How can I analyze the style of Leonard Cohen's song "The Story of Isaac"?  

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Leonard Cohen's song "The Story of Isaac" starts with a retelling of the Old Testament story of Isaac, whose father, Abraham, was about to sacrifice his son to God as a testament to Abraham's faith when God stopped him. In Cohen's song, Isaac is narrating this story as a first-person account. The song features the father's voice as he speaks to Isaac and tells him that he's had a vision that he must obey. In the second stanza, the father and son head up the mountain, and Isaac sees a bird that he thinks is an eagle but might be a vulture. This bird is a symbol of Isaac's realization that he might be sacrificed (as vultures are birds of prey). 

In the third stanza, the narrator addresses the audience in the second person and tells them that "You who build these altars now /To sacrifice these children/You must not do it anymore." Isaac is now speaking to the generals of the time (the song was written during the Vietnam War) who are sending young people to war. He has become the voice of this younger generation, who are sacrificed for the war effort. He tells the generals that they are not tempted by God, as his father, Abraham, was. In the last stanza, the lines "I will kill you if I must /I will help you if I can" are repeated twice, perhaps signifying that helping and killing seem to be closely related in this poem and seem equivalent to people in the military. The reference to the peacock at the end of the song is the subject of some critical debate, but it may refer to God spreading the seeds of death, or in alternative explanations, to God spreading mercy.