"Bird on the Wire" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.

Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, "You must not ask for so much."
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?"

Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir have tried in my way to be free.


Lyrics submitted by rgirl, edited by clearsky

"Bird On The Wire" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Bird on the Wire song meanings
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16 Comments

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  • +6
    General Comment"I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
    he said to me, "You must not ask for so much."
    And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
    She cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?"

    Everyone likes to tell people what to believe, and from different view points, all people are valid in their own beliefs. But for someone who is lost, hearing one person say, "you must not ask for so much" and seeing someone say the exact opposite thing can be hard when you know where both of them are coming from.

    All you can do is "try in your own way" when creating a worldview. It can only apply to you, and to try to strap onto the coat tails of those around you and let them influence your mind is not achieving freedom, it's establishing slavery of the mind.

    I don't think the first three lines are nearly as significant as:

    "Like a baby, stillborn,
    like a beast with his horn
    I have torn everyone who reached out for me."

    Both of those things are hurting people for a reason that they can't help. Everyone understands that there are some things you can't control, like the examples of a beast having a horn or a baby dying. It's very frustrating to not be able to change or control those things, but they continue to hurt people, and you have to be still and live with it. It's saying he is who he is, and he could change it and be fake ("if I, if I have been untrue..."), or he could continue and be who he truly is, and go on hurting people ("if I, if I have been unkind...").

    It's a beautiful song, really.
    njadams10on July 30, 2009   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI have always thought the verse "Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir I have tried in my way to be free." to be very poignant in it's imagery. The bird on the wire is helpless and flutters about desperately in an attempt to shake itself free, likewise the drunk, helpless and reaching for something that will release him. Our lives can seem as narrow and meaningless as that of the caged bird, so we turn to the bottle, religion or whatever to seek release. Love can be the ultimate release, but even here the singer feels caught on the wire and torn everyone who reached out to him. He seems forever like the bird fluttering on the wire trying to shake itself free and his plea to his love seems another instance of the drunk in the choir offering prayers for release........a beautiful but sad song.
    NWNmoonon September 22, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI believe this song is about the artist's bane: society. The artist tries, through his art, to escape society, the reality surrounding it, and its boundaries, but society is ever present: the artist has to make money in order to live ( eating, having a home, traveling in order to show his art, etc ). As the artist discovers this through the years, he will try to go through boundaries - boundaries created by society. In this way, the artist defies what is considered normal behavior and often upsets the people around him. In this song, the artist apologizes to those who are dear to him. Of course, the bird is the symbolism of freedom, the freedom of creation is as infinite as it is limited - by the wire ( society ). The true birds are those whom you never hear or see - they do not travel, they do not own houses and they barely have enough to eat. It is about a sacrifice that each and every artist has to make.
    Ex Abruptoon September 30, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentBeautiful song. Here's my take on it:

    Being free is being you. By being so, you risk hurting people, but you also stnd to become who you act like - see the beggar and the pretty woman. The hurt that results from attempting to follow your heart, is not intended to cause pain to others, it's only doing what you believe to be right at the time. The bird on the wire is like the person above said, it's connected but at the same time apart - a necessity in any life, which limits but also affirms - the wire soon becomes something you are dependent upon.
    moomoosnakeon October 26, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Knight in some old fashoned book" is referring to the knight being STUCK.. (The bird, the drunk, the worm).. He's gonna be in the book and he's gonna die - nothing he can do about it
    jamesbristowon July 22, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe only line that seems out of place is "like a knight from some old-fashioned book". Does he mean that he imagines himself as a great, noble lover?
    charrbinon April 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentsomething along those lines--the next line after that is "i have saved all my ribbons for thee."

    it's a prayer or a love song, or both, depending on how you look at it.
    misterbojangleson February 14, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentand not so much noble as humble. knights in old-fashioned books considered themselves servants to their ladies.
    misterbojangleson February 15, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is about the kind of small rebellions that we all attempt in life- 'like a drunk in a midnight choir' - nobody notices the drunk is there amongst all the other singers, but he's getting a kick out of his small rebellion - 'Like a bird on the wire' - the bird is free and above and apart from the world but still connected to it.

    It's about how we would all love to be free (from reality), but we have to live with the fact that it is impossible.
    alice84on July 15, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHe is singing to God, apologizing for what he has done wrong and promising that he will make ammends.
    diverdaveon October 09, 2007   Link

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