Avalanche – Uncovering the Layers Beneath the Snow

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Leonard Cohen's Avalanche at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Soul-Deep Echo of Self-Reflection
  5. Serving the Master of Pain
  6. Upon the Pedestal of Self-Creation
  7. Craving the Crumbs of a Fleeting Love
  8. The Shadow of My Wound: Unveiling the Hidden Meaning


Well I stepped into an avalanche
It covered up my soul
When I am not this hunchback that you see
I sleep beneath the golden hill
You who wish to conquer pain
You must learn, learn to serve me well

You strike my side by accident
As you go down for your gold
The cripple here that you clothe and feed
Is neither starved nor cold
He does not ask for your company
Not at the centre, the centre of the world

When I am on a pedestal
You did not raise me there
Your laws do not compel me
To kneel grotesque and bare
I myself am the pedestal
For this ugly hump at which you stare

You who wish to conquer pain
You must learn what makes me kind
The crumbs of love that you offer me
They’re the crumbs I’ve left behind
Your pain is no credential here
It’s just the shadow, shadow of my wound

I have begun to long for you
I who have no greed
I have begun to ask for you
I who have no need
You say you’ve gone away from me
But I can feel you when you breathe

Do not dress in those rags for me
I know you are not poor
And don’t love me quite so fiercely now
When you know that you are not sure
It is your turn, beloved
It is your flesh that I wear

Full Lyrics

Leonard Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ strikes with the force of its namesake, burying listeners beneath layers of poetic imagery and raw emotion. Like an actual avalanche, the song’s impact is both beautiful and devastating, inviting a deep dive into its frost-bitten verses to search for the warmth of its meaning.

While Cohen’s haunting baritone and sparse arrangement set a chilling soundscape, it’s the lyrical depth that calls for exploration. The song is rich with metaphor and introspection, a canvas for Cohen’s masterful pen that sketches out themes of identity, pain, and the human experience. Let’s excavate the icy verses of ‘Avalanche’ and uncover the genius of Cohen’s craft.

The Soul-Deep Echo of Self-Reflection

The opening lines of ‘Avalanche’ immediately introduce us to the core of introspection. Cohen presents an image of himself, or the protagonist, buried beneath an avalanche, which has obscured their true soul. Is this a reference to existential struggles, or perhaps a metaphor for the artist’s life, buried under public perception and demand?

When Cohen speaks of sleeping ‘beneath the golden hill,’ it suggests a yearning for peace and enlightenment, a place where the hunchback—the flawed persona presented to the world—is at rest. The song hints at a dichotomy between the self one presents to the world and the true self, lying dormant and unadorned underneath.

Serving the Master of Pain

Cohen’s repeated invocation to ‘learn to serve me well’ is a siren call to those who seek to conquer pain. It’s provocative, suggesting that overcoming pain requires subservience to it or, perhaps, to him as a symbol of it. The context within the song shifts the nature of this service, exploring domination and submission as it relates to pain, creativity, and love.

To serve the master of pain, one must recognize the complexity of harm and healing. Cohen seems to be arguing that acceptance or even embracing of suffering is necessary for growth—a theme commonly found in his work and emphasized in this song’s stark confrontation.

Upon the Pedestal of Self-Creation

There’s defiance in the verses speaking of the pedestal. Contrary to being placed upon high by others, the narrator claims autonomy as the foundation of their own existence. Cohen pushes back against external forces that dictate worth or identity, asserting a sense of self-determined authenticity.

The ‘ugly hump’ that observers stare at is a metaphor for perceived flaws or differences. By declaring, ‘I myself am the pedestal,’ Cohen turns imperfection into the very platform that elevates him—quite literally making strength out of weakness.

Craving the Crumbs of a Fleeting Love

Cohen addresses the dynamics of an uneven romance with ‘The crumbs of love that you offer me.’ These words evoke the image of a one-sided relationship in which one person is subsisting on mere fragments of affection. Yet the narrator dismisses these offerings as ‘crumbs I’ve left behind,’ alluding to a past when perhaps he was the one offering more than he received.

This section of lyrics plays with the concept of relational power. Cohen’s portrayal of longing without need, and asking without greed, strips down the complexities often found in love, revealing a dynamic that is both barren and uncompromisingly honest.

The Shadow of My Wound: Unveiling the Hidden Meaning

‘Your pain is no credential here; It’s just the shadow, shadow of my wound,’ Cohen croons, providing a glimpse into a potent theme: the relativity of suffering. Pain becomes a common denominator, a shared language of human experience, yet it’s subjective. His wound casts a shadow over others’, suggesting a hierarchy of emotional hardship.

In dissecting these lines, one can find a complex commentary on empathy and understanding. Pain, Cohen seems to say, cannot be fully understood or claimed by another, for each person’s suffering is inherently personal and incomparable to another’s.

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