"The Old Revolution" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
I finally broke into the prison,
I found my place in the chain.
Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows,
All the brave young men
They're waiting now to see a signal
Which some killer will be lighting for pay.
Into this furnace I ask you now to venture,
You whom I cannot betray.

I fought in the old revolution
On the side of the ghost and the King.
Of course I was very young
And I thought that we were winning;
I can't pretend I still feel very much like singing
As they carry the bodies away.
Into this furnace I ask you now to venture

Lately you've started to stutter
As though you had nothing to say.
To all of my architects let me be traitor.
Now let me say I myself gave the order
To sleep and to search and to destroy.
Into this furnace I ask you now to venture

Yes, you who are broken by power,
You who are absent all day,
You who are kings for the sake of your children's story,
The hand of your beggar is burdened down with money,
The hand of your lover is clay.
Into this furnace I ask you now to venture


Lyrics submitted by Hosimosi

"The Old Revolution" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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  • +2
    My InterpretationSometimes Leonard's songs are so full of personal meaning, metaphor and symbols it is hard for me not to project my own journey onto the songs, especially at times in my life that are particularly stressful or destabilizing. Alas, here is just my interpretation.

    I finally broke into the prison,
    I found my place in the chain.
    Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows,
    All the brave young men
    They're waiting now to see a signal
    Which some killer will be lighting for pay.
    Into this furnace I ask you now to venture,
    You whom I cannot betray.

    (this song reflects themes of oppression and the "beautiful losers" of the world. Thanks for the props Leonard! Breaking out of prison to find your place on the chain to me means aggressively breaking free from physical oppression only to gladly welcomes it back into your life in the form of mental prison. But even then, there is hope, yes, even in damnation. Given the fact that all the young men are going off to war to die, Cohen invites us to descend into the existential furnace of a churning, grinding nonsensical life that could actually support this happening, in order to take a look at why we allow this to happen. He will meet you there, and here there is no betrayal, only truth. And truth is that war is insane).

    I fought in the old revolution
    On the side of the ghost and the King.
    Of course I was very young
    And I thought that we were winning;
    I can't pretend I still feel very much like singing
    As they carry the bodies away.
    Into this furnace I ask you now to venture,

    Of course war, social/cultural commentary, magic and love are alive in Cohen's work. Which is great, because otherwise he'd just be another cynic. He once believed in kings and queens as a young man, but the depression of life, especially after WW2, like the dead young soldiers, invites despair and steals away his creativity. Still, he invites us to venture into the furnace, to meet life head on, in all it's sickness and mystery).

    Lately you've started to stutter
    As though you had nothing to say.
    To all of my architects let me be traitor.
    Now let me say I myself gave the order
    To sleep and to search and to destroy.
    Into this furnace I ask you now to venture

    (I'm probably so dead wrong about this song, like I was with "Avalanche." Here the furnace venturing people lose their voice, their identity. They shake through the "awful descend into the wound," and "the dark night of the soul." But he's got your back, he understands, for he is a traitor to his conditioning, imploring you to find a new way to be in the world, one that makes sense for contemporary man, whose task it is to sleep, search and destroy timeworn, archaic thoughts structures, such as religion.)

    Yes, you who are broken by power,
    You who are absent all day,
    You who are kings for the sake of your children's story,
    The hand of your beggar is burdened down with money,
    The hand of your lover is clay.
    Into this furnace I ask you now to venture

    (to the underdog's, the oppressed, you are heroic, like Lennon's "working class hero" or Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom," you are heroic (rich) just the way you are, in spirit, in your commitment to family. From the ashes of marital mediocrity you can still build meaning and mystery into the awesomeness of life).
    solaris2013on October 04, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOne of my friends intepretation is the "Into this furnace..." chorus is God speaking speaking to the Jews to enter in the gas chambers, and the "you whom I cannot betray" is heavily ironic as the Jews consider themselves bound into a covenant with God, and it is them whom he loves most.

    Or, then again, having said that I believe it is Cohen asking us to go into the sites of atrocities to take lessons to learn so these horrors can never be repeated. Hence the line: Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows.

    I love the version of this done by the walkmen too.
    steve333333on September 21, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it has something to do with war.

    "All the brave young men" would be the only ones in war, not women. I don't think he's speaking about Jews entering the gas chamber, I think it's more abstract than that, and also there would be women and children entering the gas chamber.

    Maybe breaking into the prision (during the Vietnam War) means not going to war and facing prison if refusing to go when drafted. There would be other draft dodgers in prison and that might be finding his "place in the chain."
    maskieon September 29, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMuch about this song is speculative, but it was written around 1968-1969, shortly after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and during the high point of the Vietnam War. I have often thought of "The Old Revolution" as a reference to the Civil Rights Movement, with the "ghost" being John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, and the "King" being MLK. Of course, it was also possible that MLK was both the "ghost" and "king" to which Cohen referred. Cohen "thought that we were winning", but his hopes were dashed by the Vietnam War..."I can't pretend I feel very much like singing, as they carried the bodies away." On the other hand, the repeated chorus has always confused me. Clearly there is a reference to Israel's history in the reference to the furnace. The Bible records Daniel's three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, and Jewish tradition claims that the same happened to Abraham, thrown into a furnace by Nimrod for espousing monotheism. It could be that the chorus is a prayer, in which Cohen (a priest) is invoking the "fourth man", the Son of the gods, to venture into the furnace and rescue the Hebrew children, You (the Messiah) "whom I cannot betray."
    jdoggtnon January 06, 2015   Link

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