Here's how I react to the song: "The Butcher"
I came upon a butcher,
he was slaughtering a lamb,
I accused him there
with his tortured lamb.
I see this as not literally about Abraham and Isaac....but about the issue that the Bible story brings up.....why is this world structured such that animal preys on animal....why do we seem forced to participate in evil...set one against the other in war....Unless you wish to be a Jain and wear a veil so as to not inadvertently breathe in little bugs...we MUST participate, even against our will....This would be addressed to Leonard's father, yes, but Leonard's father becomes God the Father.....the beloved authority that we ask questions of and soon realize that the answers provided are inadequate.
He said, "Listen to me, child,
I am what I am
and you, you are my only son."
I do think this is a reference to God saying, in scripture, call me I am what I am.....and the only son is a vague reference to Christ, but the Christ in Leonard.... the Christ in our hearts...the deep desire to be a worthy child of God....combined with Leonard's being the only son of his Cohen father. Leonard moves easily between Jewish references, Christian references, Hindu and Buddhist references....and psychological feelings....and why should they be held separately, after all?
Well, I found a silver needle,
I put it into my arm.
It did some good,
did some harm.
But the nights were cold
and it almost kept me warm,
how come the night is long?
This, to me, is just a complaint, and a truth....that the most sensitive among us may suffer so much from philosophical yearnings and confusions, that relief from any source is likely to catch us for a while. This is the least interesting of the verses...it seems to be saying....when my head hurts from trying to understand the universe, hedonism is there to catch me and give me a much needed rest, as well as an experience of the human condition, that is needed to balance my spiritual longings.
I saw some flowers growing up
where that lamb fell down;
was I supposed to praise my Lord,
make some kind of joyful sound?
To me, this is the crux of the song.....Materialists say that there is no God or afterlife....but you can content yourself with "the circle of life". You drop dead, you are put in the ground, your chemicals contribute to the vegetation, That should be enough for you......I think Leonard is just saying that the idea of accepting such a comfort is as meaningless to him as is the materialist's view......God giving such an answer is a total non answer, no better than the strict materialist's non answer.
He said, "Listen, listen to me now,
I go round and round
and you, you are my only child."
Now here, I think, he contemplates a much higher concept, perhaps offered to him by God: I go round and round....sounds to me like a clear reference to re-incarnation, and is, in fact, the ONLY answer possible when the original complaint is given: ----why do we seem forced to participate in evil---- and the answer, though difficult, is....that it only seems as bad when you omit the idea of re-incarnation. If the slaughtered lamb will be back, evolving, learning...it still ain't pretty, but it's not as disasterously awful as if it was the only chance for the victim....there are many experiences to come, as victim and as victimizer...until one withdraws from being horrified and makes the leap that death is rest, vacation, graduation...all things good....and life is school. But that is hard for us, and Leonard finds it hard, too.
Do not leave me now,
do not leave me now,
I'm broken down
from a recent fall.
Blood upon my body
and ice upon my soul,
lead on, my son, it is your world.
And this is where I get a little puzzled....as to who is speaking. Is it God/Leonard's father (who in some moods would seem merged with God in the feelings of the fatherless young boy)....or is it Leonard speaking. Is the son now Leonard's son? He may not have had a son yet when he wrote the song. So is it father/God saying....don't see me as ALL Powerful....You're here to find God in your own experience......I will have to be left behind for you to start to explore the teachings of planet Earth, and grow into your own Source, ....become made into God's likeness by your striving and studying. You cannot ever become like unto God, as long as your are overshadowed by a God that is inexplicable and requires obedience. Love God, but let that lead you into learning how to love yourself, and the world, even as it goes round and round.
So I guess I have come to the conclusion that God says to Leonard: We are on a seesaw....I will come down in your estimation, so that you can grow and raise up on the seesaw. So it ends with a psychological maneuver of love, by God, to push Leonard out of any authoritarian feelings towards God, so that he will find no other choice than to stumble on the path of love for the Universe....which is the hardest of paths, when you see, as clearly as Leonard does, the 'evil' in the world, and how we cannot separate ourselves from it...so....we have no choice but to stretch....until love ENCOMPASSES it.
A very heavy teaching.
General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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