- Now I've heard there was a secret chord
Since David was able to please the Lord with music, the speaker believes that he will be able to please his love if he can write the right song. He recalls that she doesn’t care for music, and therefore would perhaps not be sold by his efforts.
In the same way that David was a baffled king composing Hallelujah, a song in praise of the Lord, Cohen is composing his own Hallelujah, a song intended to please someone else, and describing the chord sequence as he goes along.
- The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major ...:
According to ClassicFm. writer Sofia Rizzi, Cohen hid a message for musicians in these two lines. Here’s her explanation: “The line ‘the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall, the major lift’ is in fact a description of the chord sequence taking place under those words." See her whole article for a detailed explanation: [www.classicfm.com/discover-music/secret-chord-leonard-cohens-hallelujah-music/]
- The baffled king composing Hallelujah:
Hallelujah is a Hebrew word composed of the words “Hallelu” (Praise) and “Jah” (the short form of God’s name, YHWH).
David is described as being “baffled” because the Hallelujah came to him so unexpectedly (see the second verse).
- Hallelujah, Hallelujah:
The word Hallelujah comes from Hebrew and means ‘Praise the Lord’.
- Your faith was strong but you needed proof:
David asked for an ordeal. But the Rabbis said we should be reluctant to do so because ordeal there will sure be!
- You saw her bathing on the roof:
This entire verse is a Biblical reference to 2 Samuel 11. King David (a righteous king credited with composing many of the psalms in the Book of Psalms due to his strong faith), rises from his bed and walks out onto his roof and sees a beautiful young lady bathing. Instead of leaving her alone he enquires about her and learns that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who is off fighting a war for the King. David Has her brought to him and sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant and informs King David.
In order to cover up the adultery, King David sends for Uriah from the front to give him a report on the battle. The hope here is that Uriah will go home after speaking with the King and sleep with Bathsheba and will think the child is his. But Uriah does not feel it is right to be at home while his friends are at war, so he stays in the barracks instead of going home to his wife.
King David then gives Uriah a letter for the general on the battlefield. The letter orders the general to move Uriah to the front lines where he may be killed. Uriah is killed and this is the ultimate low point for the King and the throne.
- Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you:
The moonlight is referencing the time of day when David saw Bathsheba. The night.
It is also worth noting that the moon is at times associated with sexuality.
The moon is a symbol for femininity and motherhood as well as fertility. This and the fact that it comes out at night when the sun (often associated with God) is not present and is shining beautifully makes the moon at times a symbol for a mistress, someone who you see in secret at night when nobody is watching to “worship” like a god.
- She tied you
To a kitchen chair:
This could be taken literally: The mistress tied the king to a chair in her kitchen, as part of sexual play.
But it is also a metaphor. The kitchen chair is the mundane substitute for the divine throne – now broken (see next line). Moreover, rather than ruling from the throne, the king is now tied to the chair – ruled rather than ruling.
This contrast between the divine and the mundane also rings through when Cohen sings “she cut your hair” in the next line. It is an obvious Biblical reference (to the story of Samson and Delilah), but cutting hair also happens to be something very mundane for which one would grab a kitchen chair.
- She broke your throne:
In David’s old age, Bathsheba secured the succession to the throne of her son Solomon, instead of David’s eldest surviving son Adonijah, thus “breaking his throne”. (1 Kings 1:11-31)
Could also refer to the fact that her son Solomon was the last king of a united Israel and Judah.
- and she cut your hair:
This verse clevery weaves together the story of King David with the tangentially related story of Samson and Delilah. Samson betrayed Israel when he allowed Delilah to cut his hair — the source of his strength.
- And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah:
Both of these events are traditionally viewed as great tragedies and moral failings on the part of Samson and David. Here, however, Leonard Cohen suggests that those moments of passion are also a path to the divine — a broken Hallelujah.
Samson’s last action is to call on God: “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time" (judges 16:28.)
It is the last act of the defiant but broken man. Betrayed by his love, blinded, abandoned by his God, humiliated by his enemies, at his lowest point – Samson asks the Lord to give him the strength to destroy himself together with his enemies.
Thus faith is the last safe place of the broken, the defeated, the defiant, the betrayed.
The line is also a reference to sex.
- Hallelujah, Hallelujah:
The word Hallelujah comes from Hebrew and means ‘Praise the Lord’.
- You say I took the name in vain
I don't even ...:
In Judaism, there are many ways of referring to God. God’s true name is said to be YHWH, but the vowels are unknown, and pronouncing the name is forbidden based on Exodus 20:7. Instead, observant Jews use the word “HaShem”, which just means “The Name”.
Interestingly, the only people who could pronounce the name in ancient Israelite society were the priests (Cohanim). According to Maimonides, priests would pronounce God’s name in the temple in Jerusalem as part of the Priestly Blessing. Leonard Cohen himself comes from a priestly family (the name Cohen means “priest” in Hebrew), and is familiar with the blessing, but does not know God’s name.
In the context of the following verses, it’s clear that knowing God’s name is a personal matter, not to be judged by others. “There is a blaze in every word”: everyone has the right to see the divine in his or her own way.
To an orthodox Jew, the word Hallelujah itself is forbidden outside of prayer. He knows that some people listening to this song will accuse of using G-ds name in vain. This is his response. Why can’t I use G-ds name? I don’t even know who he is. “What’s it to you?” Why do you care?
- There's a blaze of light
In every word:
Both fire and light are associated with the divine. What Leonard Cohen is saying is that every word is just as holy as all others. This is incredibly important to understanding the song as a whole. See Cohen’s Anthem for his conception of how the light gets through. In this case, words of song shine light, regardless of their context (i.e. holy vs. broken, it doesn’t matter which you heard).
- It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or...:
In a 1985 interview, Leonard says:
All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value. It’s a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion.
The “Broken Hallelujah” is described earlier in the song. It means reaching the divine through sex, struggle, and despair.
First, the woman “breaks your throne” in order to draw out the Hallelujah.
Then it’s said that “Love is not a victory march / It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”.
The “Holy Hallelujah” is the divine in its pure form, referred to in the previous verse as something that was revealed in a previous time, when “Every breath we drew was Hallelujah”.
- I did my best, it wasn't much
Cohen admits his frailty as a man (whose best “wasn’t much”), who either didn’t feel love anymore in his relationship and strayed to try and find it with others, or whose spirituality was shaken and he went off in search of God.
Either way, he’s returning to confess, which ends the song on a hopeful note: Maybe he didn’t find what he was looking for (suggested by “tried to”), but he found a Hallelujah that wasn’t cold or broken anymore, and that he’ll readily offer in praise.
Another interpretation holds that after the failure of his relationship (or his faith), his hallelujah is colder and more broken than ever. He’s been left an unfortunate, sad, lonely man who has nothing left but a despairing cry. Yet with that cry he praises God. Cohen’s point throughout this song is that the cold and broken hallelujahs are just as powerful and noteworthy as the joyful and praising hallelujahs. Whatever life’s thrown at you, you can still give praise to God, whether in appreciation or surrender.
- And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand ...:
All the really great romances of your life, even the ones that end horribly, deeply depressing, soul shattering romances, well, after they’re all over and you’ve given up hope that you can ever get back together, even then, you find yourself thankful that you had them in the first place. So thankful that you can go in front of God himself and thank Him for having let you had the relationship in the first place.
The most sensual book of the Bible is “Song of Solomon” or “Song of Songs.” It’s a song about the love between a farm boy and a farm girl. It is unique in the scripture for its celebration of not sexual love within a monogamous relationship per se, but also for its symbolism of what God’s love is like through the imagery of the lovers.
Tradition, not history, held that it was written by Solomon (son of David and Bathsheba mentioned in the early verse of Cohen’s song).
Song of Songs is poetry from both the male and female perspective and features longing, love and sexual intimacy.
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