Friday, May 04, 2007

Song of Songs Chapter 4

Bonnard, Horse-hair Glove, 1939

The Song of Songs Chapter 4

4:1 This section, to 4:5, is a song of praise known as a wasf, found in Egyptian, Syrian, Sumerian and Arabic love poems. In the wasf, typically, the husband praises his bride’s beauty by singling out her physical features in a series of elaborate comparisons. [Samuel Krauss, “The Archaeological Background of Some Passages in the Song of Songs,” JQR 32 (1941-42): 125.

It was improper for a woman of good society to expose her hair in public. Again, he singles out her eyes for praise.

4:2 Her teeth are beautiful because they are white, they are all alike, and none are missing. See 6:6.

4:3 Both visual and auditory imagery combine in this verse. The slice of pomegranate, though, seems an odd comparison.

4:4 Later (7:12) her thighs are said to resemble those that might have been made by a craftsman. The bucklers and shields represent a necklace.

4:5 Gazelles are young, graceful, and lively. See 2:16, 7:3.

4:6 Here the Hebrew refers to the day breathing. See 3:6, 4:14 for the sensual nature of frankincense and myrrh.

4:7 “Every inch of you is beautiful and without a flaw.”

4:8 Mountains here suggest both inaccessibility and beauty.

4:9 He says she has plucked his heart. It was conventional to call a lover “sister” or “spouse,” without implying either relationship or marriage—though perhaps hoping for it.

4:10 See 7:2, 7. He praises her much as she praised him at 1:2-3. The sister-bride motif is found in Genesis.

4:11 The honey of her lips probably refers to the sweetness of her seduction. See 5:13.

4:12 The closed garden (hortus conclusus in the Medieval Latin) presumably represents the Shulamite’s sexuality. Only the lover is invited to enter. See 4:16—5:1. The Song can be interpreted as an answer to Genesis 2, one which celebrates the integration of humans and the natural world, and with each other, rather than their enforced separation.

4:13 More exotic fruit trees here are again suggestive of the lovers. Paradise is a garden.

4:14 A list that piles rich, rare, fragrant spices on top of each other: spikenard, calamus, saffron, cinnamon.

4:15 The flowing water is sensuous, and recalls the fountain or well from above.

4:16 Cf. Ezekiel 37:9 “from the four corners come, O wind, and blow upon these slain that they may live!” Also, Genesis 2:7. Now she is “his garden.”

Notice how the scene shifts from the middle of verse 16 where the Shulamite invited her lover into her garden to “eat his pleasant fruits” to the opening of Chapter 5 at a banquet, presumably a wedding feast.