Although a different song to “Suzanne”, both songs reflect the experience of love not just in the lyrics and their comparisons of it to religion, but in the chord progressions and structure too—which reflect what’s happening in the narrative and the up or down emotions the song’s protagonist is feeling.
One song that explores the themes of both these tracks “the divinity, pain and religion of love” is Cohen’s most celebrated love song, “Hallelujah”. The religious aspect is one that’s explored even in its construct, with a composition that mimics gospel music.
Yet in the song, although the term “hallelujah” is Hebrew for “praise the Lord” Cohen’s use of it is a much more ironic one. In between verses that detail his failed relationships, he sings the chorus with a sense of self-deprecation.
And the sense of love as failure, of love as a difficult journey is what makes the song so appealing and enduring. It’s something that isn’t just referred to ironically in the chorus, but is more explicitly stated in some of the verses Cohen adds in when singing the song live (originally Cohen wrote 80 verses for the song, then edited them down for the album recording).
Verses that show that love is “not a great victory, it’s painful, it’s difficult, it’s the first step in a long path.”
Listen to Leonard Cohen singing a live version of “Hallelujah” below.