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Sep 6, 2015 - leonard cohen    43 Comments

Hallelujah By Leonard Cohen – Meanings And Thoughts

Have you ever tried to understand what is the meaning of this tremendous song – “Hallelujah“? Is it a love song? Is it a spiritual-religious song?Is Leonard Cohen trying to tell us there’s no hope for love? Or maybe there’s something else that Cohen aims to in his lyrics?Let’s go on and  try to figure out some of these questions….

Hallelujah Meditation - Leonard Cohen

Hallelujah Meditation

I divided this post to several sections, and in each one i’m referring to a certain issue regarding “Hallelujah”.

 

 

 

 

  What is the meaning of the word “Hallelujah”?

This word is combined from two biblical Hebrew words:

  •  “Hallelu” –  goes for “praise” in plural , ‘all of you praise!’.
  •  “Jah”  -  is one of the biblical names of God (actually it is a short name for ‘Jehovah’).

 

So those two words  form the word  “Hallelujah”, which means – ‘All of you praise the lord!’.

In Latin it is pronounced “Alleluia“.

Leonard Cohen refers to the meaning of the word as “Glory to the Lord”   or “Blessed is the name!”.

This word or phrase was used as a lead or an ending of a psalm –calling the present people to join the singer in praising the all mighty.

The singer began his singing in calling all surrounding people’s attention by calling a “Hallelujah”. Then he will proceed with the song itself and at the end all the crowd together praises with him a “Hallelujah”.

This word occurs in the bible 25 times. All in the Book of Psalms which King  David wrote.

A good example of the usage of the word is the last chapter of Psalms – psalms 150:

Hallelujah.

Praise God in His sanctuary, praise him in the firmament of his power … Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

Hallelujah

(Cohen refers to that psalm in the song “Hallelujah”, saying: ‘and every breath we drew was hallelujah’.)

  What is the song “Hallelujah” all about?

Leonard Cohen himself,  is trying over the years to understand, what made him write such a significant song.

Here are some quotes from Leonard Cohen that may shed some light on this question and give us some interesting perspectives about the meaning of this song:

“I wanted to get into this tradition of the composers who said “Hallelujah”, but with no precisely religious point of view.”

“It’s, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way, but with enthusiasm, with emotion” (Leonard Cohen interview, 1985).

“I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view”(Leonard Cohen interview, 1995).

The traditional “Hallelujah” is an ancient word of prayer, used  for expressing a person’s or a nation’s gratitude, love and loyalty to their lord  – calling  out:  “Let’s all praise the lord”.

Cohen  wanted to be – in some way – a continuer of this tradition, although it would be independent of any religious framework .Cohen has a new way, a new meaning for the “Hallelujah”. He wants to call out his own “Hallelujah” to the Lord, to the world and to life.

“There is a religious Hallelujah, but there are many other ones .When one looks at the world and his proper life there’s only one thing to say, it is ‘Hallelujah’ “.

“The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion”.

“And then I realize there is a Hallelujah more general that we speak to the world, to life”.

(Leonard Cohen interviews, 1985 – 1988)

This deep desire to speak our own life as a yearn coming up from in beneath our being and feeling – I think –  is what led Leonard Cohen in writing this song.

Hallelujah Yearn - Leonard Cohen

Hallelujah Yearn

Searching for the answer that can never be given – unless you “embrace it all”:

“The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say:  ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!‘ That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

Unless you :

“Open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‘Hallelujah!’ ,’Blessed is the name’ “

So how do we do that? How do we gain the ability to sing our own Hallelujah?

Lets start simply by going over Hallelujah’s lyrics and trying to understand them:

 Hallelujah lyrics explanation

Here are the full lyrics of  “Hallelujah”. Click on any line of the lyrics to view its explanation:

Verse 1

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

 Verse 2

 Your faith was strong but you needed proof

 You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

King David used to play music since he was a boy ,while he was watching over his father’s herd , and later on when he became King Saul’s personal minstrel and musician , and throughout his reign.

David was a talented instrument player and he could help Saul deal with his bad moods, and make him feel better.

But beyond all of that, music had a very deep meaning in King David’s life, as one of the mediums of the search for the divine.

“In the night I shall call my song to remembrance, and with my heart I commune , my spirit inquires” (Psalms, 77, 6)

Leonard Cohen is trying to imagine those notes, which whom David used for getting to this inspirational state of mind and emotions.

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

This “baffled king” sits down to compose this powerful and invigorative hymn.

        Your faith was strong but you needed proof

King David’s faith and believe were indeed strong, but David wanted to be sure that God is “satisfied” by him, that God will “prove” him that he is a righteous man. This is called an ordeal , in which a man’s character is to be tested whether he is righteous or not.

        You saw her bathing on the roof

In these  lines , Cohen refers to the story about King David and Bath       Sheba….

It happened one late afternoon,  “that David arose off his bed, and was walking around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a women bathes , and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (2 Samuel 11,2).

Why would such a beautiful woman bathe in a place where other people can gaze at her? Did she mean to attract King David and make him take her?

        Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

Here there is a resemblance between the beauty of a women and  the luminescence of the moon. The beauty of the woman strikes him like the bright light of a full moon. And he is knocked down and defeated by it.

        She tied you

        To a kitchen chair

        She broke your throne, she cut your hair

        And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

  Religious and sexual meanings of the song “Hallelujah”

When you go over Hallelujah’s lyrics you get the impression that this is a very religious and biblical influenced song, referring to King David, his spiritual music, and his relationship with the lord.

It tells about the mystical power of king David’s music(“A secret chord that David played and it pleased the lord”), the illumination a person can have from the words David sang to the lord (“There’s a blaze of light in every word”)

It also refers to some biblical stories such as King David and Bathsheba (“You saw her bathing on the roof”), Samson and Delilah (“She broke your throne and she cut your hair”).

In an interview to the CBC Television Cohen explains the linkage between sex and religion:

You can listen to it here:

“When I read your work and listen to your music sex and religion keeps coming up again and again?

Leonard Cohen:

Those are the healing activities that are available for us. That’s how we make relationship; you know we do it in that whole large range of activities we call sex. Which is not only the copulation, it is the whole understanding that we are irresistibly attracted to one another and we have to deal with this, we are irresistibly lonely for each other, and we have to deal with this, we have to deal with our bodies and our hearts and souls and minds… it is an urgent appetite and it embraces the whole world it embraces all of us. And it is what we are doing all of the time.

And the other side of that, and it’s really the same activity, it’s just separated by a tiny  membrane  is the same appetite for significance in the cosmos,  where each one of us understands his  solitude in the cosmos and longs for some affirmation by the maker of the cosmos by the creator .

Leonard Cohen’s own reflections on “Hallelujah”


Thank you very much friends. You know, since I’ve been here, many people have asked me
what I have thought just about everything there is in this veil of tears. I don’t know the answers to anything.
I just come here to sing you these songs that have been inspired by something that I hope is deeper and bigger
than myself. I have nothing to say about the way that Poland is governed. I have nothing
to say about the resistance to the government.The relationship between a people and its
government is an intimate thing. It is not for a stranger to comment.
I know that there’s an eye that watches all of us. There is a judgment that weighs everything we do.
And before this great force which is greater than any government, I stand in awe and I kneel
in respect. And it is to this great judgment,
that I dedicate this next song: “Hallelujah”.

You know, I wrote this song a couple of… it seems like yesterday but I guess it was
five or six years ago and it had a chorus called Hallelujah.
And it was a song that had references to the Bible in it, although these references
became more and more remote as the song went from beginning to the end.
And finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore.
And I rewrote this song. This is the “Secular Hallelujah”.

The word Hallelujah of course is so rich, it’s so abundant in resonances… You know…
It is a wonderful word to sing and people have been singing that word for thousands of years.
It seems to call down some kind of beneficial energy just when you declare in the face of
the kind of catastrophes that are manifesting everywhere just to say: “Hallelujah”.
To praise the energy that manifests both as good and evil, just to affirm our little journey here.
It is very invigorating to sing that word.

leonard cohen unified heart

43 Comments


  • There is no other song to match the beauty of
    Hallelujah. There is no other singer/songwriter to
    match the genius of Leonard Cohen.I have been
    blessed to hear his creations.


  • Thanks for taking the time to give your thoughts on this song that I find intriguing but puzzling.


    • Thanks Kim! I’m still working on it…


  • I like Cohen’s original lyrics so much more than those that have come later.


  • This song reminds me of a favorite theologian, G. K. Chesterton, that said when a man looks for a prostitute he is really has a deep desire to know God and the prostitute is just a poor substitute. We have a deep desire to know and be known in a deep intimate way that only our creator can satisfy. All the drugs, alcohol and sex are what we fall into until we find the genuine, the Lord who made us from nothing created us to know him in a supernatural way.


    • Wow, Rita, how well said/quoted, thank you!
      This is in fact in a few sentences the essence of faith.


      • That is an amazing truth…sometimes this journey does not make sense but a simple hallelujah brings an overwhelming peace…


  • Beautiful music which words I can neither support nor sing.


    • Then you’re not understanding the premise behind Mr. Cohen’s synopsis of his words. Sorry for you.


  • To Rita Hefner’s profound comment – I say : Amen


  • If you listen to Zimerman play Schubert Impromptu Op. 90 No. 4 (on youtube) about 5 minutes into the Schubert piano piece, you realize that it and this song mean the same thing…


  • My favorite version of Hallelujah is performed by Jeff Gutt.


    • Besides Leonard Cohen himself, the best version of this song, in my opinion, is by k.d.lang. She has the voice of an angel.


  • Bon Jovi killed it.


  • Yeah, keep rhyming with the names, shall we?


  • I travelled across Canada and down the west coast of U.S. this winter/spring, driving a beetle by myself. Then with my daughter I drove across U.S. diagonally to Ottawa. Leonard Cohen was with me every day! I was never tired of his voice,his lyrics – that say so much, his hallelujahs, every day he was making my journey joyful with his presence. What a talent!


    • Thank you Jade, for this touching comment.


  • It’s a beautiful mystery. It is the mystique that can occur when music is transformed into something you actually feel and not just hear. I think the most amazing, and I suspect, intended consequence is that it causes us to think, to remember and to dream. Thoughts of love, loss, death and life are woven into the fiber of the song in a way that inspires a candid look at reality. As a young boy when I first heard the song it gave me the desire to be a musician. Over many years I’ve learned that that desire is really just wanting to be heard. And if heard I would simply say “love”. Love everyday and every way. Put aside those things that tear us apart.
    This song is a gift to all of us. And I am thankful for it


    • “Love everyday and every way. Put aside those things that tear us apart.”

      Amen!


  • These are scattered verses, not all included. I believe the Hallelujah was the ecstasy David and Samson had in knowing God personally, esp David who sang to the Lord. Reference to Bathsheba and Delilah the ecstasy of their sexual relations. God created intercourse for mankind and the ecstasy of the foreplay and climax. Cohen in part of song related to both on a spiritual level. There is nothing greater than a loving personal relationship with God, His love for mankind is beyond understanding. And also the pure passion a man feels for a woman who has taken his soul! I would love to see all verses to amass the meanings of other verses.


    • Hey Pat!

      Wonderful comment!

      You’re right , i’m in the middle of writing the post…

      Coming soon…


  • Most have commented on the first two verses with their biblical undertones. I wish to talk about how the last two verses which speak more of a broken love. The words “Couldn’t feel so I tried to touch,” and “Even though it all went wrong, stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah” I think when Cohen above spoke of how in this life we live, we experience highs and lows, loneliness, pain, joy, love, he is saying with these lines that even though you can be experiencing horrible pain, to the point of numbness where you reach out to another for healing, when the end comes and you face the creator “Lord of Song” you will only be able to say: “Blessed be” to God. Because think of how grey life would be, without the beauty of intense emotion. Really this whole song to me speaks of the intensity of love (first two verses), and the equal intensity of loss (last two verses), and thanks be to God that we have the capacity to feel these things in life. This song grabs us because it holds the perfect harmony of lyrics that speaks to our minds while merging hauntingly beautiful music that envelops our hearts and in the process this merging touches our souls.


  • Leonard Cohen is a genius songwriter. His lyrics are akin to an abstract painting that can be interpreted in many different ways by the listener. If you’re religious, you can find meaning, solace and comfort in it, if you’re an atheist you can wallow in the “broken Hallelujah”, loss of passion, loss of love and completely disregard the religious fervour. It offends no one, but major lifts everyone. It’s a perfect piece of songwriting that will be played for a very long time to come.


  • The lyrics, for me, are beyond conceptual understanding, but tied to the music in the way only L. C. and a few other artists have been able to accomplish (Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Joni Mitchell, Righteous Brothers, Nina Simone to name a few) it resonates so deep within that it lifts to a higher place, especially when in the midst of disintegration and despair. This is what great works of Art do – and the artist who is able to convey that Mystery to others is – well, Hallelujah!


  • Amos. Thanks you for this. It is very complete and a wonderful rational journey of embrace of a song that is ultimatley outside of reason. Bravo! I feel deeply moved by your efforts…they enahnce and do not throw cold water on the song for me.


    • Eve.Thank you for your wonderful words.


  • This is a thoughtful appraisal of a fascinating song which is really a poem. When a poet is at his best, he writes, in part, from his unconscious. He has to learn to trust that the words that arise are the right words and if he thinks too much on them or tries to steer them to a place other than where they want to go, the poem will fail. But here is the startling part. Often, the poet doe snot know the exact meaning of what has been written. That is why you get sketchy answers from poets about the meaning of their poems and their opinion does not matter. What does matter is what the reader thinks, what they feel, what insight they gain, what they find to be familiar and enlightening. That will be different to every reader of a particular poem. Often, the poet is enlightened about his own work by hearing what other people have found in it. Therein is the magic.


    • It is interesting how your observation in regards to poems matches up on how I feel about the Bible itself. The word of God, in my opinion, is like that. It speaks to humanity at many levels, it can be all things to many people. It raises, it falls, it floats, it is like water, like ice, or like steel. And above all it inspires and transforms the soul. Of course not everyone agrees, but for those of us who believe the word of God comes alive and resonates, not only in the conscious level, but deep into the incomprehensible spiritual realm.


      • Thank you Lucy.


  • It disappoints me to find out that such a beautiful song was taken away from the meaning of Hallelujah. To me, the only One that this word is worthy, is the Lord. It reminds me how someone could take a song like My Adorable One, and turn it to a secular meaning. The only Adorable One is the Lord. When David danced, his wife thought it was foolish, but the Lord thought it was beautiful…


  • Someone I love gave me a box full of darkness.
    It took me years to understand that, this too, was a gift.
    ~ Mary Oliver

    Hallelujah!
    ♪ (^‿^) ♪♫


  • It’s my belief that this song was derived from a sexual encounter that deeply disturbed and yet like any unconditional love elevated Cohen to the heights of ecstasy. The rest of it developed from there. The Hallelujah is a proclamation of pure joy precisely what we were born for. I love Cohen’s humility in the song ” I didn’t even know the name anyway etc” he’s very differential to women which makes him appear vulnerable.This was an older woman . his own beautiful images enhance and express what happened to HIM at the encounter. It IS a holy and profane song as it should be the pure ecstasy of love. The “chord” even though clearly explained as “the fourth the fifth” etc. to me comes out in the depths and re-vibrations of the last two words “do you” like a singing bowl it goes on and on.


  • Maybe it isn’t religious, but it is very spiritual. It captures the essence of the love of God in our lives. David sang his Hallelujahs when he followed God but most passionately when he strayed. Every part of our lives, if lived in faith is a cry of Hallelujah to The One who loves us even in our mess.
    Cohen’s version makes my soul sing. Lovely.


  • The word Hallelujah is used for the highest form of praise. You have to remember that Lucifer was the choir director in heaven. HE had the most beautiful voice of all angels. Hallelujah is praise to God, and Cohen wrote something with a beautiful sound to the word, but he destorted the meaning and so the praise would go to satan. Satan always tried to steal everything from GOD. What a shame that Cohen could not have used such a talent to glorify the God who gave him the talent.


    • Paulne this is a terrible comment!! LC is blessing the Lord for giving him the ability to find him even in those broken no-hope situations. This is a very deep believe in God, a deep immanent attachment with the divine.


      • I agree with Amos Paulne. I’m wondering why you thought that thought. How does any of us know what’s inside another person mind when it comes to God? In the world we seem to hear and see a lot of lies and deception everywhere we turn but the mind is powerful indeed. Everyone on the planet is going through changes and I feel Leonard Cohen is no different than the rest of us. We go through things that make no sense what-so-ever at times. I’ve found when I allowed those things to just flow through me, they do indeed pass and the ‘truth’ about God comes to our mind. I believe God is in control at all times and will never allow us to think, say or do anything that will ever keep our spirits from the Love He alone Created. I believe we’re all walking each other home, step by step, belief by belief and thought by thought. For me, it’s the thoughts that cause us disbelief. I have both kinds of thoughts in this experience. When I became aware of my thoughts, I choosing to have the thoughts of Love. That is when God opened my mind and showed to me the “truth”. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to share as well. I wish you happiness! Peace!


  • Cohen describes his search. If you want to hear the answer, read Cloverton’s lyrics to the same song.


  • i hate how this piece explains everything EXCEPT the one question i had which was what is the meaning about “she tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair” that sounds violent and i would like to know what those lyrics mean.
    i need to know as my 11 year old is learning the song


    • I believe it is referring to Sampson and Delilah in the Bible of her taken his strength away by cutting his hair. He loved and trusted her and she deceived him. Like you love someone and they destroy your trust!!!


    • Although it seems violent Julie, in my mind it’s how we interpret it. When we are opened to different interpretations of it we can decide whether it’s violent or not. Another thing that comes to my mind is whether or not he allowed her to do that and why. Only he knew the reason. Just my two cents. :)


  • An amazing song .
    appreciate your work.
    Thanks.


  • Renée Fleming’s delivery of Hallelujah is sublime. The sheer beauty of her ‘intimate’ voice transports the listener to their own exquisite bit of heaven. Blessed are those who have heard her sing it live.


  • DAVID was not…the “baffled king” composing Hallelujah.

    David played a secret chord that pleased the lord…

    The Babel King composing Hallelujah.

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