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 Lyrics as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

The Old Revolution song meanings
Add Your Thoughts

4 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    Sometimes 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 05, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    One 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 Comment

    I 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 30, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Much 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

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!

More Featured Meanings

Album art
Son Şansın - Şarkı Sözleri
Hayalperest
This song seemingly tackles the methods of deception those who manipulate others use to get victims to follow their demands, as well as diverting attention away from important issues. They'll also use it as a means to convince people to hate or kill others by pretending acts of terrorism were committed by the enemy when the acts themselves were done by the masters of control to promote discrimination and hate. It also reinforces the idea that these manipulative forces operate in various locations, infiltrating everyday life without detection, and propagate any and everywhere. In general, it highlights the danger of hidden agendas, manipulation, and distraction, serving as a critique of those who exploit chaos and confusion to control and gain power, depicting a cautionary tale against falling into their traps. It encourages us to question the narratives presented to us and remain vigilant against manipulation in various parts of society.
Album art
Holiday
Bee Gees
@[Diderik:33655] "Your a holiday!" Was a popular term used in the 50s/60s to compliment someone on their all around. For example, not only are they beautiful, but they are fun and kind too ... just an all around "holiday". I think your first comment is closer to being accurate. The singer/song writers state "Millions of eyes can see, yet why am i so blind!? When the someone else is me, its unkind its unkind". I believe hes referring to the girl toying with him and using him. He wants something deeper with her, thats why he allows himself to be as a puppet (even though for her fun and games) as long as it makes her happy. But he knows deep down that she doesnt really want to be serious with him and thats what makes him.
Album art
Dreamwalker
Silent Planet
I think much like another song “Anti-Matter” (that's also on the same album as this song), this one is also is inspired by a horrifying van crash the band experienced on Nov 3, 2022. This, much like the other track, sounds like it's an extension what they shared while huddled in the wreckage, as they helped frontman Garrett Russell stem the bleeding from his head wound while he was under the temporary effects of a concussion. The track speaks of where the mind goes at the most desperate & desolate of times, when it just about slips away to all but disconnect itself, and the aftermath.
Album art
Mountain Song
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell gives Adam Reader some heartfelt insight into Jane’s Addiction's hard rock manifesto "Mountain Song", which was the second single from their revolutionary album Nothing's Shocking. Mountain song was first recorded in 1986 and appeared on the soundtrack to the film Dudes starring Jon Cryer. The version on Nothing's Shocking was re-recorded in 1988. "'Mountain Song' was actually about... I hate to say it but... drugs. Climbing this mountain and getting as high as you can, and then coming down that mountain," reveals Farrell. "What it feels to descend from the mountain top... not easy at all. The ascension is tough but exhilarating. Getting down is... it's a real bummer. Drugs is not for everybody obviously. For me, I wanted to experience the heights, and the lows come along with it." "There's a part - 'Cash in now honey, cash in Miss Smith.' Miss Smith is my Mother; our last name was Smith. Cashing in when she cashed in her life. So... she decided that, to her... at that time, she was desperate. Life wasn't worth it for her, that was her opinion. Some people think, never take your life, and some people find that their life isn't worth living. She was in love with my Dad, and my Dad was not faithful to her, and it broke her heart. She was very desperate and she did something that I know she regrets."
Album art
Blue
Ed Sheeran
“Blue” is a song about a love that is persisting in the discomfort of the person experiencing the emotion. Ed Sheeran reflects on love lost, and although he wishes his former partner find happiness, he cannot but admit his feelings are still very much there. He expresses the realization that he might never find another on this stringed instrumental by Aaron Dessner.