Hallelujahs and the creative process (with a poem)

By this point everyone probably thinks they know Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”. It’s been in movies and television. Even Kate McKinnon had a go at it on Saturday Night Live. So even if, like many, you’re confused about the meaning of the song, you probably think you have heard it from beginning to end.

Possibly think again.

For my own reasons I’ve been doing some research on this song. It was supposed to be a simple Google search, but I found a rabbit hole and plunged right in. I found that there are more than 300 recorded versions. Not surprising considering Cohen wrote more than 80 draft verses for the song. Maybe that’s why he also recorded two versions himself.

According to legend, he spent one writing session in a motel room writing verse after verse while sitting on the floor in his underwear.

That’s quite a creative process.

In spite of all he went through to create his masterpiece, Cohen never expressed disappointment that other versions came to exist when others recorded his song. (Recording artists have rearranged verses, changed words and omitted lines.) In fact, he said himself that he believed that many hallelujahs exist. To me, this explains why he let the act of creating this work of art to consume him so. And I think he’s right. If we let ourselves, we find our own hallelujah.

By the way, I listened to many, many versions of this song while I wrote this. My favorite? Cohen’s live performance in London in 2009.

Many Hallelujahs (for LC)

By Michelle Garren Flye

A mother approaches a borderline.

Safety awaits her on the other side.

Baby in her arms, clutched against her breast—

She crosses the line and whispers, “Hallelujah.”

A black man sits alone in his car.

Flashing blue lights his rear view mirror.

He knows his fate is not his own,

So when he is told to go, he says, “Hallelujah.”

A woman awaits her weekly call

From desert sands so far away.

This world has so many dangers for her heart—

The phone rings and she cries, “Hallelujah.”

The activist lays it on the line every day,

To make a difference, he argues and persuades.

He won’t stop until he’s made it right.

Then someone listens at last and he shouts, “Hallelujah!”

The writer ponders the meaning of one word

And writes and writes, thinks it will never be his.

He bangs his head—and then it’s in his grasp.

His tired hand shakes as he declares, “Hallelujah.”

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