Biblical Studies

Why I read the Song of Songs III

Like an apricot among the trees of the forest,
so is my lover among the young men.

Your hair is like a flock of goats
streaming down Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock ready to be shorn
that have come up from the washing pool,
every one of them having twins,
not one of them bereaved of offspring.

Like a slice of pomegranate gleams your brow
from behind your locks.
Like the tower of David is your neck,
built to perfection.
A thousand bucklers hang on it,
all kinds of warriors’ shields.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
which feed among the lotuses.

His cheeks are like a bed of spice,
towers of herbal spices.
His lips are lotuses,
dripping liquid myrrh.

Your belly is a heap of wheat
fenced about with lotuses.

Your eyes are pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
overlooking Damascus.

This stature of yours is like a palm tree
and your breasts like the clusters.

This is a selection of the Song of Songs’ intriguingly exotic imagery. To modern readers, it can be somewhat impenetrable. Even scholars have struggled with it at times and have thought of some of these comparisons and metaphors as ‘bizarre’, ‘grotesque’, ‘comical’ or ‘puzzling’ (as noted by Marcia Falk, Love Lyrics from the Bible: A Translation and Literary Study of the Song of Songs).

That kind of effect was obviously not intended by the author, who in these lines describes the beauty of the Song’s two protagonists. It is simply our distance from the culture that produced this ancient text that causes us such difficulties of perception.

And that brings me to my third reason for reading and studying the Song of Songs, which is my desire to come to a better understanding of the Song’s imagery and poetic language.

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