Biblical Studies

Why I read the Song of Songs IV

My last post in this series was about the imagery of the Song of Songs. And so is this one, because, having commented on its strangeness, I must say something about its dazzling beauty as well. Or perhaps illustrate it with some further examples:

O that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,
for your lovemaking is better than wine.

You are so beautiful, my love.
You are so beautiful.
Your eyes are doves.

Like an apricot among the trees of the forest,
so is my lover among the young men.
In that shade I always delight to sit;
the fruit is sweet to my palate.

Prop me up among blossoms,
spread me out among apricots,
for I’m sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
his right hand embraces me.

My lover is mine and I am his.
He feeds among the lotuses.
Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, be like a gazelle, my lover,
or like a young stag on the cleft mountains.

You’ve stolen my heart, my sister, my bride.
You’ve stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes,

How beautiful is your lovemaking,
my sister, my bride!
How much better is your lovemaking than wine,

Your lips drip honey, my bride.
Honey and milk are under your tongue …

You are beautiful, my love, as Tirzah,
lovely as Jerusalem,
awesome as the stars.
Turn your eyes away from me,
for they make me tremble.

Come, my lover,
let’s go out into the countryside,
let’s spend the night among the henna shrubs.
Let’s go early to the vineyards
to see if the vine has blossomed,
if their blossoms have opened,
if the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I’ll give you my love.
The mandrakes give off their fragrance;
at our doors are all kinds of delicious fruits,
new as well as old,
which I’ve stored up for you, my lover.

I delight in the fact that the Old Testament features a whole book of love poetry, one of the many reasons why it deserves far more attention than it usually gets these days. I do realise, of course, that these extracts contain some further examples of imagery that may not be entirely intelligible for those unaccustomed to the Song of Songs’ ancient language, but I hope that they nonetheless illustrate its supreme beauty. The translation, still a work in progress, is, as always, my own.

So, my fourth reason for reading the Song of Songs is its beautiful poetry and imagery.

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.