of God Himself.
    Mankind has made sex a commonplace and removed the "soul" from intercourse and made it "fun" like its going to an amusement park.

    This song is about those of us who are hungry for something, but nothing satisfies that longing in our souls. So we try to feed that need with all those things that involve all five senses. Only to find that we're still hungry. But we don't want just another religious gimmic because that is going to come with all the rules, do's and don'ts; and we WANT something that is real, never changes because it's true blue and spontaneous every time. It satiates our longings, feeds our desires, surrounds us in peace....
    THAT, my friend, is how my walk with God is like. Just as we hunger and reach for our mates to sate those natural and spiritual needs that GOD made in us. I go back into the privacy of my home, and get closed off with God. Worship Him and praise Him, and love on HIM. I make Jesus my Lover and God my Friend.
    Sounds silly? Then explain to me how in my younger years I went from bar to bar looking for someone to fit in my "God-shaped Hole", and found none who could satisfy me where I would awaken the next morning with no peace. "Will he ever call me again?"
    But when I started spending a weekend with God, I knew this was real, satisfying, peaceful, and HE'S always near to hear my call, when I spent my first New Year's Eve party on my living room floor in worship of the God of All Creation.
    Of course, I'm human, I would get lonely feelings at times, especially when I first started to spend time with God. So I asked Him to talk this gift called sex and fill my longings. And HE did, with Himself.
    If it is to be, I will find someone to have and hold on this earth too. And that too, will be a Gift from God.

    This song, Hallelujah is about all the things that man desires, all the rules to be saved, it comes down to those who have really been broken, and not out of a religious bunk to make me more acceptable to God. I'm going to listen to those who will stand there and sing hallelujah to God, because they know what their old lives were truly saved from, relief from fear, disgrace, shame, grief. I'm gonna listen to those who have been to hell ...and came back from it. Not those who think it's how christianized they appear on the outside that make them the best testimony of the works from their "own" hands.


    click a star to vote
    May 16th, 2012 5:01pm report

    The song uses biblical metaphors to dissect a recently failed relationship that the singer is desperate to find some iota of redemption in, because if he doesn't he is merely left with the pain and loss.

    The first 2 verses are sung to himself. The secret chord refers to David playing his harp for King Saul, so beautifully that David cured Saul's chronic long-term illness. The singer laments he does not know this chord that can bring instant joy and happiness, otherwise he would use it on his broken self. The "don't care for music" line is pure irony. A musician is singing to his broken self, so broken that he no longer cares for the one passion that usually brings him happiness - his music.

    The next verse is exposition. The bath and the moonlight is another King David reference, David seeing Bathsheba bathing in the moonlight, falling instantly in love, a king "overthrown" by love, just like the singer fell instantly upon seeing this unnamed woman. Beauty can be immensely powerful, as I’m sure we all know. This reference also tells us the inherent danger of this relationship. David discovers that Bathsheba is married to one of his best generals, Uriah. He orders Uriah into a dangerous battle, hoping he’ll be killed, which he is, and proceeds to marry Bathsheba for himself. He essentially commits murder. The verse goes on to talk about how this woman changes his life, he is “tied to a chair” (killing his art via bounded domesticity), “cutting his hair” (another biblical reference, Samson and Delilah, destroying the singer’s creative strength). But it’s not all destruction. She is able to “draw alleluia” from his lips, meaning the ecstasy (physical and mental) that come from being head over heels in love. She gave him a happiness he had never known, blinding him to the destruction she was also causing.

    Starting with the third verse the singer’s focus turns to her, and know he’s speaking directly to her. The first two verses explained his current situation, and know he wants to know why it all happened. He tells her he’s familiar with loneliness, since that was his experience before he met her, but it’s a broken loneliness now, and he has no idea how to function any longer. He understands that love can bring unrivaled joy, but also permanent pain. “Cold and broken alleluia” is wonderful phrasing. Alleluia means “praise” in Hebrew, but over time it has become synonymous with joy and happiness. This relationship has left him with a broken heart. The heart, the organ of life, metaphorical organ of emotion and love, the biological source of human happiness, is now cold and broken.

    The fourth line is all about sex, and how great it was once, frigid at the end, and obviously non-existent now. But damn it was really good once. Please note that by really good I don’t mean technique or specific physical acts, it’s the euphoria that comes (pun intended) when you have sex with the person you truly love. The physical pleasure is magnetized times 1,000 when you’re lucky enough to have this happen to you. And the singer knows this. And tells us.

    The last verse is a capitulation. The “God above” line means maybe the world is good, but he clearly doesn’t see it that way now, and maybe never will again. He then jokingly states that the only thing he learned about love from this relationship is make sure that next time, you break her heart first before she breaks yours (“how to shoot at someone who outdrew you”). In the final lines the singer realizes that there are no answers as to why and how everything happened. All he’s left with, as he stated earlier, is a “cold and broken” alleluia. In the end, he really is left with pain and loss.

    However, this pain and loss inspires him to create this beautiful song, meaning his art is now coming back to him, and with that will come the ability to love and enjoy life again. Alleluia (joy and happiness), will eventually return to him too.


    click a star to vote
    May 16th, 2012 5:49pm report

    First verse telling the story about how David used to praise the Lord with Halelujah. referring to the time before the fall? talks about the bible (The Word)?

    Second verse describes the temptation: "Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you"
    David gave in to temptation. Referring to the fall?

    "She tied you
    To a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah"
    Temptation got him and was his downfall.
    Samson lost his strength giving in to manipulation. Also referring to the cunningness of evil?

    "Baby I have been here before
    I know this room, I've walked this floor
    I used to live alone before I knew you."
    Referring to God having walked among us, He was before creation?

    "Love is not a victory march
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah"
    Our misunderstanding of love?
    Not a victory but humbleness?

    "There was a time you let me know
    What's really going on below
    But now you never show it to me, do you?"
    God saying:" You don't pray to me anymore"?

    "And remember when I moved in you
    The holy dove was moving too
    And every breath we drew was Hallelujah"
    Jesus saying: "Remember how I sent my spirit"?

    "Maybe there's a God above
    But all I've ever learned from love
    Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
    And it's not a cry that you hear at night
    It's not somebody who's seen the light
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah"
    "Maybe" meaning we're not sure anymore? Is this us speaking?

    Order of the song:
    The Word


    click a star to vote
    Apr 23rd, 2012 4:06am report

    Now I've heard there was a secret chord
    That David played, and it pleased the Lord

    The chord that David played on the harp calmed King Saul (not God) who was plagued by an evil spirit. Since evil spirits were generally regarded at that time as having been sent by God, David’s success in keeping the evil spirit from troubling Saul might be interpreted as having pleased God, too. But according to scripture, David was also a man “after God’s own heart” – so these lines can be regarded as just a kind of poetic conflation of two images – David the musician mystically calming the Lord (the king) and David the adventurous and courageous, passionate leader was something of a “holy bad boy” with music and poetry in his soul whom God really liked (compared to people who were concerned more with purity and keeping their noses clean than with living life). Cohen’s lyrics are a lot like Paul Simon’s – of like Don McLean’s “American Pie” lyrics -- evocative, poetic, they carry great meaning if you don’t analyze them too literally but just catch the feeling of the meaning, so to speak.

    But you don't really care for music, do you?

    Is he speaking to his lover? To the reader? Maybe just to anyone who doesn’t “get” all the music/poetic references. For those who prefer linear logical reasoning to the deeper mysteries of life that can only be expressed in music (and that music puts us in touch with, the poet proceeds to explain the powerful, mysterious chord that pleased the Lord:

    It goes like this
    The fourth, the fifth
    The minor fall, the major lift

    Great narratives involve problems and, in the case of inspiring narratives, resolutions to those problems. No problem, no suspense, no drama = no interest. No hunger, no fulfillment. The minor tease, the major orgasm. The minor fall precedes the major lift – that’s what the sequence of the fourth and fifth accomplish musically.

    The baffled king composing Hallelujah

    What has baffled him? And if he’s baffled/confused then why is he composing Hallelujah? That’s what the whole poem is about. The king has not figured it all out. He has taken risks in loving and living fully rather than playing it safe, but rather than a “Rocky” happy ending – or any happy ending, he has crashed and burned. He has no neat philosophy that explains everything; he is confused; but even in his confusion, life still elicits from him a Hallelujah.

    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

    Here he speaks not of the king but to the king – and to everyone who has shared the king’s experience. Quite possibly he’s speaking to himself.

    In what sense does “strong faith” still “need proof”. What elements of the David-Bathsheba story are illuminating here? He trongly believed in himself, was confident of his ability, but needed the confirmation that only (?!) the love (or whatever) of a woman could provide. However, he is not confirmed and strengthened in the relationship. He is weakened.

    She tied you To a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

    “Tied to a kitchen chair” – nothing kinky here; he’s just domesticated. "Broken throne" evokes notions, e.g., of the ruler becoming the subject, or of the royal king abdicating the throne for his commoner wife, or of the scandal of an affair causing people to reject a ruler. “She cut our hair” – all of sudden amidst the imagery of David & Bathsheba, he tosses in a reference to Samson & Delilah, who wormed her way into Samson’s heart via his need for love. To one steeped in the biblical stories, the leap from one story to the other is not a quantum leap at all but an obvious and effortless one.

    All the while you’re being brought down, she’s drawing an Hallelujah from your lips – not just from the sex but from the transcendent experience of being loved by someone who, in giving herself to you completely, causes you to lower your guard, lose your strength and be defeated. Even if that’s not her aim, it’s what happens. To love is to lower your guard. But all the while this is happening, you are exclaiming “Hallelujah” because it’s wonderful.

    Baby 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

    He’s speaking to her from his room in the Heartbreak Hotel. He’s been cold and alone before. Now he’s there again. “I’ve looked at life from both sides now …” I’ve seen your flag flying victoriously and gloriously from the marble Arc de Triomphe, [but] Love is not a victory march. It’s a hallelujah, for sure, but a cold and broken one.

    There was a time you let me know
    What's really going on below
    But now you never show it to me, do you?

    Is he referring to his lover withholding sex from him in a relationship gone bad? Or to her withholding her self from him? Or is he speaking to the God who in the poet’s past “heavenly” days used to give him confident revelations of what was going on in life but now has left him to his confusion? Maybe all of the above at once. That's poetry for you.\

    And remember when I moved in you
    The holy dove was moving too
    And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

    The main metaphor here seems obviously sexual, but he’s not speaking just of sex. The ecstasy of orgasm is itself a reference to the whole period of time when one is in love. Not just in bed, but in every moment, life is wonderful: “every breath we draw is Hallelujah”. It is not just a coincidence that the reference to “moving in you” also evokes the biblical image of “living and moving and having our being in God”.

    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

    "Are you gigging me for yelling “God!” at the moment of ecstasy – or, more generally, for bringing religious imagery into a poem that has such heavy romantic and sexual content? Well, I don’t know for sure what “God” means – I’m not exactly a believer and there was no intent to say anything about God. But if I did, so what? “There’s a blaze of light in every word.” (Cf. the lyrics from another of Cohen’s songs: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”) The hallelujah inspired by an orgasm, the praise inspired by the wonder of a glorious romance (even if it has ended badly), the doxology inspired by contemplation of God – there is a blaze of light in every one of these utterances. They are all transcendent experiences. One shouldn’t make too much of some of them (some are just temporary and not the main thing in life) but one shouldn’t turn one’s back on the glorious joy that any of them bring.

    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

    The finale: the baffled king doesn’t claim any great accomplishments. He not only says simply, “I did my best” but acknowledges that “it wasn’t much.” Nor does he claim, humbly or otherwise, to have discovered The Answer and to have become an “enlightened king” who is now at peace. He’s never felt the Deep Inner Peace that we associate with the saints who have grasped The Meaning of Life. Never having felt that, he couldn’t share it; so he did the best he could do: touch others by speaking truthfully (about his bafflement and failures, for instances) with no aim of fooling anyone by pretending to know more than he did, but with a real desire to help as much as a baffled king can. You can love the truth and pursue it and speak it with integrity and try to encourage others to do likewise, and offer your own experience for whatever value it may be. It may not make much difference – in fact, for all your honesty and good intentions, it may “all go wrong”, like a great but tragic romance, and you may find yourself in the end standing amidst the ruins reflecting with Bobby Burns on how “the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley,/ An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,/ For promis'd joy!”

    Nonetheless, remembering the transcendent moments of joy and sensing the glory of it all,

    I'll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

More Leonard Cohen song meanings »


Submit Your Interpretation

[ want a different song? ]

Just Posted

Jump Out The Window anonymous
Keep Holding On anonymous
Naked anonymous
Fake You Out anonymous
Roll In Peace anonymous
Skin anonymous
'Heroes' anonymous
Birthday anonymous
Candy Paint anonymous
God's Plan anonymous
What I Know anonymous
Go To Hell, for Heaven's Sake anonymous
Run groovegirloflove
Patience groovegirloflove
The Last Of The Real Ones anonymous

Get a weekly email update

(We won't give out your email)

Latest Releases

Jonathan McReynolds
Hall Of Fame
No Hard Feelings
Avett Brothers, The
War Cry
Social Club Misfits
Pray for Me
Weeknd, The
Derez De'Shon
Never Tear Us Apart
Bishop Briggs
Saturday Sun
Vance Joy