"The Butcher" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
I came upon a butcher,
He was slaughtering a lamb,
I accused him there
With his tortured lamb.

He said, Listen to me, child,
I am what I am and you, you are my only son.
Well, I found a silver needle,
I put it into my arm.

It did some good,
Did some harm.
But the nights were cold
And it almost kept me warm,
How come the night is long?
I saw some flowers growing up
Where that lamb fell down

Was I supposed to praise my Lord,
Make some kind of joyful sound?
He said, Listen, listen to me now,
I go round and round
And you, you are my only child.

Do not leave me now,
Do not leave me now,
I'm broken down
From a recent fall.

Blood upon my body
And ice upon my soul,
Lead on, my son, it is your world.


Lyrics submitted by Hosimosi

"The Butcher" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

The Butcher song meanings
Add your thoughts

6 Comments

sort form View by:
  • 0
    General CommentI feel this song is about God and Jesus, at least at some level.
    tetrabeatingon March 11, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOr just the relantionship between father and son.
    annazoffon December 20, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAs cliche as this sounds, the needle stanza sounds awfully like heroin usage to me.
    Anilandon December 23, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe Butcher seems to me to be the way the subject views God.
    ThomYorkeGuyGarvey92on September 17, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationMaybe this is about religion, though not necessarily about God. I think this song is more about the idea of erasing the lines between black and white; that separate good/evil. Perhaps the protagonist in this song initially prides himself as somewhat of a saint--someone who is virtuous, self-righteous, exemplary--in other words, a hero. He tries to rectify wrongs by calling out an action he perceives as evil being done to someone he sees as helpless and innocent (like a butcher slaughtering a lamb). Then he comes to acknowledge that this evil is very much inherent, perhaps at times even necessary-- but is inevitably a part of himself. He learns that he can gain what he wants (maybe selfishly) from performing tasks that weigh heavy on his conscience and soul. Lyrics such as "Listen to me child/I am what I am/and you/you are my only son" make me think that at some point, the protagonist decides he needs to accept the ugliness within himself because it is a trait he feels he must keep or cannot let go of--much like an only son would carry on a last name.

    "Blood upon my body
    and ice upon my soul
    Lead on my son, it is your world"

    the last stanza make me think the bigger picture he is trying to convey is a commentary on misogyny.
    heidismellson June 03, 2012   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI came upon a butcher,
    He was slaughtering a lamb,
    I accused him there
    With his tortured lamb.

    (The lamb, or Jesus, was the ultimate, and perfect, sacrifice. Jesus accuses the butcher, or God, of sacrificing his only son as atonement for the sins of his people)

    He said, Listen to me, child,
    I am what I am and you,
    you are my only son

    (because God is ultimate he is also unknowable, he "is what he is.")

    Well, I found a silver needle,
    I put it into my arm.
    It did some good,
    Did some harm

    (it's hard not to this part as a literal end of emotional pain through heroin. As has been pointed out, heroin especially is a false descent into the pre-anxious state of innocence or "Eden.")

    But the nights were cold
    And it almost kept me warm,
    How come the night is long?

    (the cold night of depression is only barely improved by using Heroin. Why does depression have to last so long?)

    I saw some flowers growing up
    Where that lamb fell down
    Was I supposed to praise my Lord,
    Make some kind of joyful sound?

    (the sacrifice of the lamb, and hence the atonement of sin, brings new life, a rebirth, or flowers growing up. But this is a bitter pill, as salvation came from murdering God's only son)

    He said, Listen, listen to me now,
    I go round and round
    And you, you are my only child.

    (keep the faith, people will always need self-transcendence, you are still my only child)

    Do not leave me now,
    Do not leave me now,
    I'm broken down
    From a recent fall.

    (I might be reaching here, but by Cohen's time God had been proven a fiction, or narrative, by science and philosophy. He is saying don't give up on me, you still need me. Have a different relationship with me if you need to).

    Blood upon my body
    And ice upon my soul,
    Lead on, my son, it is your world.

    (a bleeding body and frozen soul indicates severe clinical depression; and yet, carry on, there is hope, you can still change)
    solaris2013on September 30, 2013   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain