Why Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” Is The Ultimate Thanksgiving Song (You’ll Be Amazed By Its Meaning!)

Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer and songwriter died on November 2, 2016 at the age of 82.

Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer and songwriter died on November 2, 2016 at the age of 82. Cohen's “Hallelujah” was voted “the most perfect song ever.”

Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks for the many blessings we have in our lives. Among the many things I am personally grateful for, I give a huge “Thank You!” to the late Leonard Cohen, who died in 2016, for all of the incredible songs he gave the world, but most especially for the song Hallelujah.

In Hallelujah, songwriter Cohen takes thankfulness to another level, suggesting that we should be grateful not only for our blessings, but for ALL of our experiences in life (good, bad, happy, and sad).

I first fell in love with the song when I watched k.d. lang sing it during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. I was captivated by the sheer beauty and majesty of her performance and the lyrics.  And, I felt compelled to learn more about what the song was actually about.

In short, here's what songwriter Cohen said of the song's meaning:

“It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”

Cohen further elaborates on the meaning of the song:

Finally there's no conflict between things, finally everything is reconciled but not where we live. This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that's what I mean by Hallelujah. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‘Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.'  And you can't reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation. That's what it's all about.

The Most Perfect Song Ever Took Five Years to Write

In 2008, Q Magazine held a poll in which Hallelujah was voted “the most perfect song ever.”  According to Cohen, it took him at least five years to write the song:

“Hallelujah was at least five years. I have about 80 verses. I just took verses out of the many that established some sort of coherence. The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it. So that lengthens the process considerably. I filled two notebooks with the song, and I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, ‘I can't finish this song.’”

Cohen trimmed the number of verses and released the song in 1984 on his album titled “Various Positions.”   But, the song did not receive popular acclaim until 1991 when John Cale, a Welsh singer-songwriter, recorded a cover version of the song.

Since 1991, more than 200 versions of Hallelujah have been recorded in various languages.  A version performed by the late Jeff Buckley attained  #1 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in March 2008.  Singer k.d. lang's performance of fellow Canadian Cohen's song was for many (including myself) the highlight of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Meaning of Lyrics to Hallelujah

In the Bible, the word hallelujah is found primarily in the book of Psalms. The word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song. The second part, Yah, is a shortened form of YHWH, the name for the Creator.  The word hallelujah can therefore be translated as “Praise God.” Hallelujah is frequently spoken to express happiness that a thing hoped or waited for has happened.

Below are the lyrics to Hallelujah and one of the many interpretations of the lyrics from lyricinterpretations.com, this one by Francis O'Brien:

For the first part:

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

This relates to the story of King David who was had an intimate relation with God and was also a great harp player (secret cord/pleased the lord). The hallelujah at the end of this verse is a happy and spiritual one.

Second part:

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

In this part Cohen relates to the story of David and Bathsheba when David was walking on the roofs he saw her bathing and seduced her. He ended up committing adultery and lost a lot of influence and weakened his link with God (broken throne). Then we move to the story of Samson who gets his hair cut and loses all his powers, once again, a broken throne. In this verse, the hallelujah is a very sad and desperate one.

Third Part:

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

In this part Cohen talks about the ambivalence of love and its effect on your faith. It can be glorious like a flag on a marble arch or it can be cold and broken. And when in heart break you may lose or strengthen your faith, in this case it is strengthened because he still praises the lord in the end. In this case, the hallelujah is (obviously) cold and broken.

Fourth Part:

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

This is an obvious reference to sexuality… In this verse the hallelujah can be interpreted as an “orgasmic” one.

Fifth Part:

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

This is a reference to one of the ten commandments and through this Cohen is trying to make the listener understand that religion and faith is not etched in stone and that everyone should interpret the holy texts and religion in his own way and that there is no “Right Way” to believe. This is an uncertain hallelujah, meaning that he is not sure what to believe but he believes anyway.

Sixth Part:

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

In this part, he has found what to believe in and realizes his past errors but he is ready to face the lord because he now has complete faith. This hallelujah is one of total faith and love for “the Lord”.

Hallelujah Performed by Pentatonix, k.d. lang, the late Jeff Buckley, and the late Leonard Cohen

Which version do you like best?

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  1. jeffhand409@hotmail.com' Jeff says:

    THANKS to CLN.com for a SPANKIN website that helps Humanity become AWARE and ascend. Peace on Earth !

  2. sfurr33@gmail.com' Susannah Furr says:

    Ross, thank you for a wonderful explanation of such a powerful, spirit filled song! Awesome, thanks!

    • admin@consciouslifenews.com' clnews says:

      You are welcome. I was inspired to research the meaning of the song after I saw k.d. lang sing it at the 2010 Olympics. I will repost this article as well as your article on the magic of gratitude on Thanksgiving day. They are a great pair.

  3. Alcyone says:

    This is a wonderful article Ross. Thank you for posting!

  4. Dear Ross, I have always loved this song but reading the lyrics along with your thoughts has made it even more relevant. I published a blog post the day before Thanksgiving about being grateful for the difficult things in our lives. If we can be strong, they truly strengthen and elevate us. I was going to publish it on CLN but I was rushing out the door to catch a flight! Here it is: https://barbarasinclair.com/2012/11/21/thankful-for-the-pain-the-grief-and-the-lessons-they-have-taught-me/ Thanks for the wonderful article and I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving! 🙂

    • admin@consciouslifenews.com' clnews says:

      Thank you Barbara! I just read your beautiful article. It’s one of your best, and my new fav. Heartfelt. It goes very well with my article. But, I think it could be posted at any time and people will resonate and benefit from it. So, feel free to post on CLN when you have some spare time. Love and blessings. -Ross

  5. roger_kohn@yahoo.com' Roger Kohn says:

    Like many people I have searched and searched for some more of the 15 or 80 or whatever number of verses that supposedly Leonard Cohen wrote for this song. Alas, I haven’t found them and I suspect they do not exist. I got so frustrated that I wrote my own verse and, since I haven’t even had 15 seconds of fame, I copyright it, that is if I can copyright a verse to a song that isn’t mine. Here it is:

    We the first were given reign:
    Our lives and theirs, the gift of name.
    But chains don’t fit and a snake said something to us.

    Some say that we were forced to go.
    But, no, we grew and left to know
    Both the joyous and the broken hallelujah.

    BTW, I have several variants of this verse and a similar notion may account for some of the “missing” verses. Great song!

    —- Roger Kohn

  6. 1402952466610993@facebook.com' Where there is love there is life says:

    Never ignore a person who loves you, cares for you, and misses you. Because one day, you might wake up from your sleep and realize that you lost the moon while counting stars.

  7. 882541991829731@facebook.com' Kari Wuornos Winger says:


  8. 1690384254531431@facebook.com' Pinky Deb says:

    Good post

  9. 10206658904124003@facebook.com' Jean Sibley says:

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. 161378394194951@facebook.com' Ryan Getty says:

    It just is. Cohen is a master.

  11. clnKimberlay says:

    A heartfelt and inspired post for this day before American Thanksgiving. It is all in there somewhere in the 80 verses, the melody, the talents of the performers and the listeners who resonate with it all. It is also there in every life even when the one who lives does not recognize it. The ultimate gift is that: the gift of Life, whatever experiences it grants to the one who lives. It is up to us who are thankful to en-lighten/raise up those who have forgotten. Thank you Ross, Vicki and the entire CLN team

  12. 540995409395730@facebook.com' Susan Forde says:

    Such a beautiful song! Well done Maestro! ❤️??

  13. 10207705263577939@facebook.com' Christine Casabar says:

    I agree – this is what floats my boat. Hallelujah! Happy Thankgiving!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0b8osZW21c

  14. 568379783316844@facebook.com' Mary Wang says:

    Thanksgiving is s day to give thanks to God for his blessings and also a day to repent of what you have done abroad (as shedding the blood of innocent people )and domestic(as legalizing the gay marriage).

  15. 150081085348310@facebook.com' Aneeda B. Magikal says:

    Jamie Hardaway Curran: thinking of you and your love for Mr. Leonard Cohen
    ~Happy Hallelujah ?

  16. cheriedirksen@yahoo.com' Cherie Roe Dirksen says:

    Wow, amazing. Be grateful for everything – good and bad – love that!!! I can’t believe it took 5 years to write :O I have to say my favourite version is Jeff Buckley. Second favourite is Rufus Wainwright

  17. willythethrillis2029@gmail.com' Tropuc Evader says:

    Leonard Co|<ehead!!

    5 years– 😯 sets of lyrics– 2
    notebooks– bangung your head on
    some hotel floor because you can't
    finish the song….

    Alllllrrriigghhttyyyy thhennnn!!

    I bet he's Jewish! That will explain

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