Friday, May 04, 2007

Song of Songs Chapter 2

Bonnard, Iris and Lilies

The Song of Songs Chapter 2

2:1 She compares herself with flowers that may be considered quite important symbolically. Possibly, the lily is the sort of lovely flower most likely to be missed by others. The original “rose” is probably something more like a crocus.

2:2 Here, he takes up her image, and may be saying that she may be a lily, but all the other women are thorns by comparison. The contrast is noticeable, and may involve the distinction between fertility and infertility.

2:3 In this extended metaphor she tastes his fruit (metaphorically speaking). The image remains common, as in the line from an old Blind Lemon song (also a composition by Irving Berlin), “If you don’t want my peaches, honey, don’t hang around my tree.” Apples are not native to the region and in the wild state were small and bitter; apricots are native and are sensuous fruit and may be what is referred to here. Apple trees, however, were commonly used in love songs to denote fertility and eroticism. Tasting is often used to denote the actual experience of things. Some commentators believe she refers here to her delight in sexual intercourse, or, possibly, oral sex. Notice that in this case, to interpret the phrase as erotic is to interpret it as more literal, whereas to have it simply say something like “I found his loving sweet” is a more figurative interpretation.

Note that her reference to finding shade contrasts with the earlier reference to her being forced to work outside in the vineyards under the burning sun.

2:4 Here again she may be imagining the outdoors where they make love to be an elaborate indoors.

2:5 She proclaims the intensity of her erotic desire for him. She complains of lovesickness, and demands that he satisfy her with food, considered metaphorically as making love. Some translate what the KJV calls “flagons” with “raisin cakes.

2:6 This is a stylized depiction of the lovers in an act of love. An ancient Sumerian marriage rite reads, “Your right hand you have placed on my vulva, Your left stroked my head.” There are several variations in poems of the region, all erotic and involving digital stimulation. A translation at says “And his right hand stimulates me.”

The note reads (in part) The function of the prefixed verbal form of תְּחַבְּקֵנִי (tÿkhabbÿqeni, “embrace me”) may be classified several ways: (1) ingressive: “His right hand is beginning to stimulate me,” (2) instantaneous: “His right hand is stimulating me [right now],” (3) progressive: “His right hand stimulates me,” (4) jussive of desire: “May his right hand stimulate me!” (5) injunction: “Let his right hand stimulate me!” or (6) permission: “His right hand may stimulate me.” Based upon their view that the couple is not yet married, some scholars argue for an imperfect of desire (“May his right hand stimulate/embrace me!”). Other scholars suggest that the progressive imperfect is used (“His right hand stimulates me”). For a striking parallel, see S. N. Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite, 105.

2:7 She turns to her supposed audience, the daughters of Jerusalem, and cautions them not to be too hasty in lovemaking. She seems to be praising foreplay here, though she may be referring to sexual maturity.

2:8 In her arousal, she hears her lover’s voice as he comes to her.

2:9 She describes her lover as a gazelle, an image commonly used in poetry of the time to indicate sensual grace. He gazes at her through a crack in a wall. The wall provides both a dramatic and a symbolic function. It renders the scene more enchanting by almost hiding the figure of the lover so that he shows himself only in parts. Also, the wall seems to represent anything that comes between the lovers.

2:10 She describer her lover speaking to her, to come and go with him. This may be a response to her request from 1:4 to draw her to him.

2:11 It is spring, and the rainy season is over. Much of the imagery associates with springtime and all that implies for growth, fertility, and generation.

2:12 In the original Hebrew there is a play on words (pun) with the word for “singing” also meaning “pruning,” so just as it is time for trimming the flowers and shrubs it is time for singing, which introduces the songbird, the turtledove, which returns to Palestine in early April.

2:13 The ripening of fruit in the spring and its sweet aromas are suggestive of sexuality.

2:14 He calls her a dove hidden away, perhaps like the lily in 2:1, 2. Presumably they are still separated by a wall, and she is coyly hiding from him. He calls her voice “delicious,” in one of many places where the senses intermingle.

2:15 Since the Shulamite’s brothers are her guardians, they may speak these lines. Foxes represent anything that stands in the way of their love, in a presumably more threatening way that the wall.

2:16 If we associate lilies with the Shulamite’s body, as the text seems to indicate, then we interpret this line in a particular way. It is often repeated as a refrain in the song.

2:17 She urges her lover to leave with the dawn, a common motif in later love poems, especially the aubade. The aubade is a traditional love song from Medieval times ("alba") and later which tells of the sorrow lovers feel when day (represented by the sun) arrives, meaning that they must now part. It tells us that the lovers are not married. The original text translates “Until day breathes.” Some commentators believe the mountains refer to the young woman’s cleavage.

[Aubade is the title of one of Philip Larkin's most fearsome poems.]