Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
In Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” off of his 1984 album Various Positions, he recounts the story of a failed love through Judeo-Christian imagery of Old Testament stories that center around love’s submissive and dark qualities.
The song begins with the lines “I’ve heard there was a secret chord/ That David played and it pleased the Lord/ […]/ It goes like this […]”. This is the first of many connections that Cohen makes between himself and King David. The Bible says that David was a skilled harpist and musician. By drawing a parallel to David, Cohen is both opening himself up to a subject to the will of God as a higher power as well as the faults that David had. The use of the word “secret” is important because it implies that Cohen, like David, had privileged access to the Lord, ostensibly through song.
In the second verse, Cohen draws his second connection the character of David. In the lines “You saw her bathing on the roof/ Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you” are referring to the story of Batsheva, the women who David saw bathing on balcony and became smitten with her despite her already having a husband. Cohen connects his own destructive love with that of David. Having been taken by her beauty he allows himself to be consumed by her.
The second verse also includes a mention of a “broken throne”. This is another connection that is drawn between Cohen and David. In Kings 9:5, God says to David, “I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.” When David was in old age and close to death, he did not give the throne to his eldest surviving son Adonijah, as one would normally do under such circumstances, but gave it to the son of Batsheva (who was now one of his wives), Solomon, thus breaking the line to his throne. Cohen uses this allusion to convey that his connection to the woman that he loves has taken his life in a new direction, just as Solomon took the Israelites in a new direction.
After every verse, Cohen sings a repeating ‘Hallelujah’. ‘Hallelujah’ is a Hebrew word that means “praise Jah (God)”. Cohen uses the word Hallelujah both juxtapose the pain he feels at the dismantling of his love and with sincerity while thinking of the continued love and hopefulness that the rest of life will bring.