THE FAILED MESSIAH – A BROKEN HALLELUJAH

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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Nightstalker
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Post by Nightstalker » Tue Feb 28, 2006 6:19 pm

johnny7moons wrote:Well, ....... , I’ll gladly take your word for it.

Lightning and Lizzie - as for references to what’s good and worthwhile in love, the verse

And the Holy Dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah.

seems to me to be saying the sex was pretty good, for one thing, while it lasted.

It seems to me that in this song, Leonard is using Judaeo-Christian symbolism to describe a love affair, its ending, and his emotions as he looks back over it (though he offers us all sorts of double-meanings and ambiguities along the way). Hence mixing the two Old Testament stories, as Nightstalker points out, in the verse,

She broke your throne, she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.

This verse reminds me very much of another ‘kitchen’ verse,

We were locked in this kitchen
I took to religion

from ‘The night comes on’ (God, I love that verse). However, for all its bitterness and sense of bondage and deflation, the singer in Hallelujah finally manages to affirm the domestic life, to say ‘hallelujah’ to it.

Of course, there are bits of ‘Hallelujah’ that don’t really fit into my interpretation at all. I’m still not sure why he opens the first version on the song with the ‘But I’ve rambled on long enough; I’ll save that for another day.
I've probably rambled too long also, but I most definitely agree with your post. These are very good thoughts and on one level I have the same. I just feel that as in most poetry there are purposely many interpretations. LC is very good at evoking these. Is G-d party to all good physical love? Is the halleluyah 'broken' when we use it to express sexual fulfillment instead of using it for the intended purpose? I've ruminated about that for decades without discovering an answer.

"If It Be Your Will, on the other hand, I think that one’s a straightforward hymn."
This is actually the paraphrasing of an often used Jewish prayer.
"For the captain had quitted the long drawn strife
And in far Simoree had taken a wife." (R Kipling)
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Post by johnny7moons » Sun Mar 05, 2006 2:51 pm

"If It Be Your Will, on the other hand, I think that one’s a straightforward hymn."
This is actually the paraphrasing of an often used Jewish prayer.

I didn't know that, Nightstalker - do you know the name of the prayer? I'd like to look it up.
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Post by Nightstalker » Wed Mar 08, 2006 8:41 pm

The early portions of the song are from prayers said on Rosh Hasanah and Yom Kippur as well as many other days both special and common. The idea of nothing taking place outside of His will is central to Jewish tought and many prayers. The elements paraphrased are found in a very lenghty prayer, Avinu Malkeinu, which can be found on the internet at most Jewish websites but is too long to reproduce here. The requests of the Avinu Malkeinu, each one beginning with "Our Father, Our King" beseach G-d to in His benevolence (and, inseparably, within H-s will), but not because we deserve it to grant various favors to the supplicators. The Selichot also carry this theme. There is another that is more directly to the point of the early lines and when/if I find it I will post it here also. Hope this is helpful.
"For the captain had quitted the long drawn strife
And in far Simoree had taken a wife." (R Kipling)
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Post by Simon » Thu Mar 09, 2006 10:53 pm

My perception of the song has always been that it is inspired by Bathsheba as the central mythical figure, so in that sense the reference would be pre-christian, if not even pagan since the story of David and Bathsheba carries forth a sort of raw energy. David saw the divine in the striking beauty of Bathsheba, and in her he hoped for redemption. Very cohenesque theme…

Anyone raised in a jewish family setting probably knows the story of David and Bathsheba much better, and in a different scope, than any Christian. Lillith for example is an important figure in jewish culture, but she is basicaly unknown among Christians. Leonard Cohen, in his foundness for intercultural symbolism is trying to touched the universal human experience.

To me, the most impressive representation of what is really involved in Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is Torgny Lindgren’s novel ‘Bathsheba’, a novel that is so cohenesque that every time I hear the song I see in my mind the pictures I had made for myself while reading the book. Any Cohen fan will feel totaly at home in that novel.

Translated from Swedish:

In english : Bathsheba

En français : Bethsabée

(The french translation is splendid and somewhat more luminous than the english one)
Cohen is the koan
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Post by tomsakic » Fri Mar 10, 2006 11:43 am

I was always overtaken by that image: saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you. It's the deepest bewildering of a male in front of a woman.

Also, I had strong feeling of connection between these images when I first time heard Boogie Street:

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!


And O my love, I still recall
The pleasures that we knew;
The rivers and the waterfall,
Wherein I bathed with you.
Bewildered by your beauty there,
I’d kneel to dry your feet.
By such instructions you prepare
A man for Boogie Street.


Thanks for the tip about that novel, Simon, I trust your suggestions after reading so many great insights here from you. Thank G-d there's the English translation. It says it's out of print, so I'll try thru AbeBooks.
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Post by lizzytysh » Fri Mar 10, 2006 3:56 pm

It was lovely pleasure to read your words on these lyrics, the same as I read the lyrics themselves, Tom.
It's the deepest bewildering of a male in front of a woman.
A perfect expression of the meaning of what you're saying.

~ Lizzy
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Post by Simon » Fri Mar 10, 2006 10:44 pm

I agree that Mary Veling’s interpretation is very interesting. The difficulty in approching this text may simply be one of terminology. Anyone who doesn’t feel a particular foundness for the christian concepts of failure, guilt, rejection and shame may indeed be rebuffed at the first reading. But at the core it seems to be a very legitimate attempt to throw some light on what may be LC’s main concern, that is balance. (in my interpretation)

Let us compare mythologies…

My impressionist perception of the song is that, under its jewish wrapping, it is buddhist in it’s attempt to express the essential of the human condition. The holy Hallelujah is the birth of desire (Bathsheba), love, passion, eros, libido, harmony, fusion or the life instinct itself. The broken Hallelujah is the end of desire, hate, rupture, disharmony, chaos, thanatos, the death instinct itself. The idea is not so much that «love is stronger than death» (MV) as much as the struggle to become aware of the dynamics of the cosmos. In this awareness is balance.

«It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
» (LC)

Here I extracted from Mary Veling’s text elements that could be interpreted as buddhist:

«They had to ‘let go’ of their perceived notions of where they fitted in. In other words, they had to let go of an obsession to control…

… This is resurrection, the transaction in human beings where they realise that their identity is gift. Resurrection is judgement upon the attempt to control, to construct impregnable systems. Resurrection is dying to the illusion that we possess the final word – even in death.

How important it seems that we must ‘master’ our identity in the world – lest we fail, lest we appear weak! We control to the point that we envisage ‘defense’ systems that will ultimately keep the ‘unwanted’ at bay! We live in a world that places too much certainty on its ability to possess, to control. The world today denies its vulnerability, its ‘long holy Saturday’. The poets write about it, the artists sketch it, the populous admire it – from a distance. The enmity we know, we feel, and retreat from, stems from an urgency to resist failure, to resist that which we cannot successfully control.»


Resurrection here somewhat sounds like the birth of awareness, or the birth of detachement. Satori may be the ability to sail in balance on the waves of both the holy and the broken Hallelujahs. Mister Cohen may be in fact a mystic unicyclist aiming at the center between his left, his right, his front, his back, the zenith and the nadir. The Hallelujahs are dynamic, nothing is permanent. Enchantment happens, shit happens too…

In LC’s own words from BL :

«What is a saint? A saint is someone who has acheived a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the excercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the univers in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory». (BL /1 :40)

Mount Baldy was no coincidence on Leonard Cohen’s path. The seed of zen was already there in BL in the sixties.

Again,

«It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
»

«I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah.
» (LC)

«I’ll stand…», meaning in balance and aware….

I’m rushing over this through my day’s work. I whish I had more time to go deeper into the subject because this song and the different perceptions of it may be the key to understanding the essential Leonard Cohen…

The weak spot of Mary Veling’s text is that she doesn’t address at all the erotism involved in the song .

It would also be interesting to have a hindou interpretation of ‘Hallelujah’. Bathsheba is a goddess figure much like Kali, inspiring both desire and fear, birth and death, harmony and chaos, glory and broken Hallelujahs….
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Post by lizzytysh » Mon Mar 13, 2006 7:51 am

Dear Simon ~

I gave this all day for someone else to comment on; however, before I go to bed in a few minutes, I just have to say something. I enjoyed reading your posting the same as someone would enjoy a healthy, gourmet-quality meal with their closest friends. Immensely.

This is exactly the nature, levels, and depth of exploration and discussion that I believe Leonard would love knowing that people are having about his work.

Thanks for taking the time to go into this kind of depth here. I love how you gleaned the premise of balance from "Let us compare mythologies..." I look forward to reading a lot more of your ideas on Leonard's music. You obviously have a lot to say that is worthwhile. Please keep going...

~ Lizzy
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Post by Nightstalker » Mon Mar 13, 2006 5:25 pm

I agree with Lizzie, Simon. It is wonderful to have someone from a completely different point of view with great knowledge in areas in which I have little information comment on Leonard's works using cogent, valid arguments and references. Please continue. This subject is almost too voluminous for me to discuss in a forum, too time consuming for my slow typping abilities. But I will read and reread what you post. Wouldn't it be interesting to sit around with a number of LC fans and discuss this over dinner? I hope some of you will do that in Berlin and perhaps report some of the key points to us.
"For the captain had quitted the long drawn strife
And in far Simoree had taken a wife." (R Kipling)
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Post by Simon » Mon Mar 13, 2006 5:25 pm

Thanks Tom and Lizz for the feedback. In fact I whished I had more time for this kind exploration. Leonard Cohen and his work are fascinating. All the long time regulars here will agree. We probably all came to his work for different reasons and it's an interesting challenge to try to understand our sort of addiction to the poetic space he has created. Between birth and death, there is this constant choregraphy of the feminine and the masculine. Birth, death and this 'waltz' may be the essential of the human experience. In keeping us in touch with this essential, in constantly asking us 'how do we deal with this?' Leonard Cohen contributes to the reenchantment of a world that is overly instrumentalized. This poet is a real cohen.

And also, this is fun...
Cohen is the koan
Why else would I still be stuck here
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Post by Nightstalker » Mon Mar 13, 2006 5:27 pm

Simon,
There is a wonderful karma at work here! You and I were posting simultaneously! LOL
"For the captain had quitted the long drawn strife
And in far Simoree had taken a wife." (R Kipling)
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Post by lizzytysh » Mon Mar 13, 2006 6:17 pm

Yes, Simon, I had taken note at the time of your comment regarding time:
I’m rushing over this through my day’s work. I whish I had more time to go deeper into the subject because this song and the different perceptions of it may be the key to understanding the essential Leonard Cohen…
This thread is the perfect example of what Leonard has commented upon, about his work [paraphrased] having many windows and doors, through which one can look through or walk... yet, one can also do dishes with his music playing in the background.

To explore his work at these depths requires far more than my typing ability [it's too bad you can't just dictate to me, Nightstalker]... it, indeed, requires areas of knowledge that I simply do not have. To try to cobble things together, via Googling, is simply too overwhelming for me. However, I enjoy so very very much reading the benefits of others' educations as they apply it to Leonard's lyrics. He has also explored many of these areas, himself, so it is not coincidental when things said about his writing, in fact, resonate and apply. For me, Leonard's music and words are emotional/philosophical sustenance, but the intellectual and philosophical sources and applications that are part and parcel of its creation are immensely interesting to me. I would love to be privy to a dinner conversation, as you've suggested, Nightstalker. Just listen, learn, and feel gratified by these many layers that Leonard has intentionally placed within his words.

You make an excellent point about the lifelong 'waltz' between the masculine and feminine, as well, Simon.

I've loved your signature...
Cohen is the koan
Why else would I still be stuck here
You make the truth here so very clear:
This poet is a real cohen.
And also, this is fun...
I'm glad you're so willing to do your exploring with us. I wish for you more time...

~ Lizzy
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Post by Cosmoline » Mon Mar 27, 2006 9:34 am

Without the broken Hallelujah, how would the light get in?

I like this phrase from the original lyrics:
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
I've always assumed it was referring to the name of Hashem, which of course he doesn't know. But then he notes that there is a blaze of the light from this Name IN EVERY WORD. Every word spins out of HIS NAME. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is a foundational concept in Jewish and kabbalistic theology. The name of the Lord is the source not only of all Hebrew but of the matter and energy itself. Every word is a splinter or fragment of the original Name, and contains a "blaze of light" in its core.

Seen in this light (so to speak) the recurrent praise to the Lord is not out of thanks or grattitude but because that's all that will be left at the end. He'll stand before the Lord of Song and flash out in his final blaze of light. To assume this poem is just Cohen's way of saying that rough relationships are a source of praise in the end strikes me as way too easy. These are deep, deep waters. This is not a song about relationship troubles, but about existence itself.

This reference:
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Is drawing a parallel between the destruction the object of earthly desire has upon the man and the ultimate destruction of death.

These are just some of my thoughts, though. I'm a long long way from figuring out this song.
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Post by lightning » Mon Mar 27, 2006 5:09 pm

Who named the Lord?
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Post by lizzytysh » Mon Mar 27, 2006 5:17 pm

Hi Cosmoline ~

I absolutely agree with you that this song ~ as the vast majority of his others ~ is about far deeper things than the nature of man-woman relationships. The latter is one of the many layers. The deep, deep waters are always there, to be explored by those who have the knowledge to make the links, as you are doing. To parrot a phrase, there's something for everyone.

~ Lizzy
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