"The Traitor" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
Now the Swan it floated on the English river
Ah the Rose of High Romance it opened wide
A sun tanned woman yearned me through the summer
And the judges watched us from the other side

I told my mother "Mother I must leave you
Preserve my room but do not shed a tear
Should rumour of a shabby ending reach you
It was half my fault and half the atmosphere"

But the Rose I sickened with a scarlet fever
And the Swan I tempted with a sense of shame
She said at last I was her finest lover
And if she withered I would be to blame

The judges said you missed it by a fraction
Rise up and brace your troops for the attack
Ah the dreamers ride against the men of action
Oh see the men of action falling back

But I lingered on her thighs a fatal moment
I kissed her lips as though I thirsted still
My falsity had stung me like a hornet
The poison sank and it paralyzed my will

I could not move to warn all the younger soldiers
That they had been deserted from above
So on battlefields from here to Barcelona
I'm listed with the enemies of love

And long ago she said "I must be leaving,
Ah but keep my body here to lie upon
You can move it up and down and when I'm sleeping
Run some wire through that Rose and wind the Swan"

So daily I renew my idle duty
I touch her here and there, I know my place
I kiss her open mouth and I praise her beauty
And people call me traitor to my face


Lyrics submitted by softasfire, edited by JohnnyBee

"The Traitor" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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The Traitor song meanings
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6 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentWell I guess, it is fundamentally positive, and for a long time I just amaze myself at the beauty of the methaphore, the idea of the world as a stage, as the scene of a quest, in which the spectators are the judges as well, then i heard Leonard Cohen's explaantion of the line of thought that made him write the poem. It goes like this:

    “It was called “The traitor”. It was about the feeling that we have of betraying some mission that we were mandated to fulfill, and being unable to fulfill it, and then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it, and that the deeper courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you found yourself”.
    It talks about the unvoidable predicament of failure from without, and the only right posture when one's faced with a situation in which one cannot but fail: standing guiltless, in the predicament in which you find yourself. I think that is positive: not blaming yourself for outcomes of which you could not fully control.
    Georgebon February 27, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Comment1. It seems to be about a man settling for someone who is not right for him rather than what his heart desires. He becomes an enemy of love, The Men of Action Falling back is the man too weak to take action and leave, following his heart. He has a relationship of physical love but not real love. He is a traitor to himself.
    Winterson June 07, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe rose is the womans genitals, the swan would be his. The line "run some wire through the rose and wind the swan" would be the woman asking him to have sex with her. He daily performs his "idle duty" but he doesn't love her. He has become an "enemy of love" for betraying his true love.
    bhoover247on July 04, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDamb, aint any Cohen song remotley happy?
    RJSoftwareon June 02, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnd long ago she said "I must be leaving,
    Ah but keep my body here to lie upon
    You can move it up and down and when I'm sleeping
    Run some wire through that Rose and wind the Swan"

    God what a punishment ( the cruelty of the victim is almost far more than of the criminal)
    He betrayed her , she doesn’t love him no more but she keeps her body for him to have sex with while her soul is somewhere else ...
    Strangerinmeon September 04, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationWhat the Traitor has betrayed is the ideal of love. His 'scarlet fever' is lust, but when it is satisfied by 'lingering on her thighs', the Traitor is shamed. He recognises that other young men go off to battle without high ideals and they too become 'the enemies of love'.
    Lovely metaphors - great Leonard Cohen.
    JohnnyBeeon March 09, 2013   Link

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