Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who By Words of Fire

With apologies to Leonard Cohen, some new and timely verses to one of his well-known songs.

And who by words of fire,
who by ice cold shoulder,
who by recess ridicule,
who by playground put-down,
who with sneers and slurs,
who when the teacher’s back is turned,
who by lunch table lockout,
who by yo-yo friendship,
And who
shall I say
is calling?

And who in stairwell secrecy,
who by mimicry,
who by sing-song serenade,
who by twisted nickname,
who by scornful snickering,
who by tackling,
who by tolerated torment,
who by contemptuous comment,
And who
shall I say
is calling?

And who by exclusion,
who by omission,
who by insinuation,
who by nomination,
who by intimidation,
who by provocation,
who by mock molestation,
who for the lulz,
And who
shall I say
is calling?

And who by anonymous phone call,
who by text message torpedo,
who by human blockade,
who with a hostage house-key,
who by footprint faceplant
who by saliva salvos,
who in a toppled port-a-john,
who by webcam invasion,
And who
shall I say
is calling?

And who with shattered self-esteem,
who with self-directed blame,
who by building barriers,
who forever feeling flawed,
who shamed into silence,
who with exterminated trust,
who with the everlasting echo,
who with scars that never heal,
And who
shall I say
is calling?

. . . . .

Bullying destroys lives. How many more must suffer?


  1. I really loved this, so I got curious about the original song and went looking for its origins. Based on what I found, your update is more fitting than you might otherwise think. The song was based on a prayer from one of the high holy days, Rosh Hashanah. What it said at the site ( is below:

    Who By Fire, Who By Water : The Prayer
    From the liturgy of the Day of Atonement, there is this prayer.
    Rosh Hashanah is the New Year in the Jewish liturgy. The Book of Life
    contents the fate of every sinner. Ten days later, at Yom Kippur,
    depending on wether the sinner repents or not, his fate is sealed.

    On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed
    And on Yom Kippur it is sealed
    How many shall die and how many shall be born
    Who shall live and who shall die
    Who at the measure of days and who before
    Who by fire and who by water
    Who by the sword and who by wild beasts
    Who by hunger and who by thirst
    Who by earthquake and who by plague
    Who by strangling and who by stoning
    Who shall have rest and who shall go wandering
    Who will be tranquil and who shall be harassed
    Who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted
    Who shall become poor and who shall become rich
    Who shall be brought low and who shall be raised high.

    The existence of a Book Of life (Book of Living) first appears
    in Exodus Chap. 32. Moses asking God atonement for his people.
    Lord said him "Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot
    out of my book". In Psalm 69 (verse 28)David prays the Lord for
    the sinners : "..Let them be blotted out of the book of life".

  2. You are absolutely correct - Cohen took inspiration from this prayer for his lyrics. Of course, he added his own twist with "who shall I say is calling?" which adds a mysterious and sinister quality. Some interpret that line as asking who decides how and when we die - yourself, someone else, a higher power?

  3. I thought the question related to the requirement to take responsibility/repent for one's actions.

  4. Thank you for posting! There was an article in the NYT last week about bullying and it made it sound inevitable. But it is something that the community can do something about, if there is the will.

  5. Jen, I wondered for myself as I wrote this post whether bullying is as inevitable as death. I worry that it's part of human nature, but I hope you're right that we can change that nature.