"You Know Who I Am" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
I cannot follow you, my love,
You cannot follow me.
I am the distance you put between
All of the moments that we will be.

You know who I am,
You've stared at the sun,
Well I am the one who loves
Changing from nothing to one.

Sometimes I need you naked,
Sometimes I need you wild,
I need you to carry my children in
And I need you to kill a child.
You know who I am

If you should ever track me down
I will surrender there
And I will leave with you one broken man
Whom I will teach you to repair.
You know who I am

I cannot follow you, my love,
You cannot follow me.
I am the distance you put between
All of the moments that we will be.
You know who I am


Lyrics submitted by Hosimosi

"You Know Who I Am" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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You Know Who I Am song meanings
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9 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentFor some reason (and I am not religiously inclined in the slightest) I perceive this as possibly being from the perspective of a deity, attempting to make contact with mankind and inform them of the extents of its power. There's an atmosphere of omniscience throughout the song, especially in his requests:

    "Sometimes I need you naked,
    sometimes I need you wild,
    I need you to carry my children in
    and I need you to kill a child."

    However, it can be argued that Cohen intended the song to have this religious ambiguity, so deliberately sang in a way that endowed it with double entendre.
    digitalceremonieson August 14, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think she loves him but she has too many expectations, causing a distance between his real "him" and her idealized "him". He realizes this makes their relation impossible. If she insists, he won't resist, but he knows it will be too hard to build up a healthy relation.
    bertunoon September 02, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI agree with bertuno. She knows who he is (the emotionally distant person); He is responsible for the distance in the relation. She did her best, trying to make something of it (she stared at the sun, it's painful and unhealthy). He couldn't attach himself emotionally, but it's not because he doesn't want to. He wishes that he could, and wishes that it'll all be alright in the future.
    theraven1982on December 15, 2007   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningI cannot follow you, my love,
    You cannot follow me.
    I am the distance you put between
    All of the moments that we will be.

    (Leonard is a big fan of love, loss and religion and this both exemplified and juxtaposed in this song. Like Pink Floyd's "Mother" [a parallel between war and the mother/child bond] Cohen starts off with the literal, we can't be together due to overwhelming spiritual/environmental/individual differences. It is "me" "I" that is the obstacle to intimacy and connection, sabotaging our future together).

    You know who I am,
    You've stared at the sun,
    Well I am the one who loves
    Changing from nothing to one.

    (you've truly seen me, in all my nakedness and vulnerability; the second piece of the chorus gets at the author's attachment style. He becomes highly involved/engaged in love ones, becoming one, but at the same time this intimacy terrifies him, and so he shuts down or leaves the relationship entirely).

    Sometimes I need you naked,
    Sometimes I need you wild,
    I need you to carry my children in
    And I need you to kill a child.

    (I need you to be vulnerable, I need you to be adventurous/spontaneous, I need you to be nurturing, I need to not be dependent on you, like a child.

    If you should ever track me down
    I will surrender there
    And I will leave with you one broken man
    Whom I will teach you to repair.

    (but if you manage to stick with me, through all my efforts to sabotage and reject you, eventually I will accept your love. I'll show you my brokenness. I'll let you help me heal)

    Although there is obvious religious undertones, such as "becoming one" and "surrendering" this song to me is mostly about how much the author wants love and intimacy, and yet how much this terrifies him at the same time; this is is his character flaw as a man, and yet there is hope, for with time trust can be achieved.
    solaris2013on September 30, 2013   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI personally have a very different interpretation of this song from those who have already commented.

    For me this poem meets, word by word, what I understand to be the condition of a relationship, and of humankind in general. And it's not a bad thing, only if you are scared of it.

    "I cannot follow you, my love,
    You cannot follow me."

    The idea that when two people get into a relationship they merge into one is a terrible one, that only causes suffering. A person remains a person, no matter what. No one can follow you in your deepest self, that is for you, and you alone, to take care of, and even enjoy it.

    "You know who I am,
    You've stared at the sun,
    Well I am the one who loves
    Changing from nothing to one."

    This part is about cycles. we all die and reborn at certain points in our lives, and a true relationship embraces that. A true relatioship as to, from time to time, be able to stare at the sun, and allow itself to become blind, even if it is dangerous, so it can "see" differenttly afterwards...

    "Sometimes I need you naked,
    Sometimes I need you wild,
    I need you to carry my children in
    And I need you to kill a child."

    Again... about the ambiguity and the paradox of life/death that permeates everything. And being able to bare with that.

    "If you should ever track me down
    I will surrender there
    And I will leave with you one broken man
    Whom I will teach you to repair."

    Now this is truly beautiful. This is how we get born again... not because someone "delivers" us like we are babies being taken care of, when we fall, but because we can teatch someone to help us helping ourselves. that's true love.
    Bichoon September 29, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe way I have enterpreted this is that he loves this person, but he cannot let them love him and they probably have somebody else anyway.
    NewDawnFadeson December 26, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree digitalceremonies, it is from God's or a god's perspective and, like most great songs, it has dual meanings. I'm not religious either, but the lines: "Changing from nothing to one" and "I'll leave you one broken man whom I'll teach you to repair" seem to speak of transformation from non-belief to salvation or spiritual awakening. At the same time it parallels a story of a relationship between a man and a woman. Brilliant!
    eyehopon September 14, 2012   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationRegarding,
    "I need you to carry my children in
    And I need you to kill a child"
    The first part always made me think of the obvious gestation of an infant for human reproduction, but what is this other line about child murder? The child in question may be a metaphor for the emotional maturity of the speaker. The object may have some influence in changing him from someone less responsible to something more so, maybe by the advent of parenthood itself. "Murdering" the "child" that might remain within.
    Can you tell I'm a parent?
    warmPhaseon May 29, 2015   Link
  • -1
    General CommentFrances McKee of the Vaselines fame covered this song on ther latest album, sunny moon. It's a great cover.
    orangebeakeron October 14, 2006   Link

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