Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen Lyrics Meaning – Exploring the Layers of a Modern Psalm


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning

Lyrics

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 ya?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

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

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 ya?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

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 ya
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Full Lyrics

At first listen, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ might seem like a gentle ripple of choral reverence, yet, with each verse, it becomes a tidal wave of profound meaning, questioning faith, love, and redemption. Cohen’s gravelly timbre and sparse arrangement serve as the canvas for this lyrical masterpiece, which has transcended its humble origins to become a modern-day hymn, covered by artists in genres ranging from pop to opera.

But to peel back the layers of ‘Hallelujah’ is to venture on a poetic odyssey, a journey through Biblical imagery, spiritual ambiguity, and the always-complex human condition. Cohen’s knack for knitting the sacred with the profane gives ‘Hallelujah’ a universality that resonates with a myriad of listeners, making it a song that’s as open to interpretation as it is closed around a core of raw human emotion.

The Biblical Tapestry and Its Modern Threads

The song initiates with a nod to the Biblical saga of David, a melody ‘that pleased the Lord,’ which speaks to the act of creation itself—whether it be music, love, or life. This David is both the revered king and the baffled artist, grappling with the divine gift of creativity. Cohen employs this religious character not only to set a tone of reverence but also to draw parallels to his own artistic journey, one that bows to the transcendental power of song.

As the story unfolds, the verses traverse the emotionally charged narrative of David and Bathsheba, imbuing the song with an erotic charge that starkly contrasts the Hallelujah choruses. The sensual ‘kitchen chair’ scene is as much about the sublimity of spiritual surrender as it is about carnal betrayal, echoing the complexities of human relationships with the divine.

The Choreography of Chords: Musical Alchemy in ‘Hallelujah’

‘It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift…’ – these lines are as much an instruction to a musician as they are a metaphor for life’s oscillations. Cohen doesn’t just describe the chords, he waltzes through them. The musical progression mirrors the narrative’s emotional cadence, setting the stage for storytelling that’s as much heard in the ears as felt within the heart.

The melody of ‘Hallelujah’ acts as a vessel for its words, with each zenith and nadir of pitch echoing the peaks and troughs of human experience. In this way, the music is a thread in the tapestry; it’s inseparable from its lyrical counterpart and integral in pushing the narrative beyond mere words.

The Sacred and the Profane: Unveiling ‘Hallelujah’s’ Hidden Meanings

‘You say I took the name in vain…’ These words from Cohen question the very act of communication with the divine. What does it mean to take something ‘in vain,’ and is the sacredness of the word or the intention behind it what truly matters? There’s an inherent ambiguity, a juxtaposition between the ‘holy or the broken Hallelujah,’ which implies that perhaps every attempt at reaching the divine is sacred, even when fractured by human imperfection.

This line bridges the dichotomy between the sanctity of the holy and the reality of the broken; it’s this existential grappling that gives ‘Hallelujah’ its depth. The repeated refrain itself becomes an anthem for the honest struggle between faith and doubt, a mantra for those wrestling with the elements of their own souls.

A Paradox of Humility and Hubris in Verse

The lines ‘I did my best, it wasn’t much/I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch’ are confessions of vulnerability, a glimpse into the artist’s battle with inadequacy, and the human condition’s perpetual reach for connection. Cohen’s acknowledgment of his flaws and limitations is not merely a lament; it’s a potent statement on the pursuit of something greater than oneself, whether in art, faith, or love.

This stark honesty doesn’t place Cohen on a pedestal but on the same ground as his listeners. He stands ‘before the Lord of Song’ with humility, stripping away the ego and leaving behind a legacy of authentic artistic expression—a lesson for the hearts of those who seek to find their own voice in the Hallelujahs they utter.

Eternally Echoing Lines: Why ‘Hallelujah’ Resonates Deeply

From the melancholic beauty of ‘Your faith was strong but you needed proof’ to the raw confession ‘And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah,’ Cohen’s ability to craft memorable lines that tug at the soul is unmatched. Each verse conjures imagery that lingers in the mind, etching itself onto the heart with a delicate brutality that both haunts and heals.

This is the crux of why ‘Hallelujah’ resonates so deeply, transcending time and space. It’s Cohen’s lyrical mastery that paints a picture both universal and intimate, which when combined with the haunting melody, leaves an indelible mark and echoes through the corridors of collective memory long after the last note fades.

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