Hallelujah….What do it mean?

17 Sep

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


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

Baby, I’ve been here before.
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.

Yeah I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch,
But listen, love is not some kind of victory march,
No it’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, (Hallelujah…)

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

Yeah but I remember, yeah when I moved in you,
And the holy dove, she was moving too,
Yes every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Maybe there’s a God above,
As for me, all I’ve ever seemed to learn from love
Is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.

Yeah but it’s not a complaint that you hear tonight,
It’s not the laughter of someone who claims to have seen the light
No it’s a cold and it’s a very lonely Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

I did my best, it wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch.
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come all this way to fool you.

Yeah even tough it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

This Leonard Cohen song has garnered much attention regarding the meaning of the song since it was first introduced. While there are several bible references, they’re not all from the same “story”. I’m interested in everyone’s personal interpretation of these lyrics. Is it about the parallels of David’s struggles before God? Is it just using familiar understanding to tell a more personal story? Is it about a relationship?

You tell me. Here are a few discussion guides that might give you some fodder for your gray matter to contemplate.

Gray Charles discussion of Hallelujah.

Here are Leonard Cohen’s comments about the song.

And, here are every version of Hallelujah that I could locate (thanks to Gray’s direck-shun to My Old Kentucky Blog):

Smörgåsbord of Hallelujah

Lastly, these are the ones that interest me the most.

The Writer Leonard Cohen

The Definitive Jeff Buckley

The Classic John Cale with cello & violin

The Legend Bob Dylan

The Movie Rufus Wainwright

The Chicks Allison Crowe

sheryl crow

Imogen Heap

The Modern Gavin Degraw

The Adaptive Rocker Bon Jovi

This is your assignment, if you choose to accept it. Tell me, in 200 words or less, what this songs means to you.


23 responses to “Hallelujah….What do it mean?

  1. thedingoateyobaby

    September 17, 2007 at 10:08 am

    200 words or less, for a wordy mcword person like me……I’ll try.

    Its spiritual for me, its about something that defies being put into words, its meaning so moving, so profound that mere words cannot articulate its depth but they try. Its a dichotomy, its about God, its not about God, its about love, its not about love, its about how love or hate can change your life so deeply that you can never go back. Its about how when love or sexual attraction is so intense that it can paralyze you, it can make you see and hear things you only want to hear and see, not necessarily what is being said. Its about how a true sexual experience can be both spiritual and paralyzing. Its about being wounded and how, if the wound is deep enough, you can never heal and you lose your “religion”, you lose your faith, you lose yourself. Losing yourself is akin to death. If you cant feel and you cant love then its over, throw your cards in, the deal is done.

    And there you have it.

    • Edelmira

      April 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      love it…. same view

  2. music maven

    September 17, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Wow. Noice, Dingeaux.

    There’s been much made over this verse:

    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

    I do think that it’s spiritual (and yet not), but this verse seems to encapsulate the faith you speak of and the basics of why we get up each day and do it all over again. After all, we are all imperfect beings, so every day is a failure, so to speak.

  3. thedingoateyobaby

    September 17, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Yes, cause many days we do our best but its not good enough and then, as you said, we “fail” but in some way, we never fail if we learn from our failures. I think thats why we’re here, to learn. So may days we stumble through life blindly trying to feel our way cause the path is full of unknowns and we dont know which direction to go in and sheesh but I feel like a hamster on a wheel.

  4. music maven

    September 17, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Passin’ the Paxil, darlin’.

    I think that Cohen is conveying that “yeah, life sucks most of the time, but it’s still the best thing going”. So, sometimes it’s the holy and sometimes it’s the broken Hallelujah. However, most of the time, we’re generally glad to be alive even though we’re dealt some shitty cards, now and again.

  5. Colette

    September 19, 2007 at 1:54 am

    Did Gray Charles pay you to do this? He’s obviously obsessed with this song, but who can blame him?

    Some five cents worth of interpretation from me later.

    I have some ideas, but also Leonard Cohen is a true poet — not everything he writes means something specific, but everything means something. Know what I mean?

    One of the happiest conversations I’ve ever had was with Leonard Cohen, who is part of a network of wonderful Canadian artists and writers I’ve been connected to through a late, great friend he also cherished. Leonard is shorter than you’d believe. And he’s the loveliest human. He told that when he toured, he put all his money into fine wine to share with his musicians!

    But MM, how could you have missed kd lang’s version, which I heard her sing in concert recently? I love the others (a few I still need to listen to), but this one by kd knocks me flat:

  6. thedingoateyobaby

    September 19, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Whoaaaaaa…that version by KD was effing ridiculous. What a voice, what an ability to emote, just whoaaaaa.

    The song itself is genius, a classic, which always evokes chills for me but when certain people sing it, wow.

  7. thedingoateyobaby

    September 19, 2007 at 10:06 am

    I hope this is allowed. I know that the song has been overused on TV shows the last 5 years but the one from House always leaves me in a puddle. It could be cause Im a House geek but I think its more than that. You dont need a dictionary to know what pain feels like, just look at House’s face. Its written all over it in a thousand different ways.

  8. Colette

    September 19, 2007 at 10:42 am


    I really like your idea of drawing the shitty cards and still being glad to be alive.

    This, to me, is the mature way to look at life and love — we do our best, fail, but keep loving. We have to. It’s hard for us Americans, with our boundless supply of optimism (which ain’t a bad thing) to face Leonard C.’s prescription: “There ain’t no cure for love.” He’s said that in a hundred ways, in a hundred songs.

    I also love the Samson and Delilah references here.
    And I love the Zen tenderness & frankness. (Leonard has a guru, and has spent years at a time in a monastery with him) — as in “I didn’t come all this way to fool you.”

    For me, it’s the paradoxical clarity that makes Cohen so wise, and he shares it with that other great poet of our age, Bobby Z. “Hallelujah” made me think of these lyrics by Mr. Dylan:

    Though I never knew just what you meant
    When you were speaking to your man
    I can only think in terms of me
    And now I understand
    After waking enough times to think I see
    The Holy Kiss that’s supposed to last eternity
    Blow up in smoke, its destiny
    Falls on strangers, travels free
    Yes, I know now, traps are only set by me
    And I’m assured that love is just a four-letter word

    Joan Baez singing it, with sublime banjo from Earl Scruggs:

  9. Gray Charles

    September 19, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Paid me? I guess I’m still waiting for the check.

    Long drawn out discussion here

  10. morewines

    September 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Well all I can say to all of this is

  11. music maven

    September 19, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Colette — yes, kd’s version is outstanding but I linked to My Old Kentucky Blog’s total list. The ones I posted were Youtube’s that I liked best without making the post too long (as I’ve been warned about.)

    Gray — Think you missed the point. She asked, “Did Gray Charles pay you?” So, where’s MY check. I actually read that whole forum a few months ago and it sorta gave me the idea to use it in one of my lyric interpretations here. I’ve decided to do one of these on a complex song every once in a while, since I still get daily hits on the Bold as Love post. So, you linked to the long drawn out discussion, but what is YOUR interpretation or meaning for you?

    Dingeaux — I LERVE House and Hugh Laurie is fabulous. He conveys pain aptly and the song helps to add appropriate emphasis.

    Funny, but my views on this song has changed about four times since I first heard it. Maybe that’s what Leonard Cohen had in mind.

  12. Colette

    September 19, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    New respect from Mr. Bonjovi. This and “It Ain’t a Love Song,” which I can get out of my head from Kiki’s AI version, have made more a lot more interested in this rocker than I ever was……thanks!

  13. Colette

    September 19, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Let’s try that again. My fingers and brain are not in tune today – maybe it’s the many drugs I’ve had pumped into me at the dentist’s office durimg a several-hour ordeal this morning. (Don’t ask.)

    Bonjovi rules! Sensitive rockers, unite. I loved Kiki’s “This Ain’t a Love Song,” and I CANNOT get it out of my brain…..

    thanks for showing more of the Jersey Boy, MM…….

  14. Jan

    September 20, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Dingo: I love your interpretation of the song. I am very moved by the song and have thought about it quite a bit since I saw I’m Your Man. The Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright versions are beautiful and similar but they don’t convey the same feeling to me as Cohen’s version. I noticed that I didn’t hear the song for the beauty of the singing.

  15. Candy Victoria

    December 8, 2007 at 10:25 am

    -Hallelujah to God
    For allowing us the full measure in singing a song to the pleasures and pains of love…
    -For me it’s an un-con-dition-al Hallelujah


  16. Jason

    December 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Outstanding Song. Typically Lenord Cohen in having a theme that has a sense of mystery around it. Obviously, it lays the song open to much interpretation.
    My interpretation, well I cant help but think its a simple truth of the greatest love of your life gone wrong, but thank god u actually had that love at that time,
    thank god.
    I especially love (what could easily be thought of as ) the sexual verse about where “I moved in u, the holy dove etc.etc.”
    now that is beautiful and so very true, and god, when a love moves on, its that so very close love making and all that happened down below that consumes u in thought/pain/and eventual spiritual upheaval.
    just my feelings on it.
    Love u Leonard. Inspiration that u r.

  17. daniel

    January 5, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    i think that it is about how love is very much the same as life, in a way that we carnt explain either of them, i also think he’s trying to say that even though this bad stuff happens to him it actually could be what he wanted or needed, hence the hallelujah but it can also so mean theres all ways light at the end of the tunnal.

    so listing to this song over and over and thinking about were we are alive and why we love i came to the conclusion that we will never know for sure lol

  18. dennis

    July 9, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Did anyone find any other singer than the first Cohen that kept the “I tried my best” verse?

  19. Sam Congdon

    February 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Yes, I am the offshore promoter that has scammed people in the past and provided client records to the FBI, IRS and Senate Finance Committee. My companies, of Rockford Global Solutions and Equity Development Group were put in place to soley to capture people trying to flee the U.S. tax system. I am sorry for what I have done and those I have hurt.

  20. Bluejay

    July 5, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    “And even though
    It all went wrong
    I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

    This song always makes me think of the physical side of loving. Not necessarily just sex. I mean, touching, being touched. Being with people, laughing, smiling. And, it makes me think of optimism and strength. Especially the last bit. Regardless of what has happened, or may happen, we will survive. It makes me think that no matter what, we shouldn’t be ashamed of anything in our lives. We did what we haad to to survive. And that, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.

  21. lunvontawi

    February 23, 2013 at 11:23 am

    halleluiah halleluiah…….God bless you all….

  22. Carolyn Rose Goyda

    July 6, 2014 at 11:52 pm


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