"Who by Fire" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
And who by fire, who by water
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial
Who in your merry merry month of may
Who by very slow decay
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt
Who by avalanche, who by powder
Who for his greed, who for his hunger
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident
Who in solitude, who in this mirror
Who by his lady's command, who by his own hand
Who in mortal chains, who in power
And who shall I say is calling?

Lyrics submitted by Hosimosi

"Who by Fire" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Who by Fire song meanings
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  • +7
    General CommentBased on the Yom Kippur prayer Unetaneh Tokef, part of which is as follows:
    "On Rosh Hashanah it is written and Yom Kippur it is sealed
    How many shall pass on and how many shall come to be;
    who shall live and who shall die;
    who shall see ripe old age and who shall not;
    who shall perish by fire and who by water;
    who by sword and who by beast;
    who by hunger and who by thirst..."
    LadyMidnighton May 23, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI wonder about the refrain, "and who shall I say is calling?". After the "who by ..." that opens every line, this "who" suddenly is a different one. A completely different "who". It is sarcastic change of the repetin "who". There is a a very polite question here, "who shall I say", with all due respect and humility, who is *calling* here. Who is the one that is behind all this, that calls us, whether we die from fire or from barbiturate. Cohen does not state this as a pure philosophical issue. It comes from a deep pain of the human state where one faces its unchallengeable end. Cohen, as I see it, does not accept the simplistic view of the faithful. He wants an answer that is acceptable and sensible for a modern person of our times. Even if he knows no answer would ever come, it is still his privilege, ours, to ask.
    yaakovon July 04, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think of St. Peter at the gates of heaven, calling on those who are waiting to get in.
    nursejenon February 07, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment"your merry, merry month of May" - seems to me to be quite sarcastic, as in if you died in the month of May, it wouldn't be so merry after all. Again, saying that death can come at any time, and in any form.

    "Who shall I say is calling?" - I agree with "track", he's questioning who is it that decides, the when and the where.

    Fabulous, chilling stuff. Thank you , Leonard.
    FishesWillLaughon May 18, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"who by avalanche" and "who in this mirror" are maybe referencing two songs on his Songs of Love and Hate album, "Avalanche" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag" respectively. Just a thought. Give them a listen, especially the latter.
    thickasthieveson July 17, 2009   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningUnetaneh Tokef talking about god and that he is so strong and powerful and he decides everithing but leonard is asking "and who shall i say is calling"he means who decides people their own fate or god.
    dodiko123on September 07, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's addressed to us, the listeners. Which one will YOU be, will you die by fire, by water.... So it's calling to mind the moment of our own death. A bit scary?
    jimqukon October 13, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGood interpretations, I like the saint peter one alot. I first liked this song just because the girls voice is amazing now it is even better!
    twinegardenon May 29, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentprops to lady midnight...a lot of his songs are based in judaism
    sploogerellaon January 03, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"Who by fire" is about death. Plain and simple. Cohen is saying that it is something the we all will face sooner or later and questions how we will die.

    "Who shall I say, Is calling" = What will cause your own death.

    I respectfully disagree that the song is about hell or sinners alone. See the lines:

    "who by brave accent"
    "who by accident"
    "who in the sunshine, who in the nightime"
    "who in solitude, who in this mirror"

    The overall meaning is that we all will die.
    fgv1977on August 03, 2008   Link

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