“Hallelujah” (analysis, commentary, translation into Italian)


Verse 1
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

(Ho sentito che c’era un accordo segreto
che David suonò e piacque al Signore
ma tu non ti interessi realmente di musica, non è vero?
Funziona così: la quarta, la quinta
la minore cala, la maggiore cresce
e il re perplesso compose un Alleluia)

Leonard Cohen grew up in the Jewish tradition, so this explains his references to the Old Testament, specifically the story about King David and his affair with the married Bathsheba.
David, credited as composer of the psalms, the music of the Bible, played the harp to heal Saul. He wrote many things that “pleased the Lord” and started composing the Hallelujah without knowing why and how. He was ‘baffled’, confused , because the song came to him unexpectedly and also because he was the elect of the Lord, even though he misbehaved , as we’ll see in the next verse.
Since David was able to please the Lord with music, maybe Cohen will be able to please his love with his song, but she doesn’t care for music, and therefore he doesn’t know if he will be able to communicate his feelings and get her to appreciate his efforts. He even describes the chord sequence as he goes along, but while trying to explain what he is doing, and how he is doing it, he realizes that he is the baffled king, incapable of the full communication he wants
This chord sequence, which is often used in hymns, may also refer to Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden, while the major lift may represent Christ’s crucifixion: two events that are inextricably linked.

The hallelujah at the end of this verse sounds happy and spiritual,

Verse 2
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

(La tua fede era solida ma avevi bisogno di una prova
La vedesti fare il bagno dalla terrazza sul tetto
La sua bellezza e il chiaro di luna ti soggiogarono
Lei ti legò alla sedia della cucina
Infranse il tuo trono, ti tagliò i capelli
E dalle tue labbra tirò fuori un Alleluia.)

Here the confused and perplexed King is torn between his lust for Bathsheba and his desire to serve and please God.
This entire verse is a Biblical reference to the night when David met Bathsheba (where the moon is a symbol for femininity and motherhood as well as fertility and sexuality). The King rose from his bed, walked out onto his roof and saw a beautiful woman bathing. He learnt that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was away fighting a war for the King. David had her brought to him and slept with her. Since she became pregnant, the King , in order to keep her pregnancy secret, sent for Uriah from the front, hoping he would sleep with his wife and think the child was his. But Uriah refused to leave his troops, so David ordered his general to send him to the front lines, where he was killed. He then married Bathsheba, but was plagued by guilt .
Then there is a scene that could be taken literally: the mistress tied the King to a chair in her kitchen, as a sexual play. Metaphorically, the kitchen chair is the substitute for the divine throne – now broken (see next line), because David lost a lot of influence and weakened his link with God (broken throne).
When David died, Bathsheba secured the throne to her son Salomon, instead of David’s eldest son: therefore she “broke” his “throne” also because at his death the kingdom of Israel will be divided.

Then in another biblical reference, Bathsheba becomes Delilah, who cut off Samson’s hair, the source of his superhuman strength.
Another story of the downfall of a man won by lust: David lost his idealistic faith in God as a result of his desire for a married woman, Samson lost his hair because he became vulnerable to the charms of the deceitful Delilah. She had been appointed by the Israelite’s enemy, the Philistines, to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. She tried to ask him three times but he gave false answers. On the fourth occasion, he told her that his power came from the length of his hair, which he did not cut to fulfil a vow to God; and Delilah, when Samson was asleep on her knees, cut the seven locks from his head, causing his downfall.
‘Drew’: these lips are the source from which Bathsheba / Dalila draws, extracts a Hallelujah from David / Samson: a powerful image to represent her as a wild being who voluptuously drinks from the man’s lips.
These biblical stories are used as a comparison to what the singer was experiencing in his own relationship with a woman who didn’t share his love to the same degree. They represent the act of falling in love, and the fact that the ones we love can hurt us.

In this verse, the hallelujah sounds sad and desperate.

Verse 3
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

(Dici che ho pronunciato il Nome invano
Ma io quel nome non lo conosco neppure
Ma se anche lo sapessi, che cosa te ne può importare?
C’è una vampata di luce in ogni parola
Non importa quale tu hai sentito
Se l’ Alleluia sacro o quello spezzato)

In Judaism, there are many ways of referring to God, whose true name is said to be YHWH, but the vowels are unknown, and pronouncing the name is forbidden. The only people who could pronounce it in ancient Israelite society were the priests as part of the Priestly Blessing. Since Leonard Cohen himself comes from a priestly family (the name Cohen means “priest” in Hebrew), he is familiar with the blessing, but he does not know God’s name. But God seems even to pay little attention to human things: He doesn’t care about music or doesn’t seem interested in His name
Whatever the word used to name God, everyone can see the divine (a blaze of light) since the spark of the divine is present in “every word”, even if they are imperfect, (Anyway, words are the only means we have to express our feelings, experience…). Therefore the words used for a Hallelujah, are always powerful, whether it is desperate (human, corrupt, trying to reach the divine through sex, struggle, and despair ) or sacred.
Through this reference to the ten commandments (“Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”) Cohen seems to be trying to make us understand that we all may interpret religion and faith in our own ways, as there is no one right way to believe
If we consider him speaking to a woman, he knows that he loves, but he doesn’t completely understand what love is or is sure his lover loves him back. Yet even so, love is still wonderful , and whether it is perfect or imperfect.

This is an uncertain hallelujah.

Verse 4
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

(Ho fatto del mio meglio, non è stato molto
Non riuscivo a sentire, così ho provato a toccare
Ho detto il vero, non sono venuto per ingannarti
E anche se tutto è andato male
Mi ergerò davanti al Signore dei Canti
Con nient’altro sulle mie labbra se non un Alleluia)

Cohen admits his limits as a man (whose best “wasn’t much”), whose spirituality was shaken while in search of God, or who didn’t feel love anymore in his relationship. Once again, Cohen plays with double senses : since he could not feel feelings, he learnt to touch, but then he seemed to woo the woman he had learnt to touch, (‘fooling around’ means ‘ having casual sex’)
And even though he didn’t find what he was looking for (suggested by “tried to”), or after the failure of his relationship or his faith, he feels his Hallelujah, his miserable cry, is a praise to God.
In the end: the kingdom of David was divided, Samson died with all the Philistines, Leonard is prey to his desires. But from all this defeated sensuality the Hallelujah is born : we can find ourselves grateful and thank God for the experiences we have had
The “Song of Songs” or “Song of Solomon” is the most sensual book of the Bible, a celebration of longing, love and sexual intimacy. According to tradition it was written by Solomon (son of David and Bathsheba)

Now he is ready to face the Lord and his hallelujah expresses his total faith and hope in Grace.


Artemisia Gentileschi – Bathsheba at her bath (1637-38)





18 thoughts on ““Hallelujah” (analysis, commentary, translation into Italian)

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