Based on the similes in "Bird on a Wire" by Leonard Cohen, what exactly is Leonard Cohen trying to portray - what do the similes mean? 

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Bird on the Wire", Cohen presents his similes in pairs:

"Like a bird on the wire, Like a drunk in a midnight choir..."

"Like a worm on the hook, Like a knight in an old-fashioned book..."

"Like a baby, stillborn, Like a beast with his horn..."

I believe that the first simile in each pair presents an image of a soul somehow held captive, prevented from reaching fulfillment - the bird on a wire, perhaps entangled in the accoutrements of a bustling city as opposed to flying free in the wild, the worm caught on a hook, and a stillborn baby.  The second simile in each pair might represent a way in which an individual might strive to escape the ties that bind in order to be free - the drunk seeks release through alcohol, the knight through daring acts of nobility, and the beast by lashing out at those around him, in the process tearing up even those who "reached out" to him.

The similes in the poem present the condition, the things and situations that keep an individual from becoming fully himself, and they also illustrate that in trying to be free of these, humans do not always choose the most effective means, and sometimes end up hurting others in exact opposition to what was intended.  In the second half of each stanza, the poet acknowledges that this has been the case in his experience.  He offers an apology for his mistakes, and a plea for understanding that his intentions are good - he is only trying, "in (his) way, to be free