Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Hallelujah" part III

For the purposes of this analysis (to keep things simple) I will refer to the singer as W (woman)  and the singer's lover (who I believe is the intended audience) as M (man).  I'm going to do this in a few installments, because otherwise it's ridiculously long.

part I

part II

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who's seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

More questioning of faith.  W (the singer) is apparently not enamored with the religion set out in popular doctrine.  This is also addressed in the next line, when she references Church teachings that "God is love" and such, saying that she didn't really learn anything useful from these teachings except how to duck out of a relationship before getting stung.  A "quit before they can fire you" mentality.  Somewhat defeatist, in my opinion.  Then again, the whole reference to love and learning could have to do with the more immediate experience of romantic love, and implies again that she's been hurt in relationships before and is not eager to undergo more pain.  Again the line "a cold and... broken Hallelujah," presumably used to describe "love," whatever that is.  The lines immediately preceding are just further emphasizing the last line, crying that love is not benevolent and transcendental.  (I'm feeling wordy today; can you tell?)

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

Again this seems a religious reference.  Perhaps to the hypocrisy of religion, "teaching" love without feeling it.  This verse really resonates with me, as it describes the individuality of faith.  W's concept of divinity is different from M's, so her "name" is not his.  Furthermore (in the third line) why does he care?  Her faith is her own, her ideas personal, and her thoughts her right.  The next two lines suggest the power of language and its ability to express feelings and ideas beyond just consonants and vowels.  The last two lines seem like a dismissal of M; "it doesn't matter to me what you think because you're outta here."

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

W is tired of arguing, and it really doesn't matter anyway what M says.  She's done.  She'd fallen out of love before this, but for the sake of harmony she held onto the relationship.  Because of that she has no regrets, and she can stand before the Lord of Song without shame.  The "Lord of Song" could refer to a god, to Death, or just to some amorphous ruling power (like human conscience), so it's a reference to a sort of judgement by that higher power.  And she will stand dignified.

Is W's whole hang-up on religion just a metaphor for her romantic relationship with M?  I think it could be interpreted as such, and W's rocky relationship with divinity as a metaphor for her crumbling relationship with M.  Or the other way around, I suppose.  Either way, I still very much like the song.  Thanks for reading!


Meg said...

Huh. Those last two verses are new to me. I'm gonna have to go find a version with them in it now...

1) I've also heard (I'm pretty sure) "And" instead of "But" at the beginning of line two in verse five (the first one in this post). A small change, but it shifts the tone a little. Something to think about.

2) This always felt like a post-breakup song to me. A wondering what went wrong song, as it were.

3) Skimming through the Wikipedia article for this song, I saw that most artists who cover it make slight changes to the lyrics or interpret it differently. Which is cool, since a major point, especially in the sixth verse, is that there are lots of different hallelujahs.

4) I really like this last verse. I think it might be my favorite.

5) It seems to me the last verse might take place years afterward. Maybe the lovers decide to meet somewhere to get some closure. Maybe it's even after the singer is dead and is reflection on his/her life.

6) I feel it safe to assume that, given the amount of Biblical references in the rest of the song, the Lord of Song is the Biblical God. I know you don't believe in God, and I know that interpretations shouldn't be restricted purely by what the author had in mind, but I think the authors intentions should be taken into some consideration. Especially when it comes to figuring out word choices. Incidentally, Wikipedia says Leonard Cohen is Jewish. Or was at least born Jewish. I don't know if he practices. Which is funny, because the song sounds Christian to me. Of course, I AM Christian, so that might color my perception a bit...So I might have been wrong about the holy dove thing, I suppose.

7) The whole song...I think it explores religion, personal faith, relationships, and life. At the same time and not at the same time. Different verses focus on different things. Anyway, it's a great song.

Meg said...

One final thought. I find it odd how, especially in the fifth verse, it says what "it" isn't (meaning love, I guess), it isn't this and it isn't that. But a major theme of this song seems to be that how different concepts are so varied between people (be it faith or the hallelujah). So why wouldn't love be any different? Is the singer saying that love is different, that true love is the same for everyone, sometimes they just mistake other things for love? Or is it a little contradictory?

argent wolfwing said...

I knew someone would come along and tell me about the Bible verses if I waited long enough! It seems you and I have come to many of the same conclusions (personal faith, individual relationships, etc) Thanks for your input!

argent wolfwing said...

Yeah, they're unfamiliar to me, too. But I like 'em

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