Who By Fire

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Steven
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Who By Fire

Postby Steven » Sat Jan 09, 2010 1:40 am

"Who By Fire" contains the words "common trial." Anyone know if those words are referring to
a tribulation or whether they refer to a court proceeding? Both meanings, could be one-and-the-same,
of course.
GinaDCG
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby GinaDCG » Sat Jan 09, 2010 1:51 am

I've always parsed it as (not so eloquently put here) "same crap everyone has to endure."
Steven
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Steven » Sat Jan 09, 2010 2:04 am

Hi GinaDCG,

Sounds eloquently put to me. :D Does seem that there's more of the same to be endured by everyone more
often, nowadays.
GinaDCG
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby GinaDCG » Sat Jan 09, 2010 3:03 am

Well, enduring the same crap does have a unifying, positive, stir-the-pot effect on society. There may be no atheists in foxholes, but at the same time, there are no suspicious "others" in a 1/2 mile long bumper-to-bumper traffic snarl caused by an accident on ice covered roads. So a lot of shared common trials could be a good thing. If only we could get Republicans and Democrats stuck on the same stretch of ice covered, bumper-to-bumper road.
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hydriot
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby hydriot » Fri Jan 15, 2010 1:47 am

'Common trial' refers to the judicial process, I am sure.

The first two lines of Who By Fire contain opposites:

And who by fire, who by water,
who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
who by high ordeal, who by common trial,


So, to maintain the pattern, 'high ordeal' must be the opposite of 'common trial', and, just for good measure, the line includes a second opposite, making the comparison even more stark --
high = high-born (i.e. nobility)
common = low-born (i.e. peasant).

Trial by ordeal was common in medieval times. An example of high ordeal would be Emma of Normandy accused of adultery with the Bishop of Winchester. She was required to walk across red-hot ploughshares. Since she was a lady, that would be an example of 'high ordeal'. For the story, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_ordeal .

Also, the most common forms of trial by ordeal were ... by fire and by water! See http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/431352/ordeal
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
seadove
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby seadove » Fri Jan 15, 2010 9:11 am

I hope you guys are aware that this song was born in a Hebrew prayer which is recited before the day of atonement (Yom Kipur). some of the lines are direct translations (who by fire, who by water, etc) and some, however are Cohen's design to rhyme the song and make it sound whole and polished.

My question is..... what does he really mean by:

and who in your merry merry month of May.

:?:
:roll:
Vicomtesse
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Vicomtesse » Fri Jan 15, 2010 1:46 pm

An old English tradition is to dance around the 'May Pole' on 1st. May or 'May Day'.
The May Dance is performed by erecting a tall pole (a tree in years past) with long coloured ribbons attached to the top and the children and young people would 'dance' around it; half going one way and half going the other in an under and over motion until the pole is wrapped in a plaited type of pattern with the ribbons, this is then the May Pole.
The May dance is steeped in Old English tradition and was a Pagan Fertility rite.
Several Old English Folk songs have the lines 'In the Merry Merry month of May' due to all the merriment of these fetes.
Vicomtesse
Just an added thought: The next line of the song is: 'Who by very slow decay' again the opposite of Birth and re-birth that the May fetes depict.
Last edited by Vicomtesse on Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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remote1
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby remote1 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 4:22 pm

Kids still do it nowadays at school on their Harvest festival day! Great fun! :)
"We are so lightly here"
Steven
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Steven » Sat Jan 16, 2010 12:29 am

Hi,

Just to add a little to what others have already said, particularly with regards to opposites and May Day-like things.
Plenty of real-life analogies to this. Haiti's earthquake comes to mind. Undoubtedly there were
life-cycle celebrations and other happy stuff that were interrupted by the earth and buildings giving
way upon celebrants' heads. They call this a natural disaster. I guess the bible is correct
that God's ways aren't ours and his thoughts aren't ours. We didn't create this natural order of things.
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby seadove » Mon Jan 18, 2010 11:36 am

And another question:

In the same song, what does Cohen mean by:

"And who by something blonde" ?

Does he mean Charlie Webb? ;-)
GinaDCG
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby GinaDCG » Mon Jan 18, 2010 1:44 pm

I thought the lyrics were "Who by something blunt?" -- reminds one of the old "Clue" game -- it was the butler, in the pantry with something blunt like the candlestick.
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby seadove » Mon Jan 18, 2010 2:33 pm

GinaDCG wrote:I thought the lyrics were "Who by something blunt?" -- reminds one of the old "Clue" game -- it was the butler, in the pantry with something blunt like the candlestick.
Dear G-d you are right. But it darned well sounds like blonde, not blunt. I listened to the music and it sounds "blonde" to me. :neutral:
holydove
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby holydove » Mon Jan 18, 2010 5:49 pm

The most mysterious line for me is: " who in this mirror. . ." It comes right after "who in solitude";
one interpretation I have thought is, if one sees the world as a reflection of the inner soul, or eyes as mirrors of the soul or of the world, then perhaps it mean "in front of the whole world", or "with the whole world watching"; because that would also be the opposite of "in solitude". Anyone have ideas about this?
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby seadove » Mon Jan 18, 2010 7:39 pm

I think "who in this mirror" simply means... himself.
holydove
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby holydove » Mon Jan 18, 2010 11:47 pm

Seadove, interesting interpretation, thank you.

The only issue I have with that is that, in all the other lines of the song, the words that come after "who" refer to the manner in which the person will die, rather than who the person is. So I thought that would apply in this line also.

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