THE SONG OF SONGS

The Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles) is an exquisite collection of love lyrics, arranged to tell a dramatic tale of mutual desire and courtship. It presents an inspired portrayal of ideal human love, a resounding affirmation of the goodness of human sexuality that is applicable to the sacredness and the depth of married union.

Although the poem is attributed to Solomon in the traditional title (1:1), the language and style of the work, among other considerations, suggest a time after the end of the Babylonian exile (538 B.C.) when an unknown poet collected extant love poems, perhaps composing new material, and arranged the whole into the masterpiece we have before us. Some scholars argue the possibility of female authorship for at least portions of the Song.

The structure of the Song is difficult to analyze; this translation regards it as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest. In both form and content, sections of the Song bear great similarity to the secular love songs of ancient Egypt and the “Sacred Marriage” cult songs of Mesopotamia which celebrate the union between divine partners.

While the lovers in the Song are clearly human figures, both Jewish and Christian traditions across the centuries have adopted “allegorical” interpretations. The Song is seen as a beautiful picture of the ideal Israel, the chosen people whom the Lord leads by degrees to a greater understanding and closer union in the bond of perfect love. Such readings of the Song build on Israel’s covenant tradition. Isaiah (Is 5:17; 54:48; 62:5), Jeremiah (Jer 2:2, 3, 32), and Ezekiel (Ez 16; 23) all characterize the covenant between the Lord and Israel as a marriage. Hosea the prophet sees the idolatry of Israel in the adultery of Gomer (Hos 13). He also represents the Lord speaking to Israel’s heart (Hos 2:16) and changing her into a new spiritual people, purified by the Babylonian captivity and betrothed anew to her divine Lover “in justice and uprightness, in love and mercy” (Hos 2:21). Similar imagery has also been used frequently in Jewish mystical texts. The Song offers a welcome corrective to negative applications of the theological metaphor of the marriage/covenant in some prophetic texts. It frequently proclaims a joyous reciprocity between the lovers and highlights the active role of the female partner, now a pure figure to be cherished rather than an adulterous woman to be punished and abused. See also Is 62:35.

Christian tradition has followed Israel’s example in using marriage as an image for the relationship with God. This image is found extensively in the New Testament (Mt 9:15; 25:113; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:2332; Rev 19:79; 21:911). Thus the Song has been read as a sublime portrayal and praise of this mutual love of the Lord and his people. Christian writers have interpreted the Song in terms of the union between Christ and the Church and of the union between Christ and the individual soul, particularly in the writings of Origen and St. Bernard.

CHAPTER 1

1The Song of Songs,* which is Solomon’s.

The Woman Speaks of Her Lover

2W* a Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth,

for your love is better than wine,*

3better than the fragrance of your perfumes.*

Your name is a flowing perfume—

therefore young women love you.

4b Draw me after you! Let us run!*

The king has brought me to his bed chambers.

Let us exult and rejoice in you;

let us celebrate your love: it is beyond wine!

Rightly do they love you!

Love’s Boast

5W I am black and beautiful,

Daughters of Jerusalem*

Like the tents of Qedar,

like the curtains of Solomon.

6Do not stare at me because I am so black,*

because the sun has burned me.

The sons of my mother were angry with me;

they charged me with the care of the vineyards:

my own vineyard I did not take care of.

Love’s Inquiry

7W Tell me, you whom my soul loves,

where you shepherd,* where you give rest at midday.

Why should I be like one wandering

after the flocks of your companions?

8M If you do not know,

most beautiful among women,

Follow the tracks of the flock

and pasture your lambs*

near the shepherds’ tents.

Love’s Vision

9M To a mare among Pharaoh’s chariotry*

I compare you, my friend:

10Your cheeks lovely in pendants,

your neck in jewels.

11We will make pendants of gold for you,

and ornaments of silver.

How Near Is Love!

12W While the king was upon his couch,

my spikenard* gave forth its fragrance.

13My lover* is to me a sachet of myrrh;

between my breasts he lies.

14My lover is to me a cluster of henna*

from the vineyards of En-gedi.

15Mc How beautiful you are, my friend,

how beautiful! your eyes are doves!*

16W How beautiful you are, my lover—

handsome indeed!

Verdant indeed is our couch;*

17the beams of our house are cedars,

our rafters, cypresses.

* [1:1] Song of Songs: in Hebrew and Aramaic the idiom “the X of Xs” denotes the superlative (e.g., “king of kings” = “the highest king”; cf. Dt 10:17; Eccl 1:2; 12:8; Ezr 7:12; Dn 2:37). The ascription of authorship to Solomon is traditional. The heading may also mean “for Solomon” or “about Solomon.”

* [1:28:14] This translation augments the canonical text of the Song with the letters W, M, and D, placed in the margin, to indicate which of the characters in the Song is speaking: the woman, the man, or the “Daughters of Jerusalem.” This interpretive gloss follows an early Christian scribal practice, attested in some Septuagint manuscripts from the first half of the first millennium A.D.

* [1:27] The woman and her female chorus address the man, here viewed as king and shepherd (both are familiar metaphors for God; cf. Ps 23:1; Is 40:11; Jn 10:116). There is a wordplay between “kiss” (Hebrew nashaq) and “drink” (shaqah), anticipating 8:12. The change from third person (“let him kiss…”) to second person (“…for your love…”) is not uncommon in the Song and elsewhere (1:4; 2:4; etc.; Ps 23:13, 45, 6; etc.) and reflects the woman’s move from interior monologue to direct address to her partner.

* [1:3] Your perfumes: shemen (perfume) is a play on shem (name).

* [1:4] Another change, but from second to third person (cf. 1:2). The “king” metaphor recurs in 1:12; 3:511; 7:6. Let us exult: perhaps she is addressing young women, calling on them to join in the praise of her lover.

* [1:5] Daughters of Jerusalem: the woman contrasts herself with the elite city women, who act as her female “chorus” (5:9; 6:1). Qedar: a Syrian desert region whose name suggests darkness; tents were often made of black goat hair. Curtains: tent coverings, or tapestries. Solomon: it could also be read Salma, a region close to Qedar.

* [1:6] So black: tanned from working outdoors in her brothers’ vineyards, unlike the city women she addresses. My own vineyard: perhaps the woman herself; see 8:810 for her relationship to her brothers.

* [1:7] Shepherd: a common metaphor for kings. Here and elsewhere in the Song (3:1; 5:8; 6:1), the woman expresses her desire to be in the company of her lover. The search for the lover and her failure to find him create a degree of tension. Only at the end (8:514) do the lovers finally possess each other.

* [1:8] Pasture your lambs: both the woman and the man act as shepherds in the Song.

* [1:911] The man compares the woman’s beauty to the rich adornment of the royal chariot of Pharaoh. My friend: a special feminine form of the word “friend,” appearing only in the Song (1:15; 2:2, 10, 13; 4:1, 7; 5:2; 6:4) and used to express endearment and equality in love. Cf. Hos 3:1 for the use of the masculine form of the term in a context with sexual overtones.

* [1:12] Spikenard: a precious perfumed ointment from India; in 4:1314, a metaphor for the woman herself.

* [1:13] My lover: the woman’s favorite term for her partner (used 27 times). Myrrh: an aromatic resin of balsam or roses used in cosmetics, incense, and medicines.

* [1:14] Henna: a plant which bears white scented flowers, used in cosmetics and medicines. En-gedi: a Judean desert oasis overlooking the Dead Sea.

* [1:15] Doves: doves are pictured in the ancient world as messengers of love.

* [1:1617] Continuing the royal metaphor, the meeting place of the lovers, a shepherd’s hut of green branches, becomes a palace with beams of cedar and rafters of cypress when adorned with their love.

a. [1:23] Sg 4:10.

b. [1:4] Sg 4:10.

c. [1:15] Sg 4:1, 7.

CHAPTER 2

1W I am a flower of Sharon,*

a lily of the valleys.

2M Like a lily among thorns,

so is my friend among women.

3W Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods,

so is my lover among men.

In his shadow* I delight to sit,

and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

4a He brought me to the banquet hall*

and his glance at me signaled love.

5b Strengthen me with raisin cakes,*

refresh me with apples,

for I am sick with love.

6c His left hand is under my head

and his right arm embraces me.

7d I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem,*

by the gazelles and the does of the field,

Do not awaken, or stir up love

until it is ready.

Her Lover’s Visit Remembered

8W The sound of my lover! here he comes*

springing across the mountains,

leaping across the hills.

9My lover is like a gazelle*

or a young stag.

See! He is standing behind our wall,

gazing through the windows,

peering through the lattices.

10My lover speaks and says to me,

M “Arise, my friend, my beautiful one,

and come!

11For see, the winter is past,

the rains are over and gone.

12The flowers appear on the earth,

the time of pruning the vines has come,

and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land.

13The fig tree puts forth its figs,

and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.

Arise, my friend, my beautiful one,

and come!

14My dove in the clefts of the rock,*

in the secret recesses of the cliff,

Let me see your face,

let me hear your voice,

For your voice is sweet,

and your face is lovely.”

15W Catch us the foxes,* the little foxes

that damage the vineyards; for our vineyards are in bloom!

16e My lover belongs to me and I to him;

he feeds among the lilies.

17f Until the day grows cool* and the shadows flee,

roam, my lover,

Like a gazelle or a young stag

upon the rugged mountains.

* [2:1] Flower of Sharon: probably the narcissus, which grows in the fertile Plain of Sharon lying between Mount Carmel and Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast. Lily: the lotus plant.

* [2:3] Shadow: suggestive of protection (cf. Jgs 9:15; Ez 17:23; Ps 17:8; 121:5) and, here, of the woman’s joy in the presence of her lover.

* [2:46] The banquet hall: the sweet things of the table, the embrace of the woman and man, express the richness of their affection and the intimacy of their love.

* [2:5] Raisin cakes: perhaps pastries used in the worship of the fertility goddess (cf. Hos 3:1; Jer 7:18; 44:19). Apples: this is the common translation of a fruit that cannot be identified (cf. 2:3; 8:5); it appears frequently in Sumerian love poetry associated with the worship of the goddess Inanna. Sick: love-sickness is a popular motif in ancient love poetry.

* [2:7] Cf. 3:5; 5:8; 8:4. By the gazelles and the does: perhaps a mitigated invocation of the divinity based on the assonance in Hebrew of the names of these animals with terms for God.

* [2:813] In this sudden change of scene, the woman describes a rendezvous and pictures her lover hastening toward her dwelling until his voice is heard calling her to him.

* [2:9] Gazelle: a frequent motif in ancient poems from Mesopotamia.

* [2:14] The woman is addressed as though she were a dove in a mountain cleft out of sight and reach.

* [2:15] A snatch of song in answer to the request of 2:14; cf. 8:1314. Foxes: they threaten to disturb the security of vineyards. The vineyards are women sought after by young lovers, i.e., foxes.

* [2:17] Grows cool: in the evening when the sun is going down. Cf. Gn 3:8. Rugged: Hebrew obscure; some interpret it as a geographical name; others, in the sense of spices (cf. 8:14); still others, of sacrifice (Gn 15:10); the image probably refers here to the woman herself.

a. [2:4] Sg 1:4.

b. [2:5] Sg 5:8.

c. [2:6] Sg 8:3.

d. [2:7] Sg 3:5; 8:4.

e. [2:16] Sg 6:3; 7:10.

f. [2:17] Sg 4:6; 8:14.

CHAPTER 3

Loss and Discovery

1Wa On my bed at night I sought him*

whom my soul loves—

I sought him but I did not find him.

2“Let me rise then and go about the city,*

through the streets and squares;

Let me seek him whom my soul loves.”

I sought him but I did not find him.

3The watchmen found me,

as they made their rounds in the city:

“Him whom my soul loves—have you seen him?”

4b Hardly had I left them

when I found him whom my soul loves.*

I held him and would not let him go

until I had brought him to my mother’s house,

to the chamber of her who conceived me.

5c I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem,

by the gazelles and the does of the field,

Do not awaken or stir up love

until it is ready.

Solomon’s Wedding Procession

6Dd Who is this coming up from the desert,*

like columns of smoke

Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,

with all kinds of exotic powders?

7See! it is the litter of Solomon;

sixty valiant men surround it,

of the valiant men of Israel:

8All of them expert with the sword,

skilled in battle,

Each with his sword at his side

against the terrors* of the night.

9King Solomon made himself an enclosed litter

of wood from Lebanon.

10He made its columns of silver,

its roof of gold,

Its seat of purple cloth,

its interior lovingly fitted.*

Daughters of Jerusalem, 11go out

and look upon King Solomon

In the crown with which his mother has crowned him

on the day of his marriage,

on the day of the joy of his heart.

* [3:15] See the parallel in 5:28.

* [3:2] The motif of seeking/finding here and elsewhere is used by later Christian and Jewish mystics to speak of the soul’s search for the divine.

* [3:4] Whom my soul loves: the fourfold repetition of this phrase in vv. 14 highlights the depth of the woman’s emotion and desire. Mother’s house: cf. 8:2; a place of safety and intimacy, one which implicitly signifies approval of the lovers’ relationship.

* [3:611] This may be an independent poem. In context it portrays the lover as King Solomon, escorted by sixty armed men, coming in royal procession to meet a bride.

* [3:8] Terrors: cf. Ps 91:5; perhaps bandits lying in wait, unidentified dangers lurking in darkness.

* [3:10] Lovingly fitted: translation uncertain. The phrase “Daughters of Jerusalem” is read here with the following verse.

a. [3:15] Sg 5:28.

b. [3:4] Sg 8:2.

c. [3:5] Sg 2:7; 8:4.

d. [3:6] Sg 6:10; 8:5.

CHAPTER 4

The Beauty of the Woman

1Ma, b How beautiful you are, my friend,

how beautiful you are!

Your eyes are doves

behind your veil.

Your hair is like a flock of goats

streaming down Mount Gilead.*

2Your teeth* are like a flock of ewes to be shorn,

that come up from the washing,

All of them big with twins,

none of them barren.

3Like a scarlet strand, your lips,

and your mouth—lovely!

Like pomegranate* halves, your cheeks

behind your veil.

4c Like a tower of David, your neck,

built in courses,

A thousand shields hanging upon it,

all the armor of warriors.*

5d Your breasts are like two fawns,

twins of a gazelle

feeding among the lilies.

6e Until the day grows cool

and the shadows flee,

I shall go to the mountain of myrrh,

to the hill of frankincense.*

7You are beautiful in every way, my friend,

there is no flaw in you!*

8With me from Lebanon, my bride!

With me from Lebanon, come!

Descend from the peak of Amana,

from the peak of Senir and Hermon,*

From the lairs of lions,

from the leopards’ heights.

9f You have ravished my heart, my sister,* my bride;

you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes,

with one bead of your necklace.

10g How beautiful is your love,

my sister, my bride,

How much better is your love than wine,

and the fragrance of your perfumes than any spice!

11Your lips drip honey,* my bride,

honey and milk are under your tongue;

And the fragrance of your garments

is like the fragrance of Lebanon.

The Lover’s Garden

12Mh A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,

a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed!*

13Your branches are a grove of pomegranates,

with fruits of choicest yield:

Henna with spikenard,

14spikenard and saffron,

Sweet cane and cinnamon,

with all kinds of frankincense;

Myrrh and aloes,

with all the finest spices;*

15A garden fountain, a well of living water,

streams flowing from Lebanon.

16Awake,* north wind!

Come, south wind!

Blow upon my garden

that its perfumes may spread abroad.

W Let my lover come to his garden

and eat its fruits of choicest yield.

* [4:1] This section (vv. 17) begins a wasf, a traditional poetic form describing the physical attributes of one’s partner in terms of the natural world (cf. 5:1016; 6:5b7; 7:17). Veil: women of the region customarily veiled their faces for some occasions (cf. 4:3; 6:7; Gn 24:6567; 38:1419).

* [4:2] Teeth: praised for whiteness and evenness.

* [4:3] Pomegranate: a fruit with a firm skin and deep red color. The woman’s cheek (or perhaps her brow) is compared, in roundness and tint, to a half-pomegranate.

* [4:4] The ornaments about her neck are compared to the trophies and armaments on the city walls. Cf. 1 Kgs 10:10; 14:2628; Ez 27:10.

* [4:6] Mountain of myrrh…hill of frankincense: spoken figuratively of the woman; cf. 8:14.

* [4:7] Cf. the description of the church in Eph 5:27.

* [4:8] Amana…Senir and Hermon: these rugged heights symbolize obstacles that would separate the lovers; cf. 2:14.

* [4:9] Sister: a term of endearment; brother-sister language forms part of the conventional language of love used in this canticle, the Book of Tobit, and elsewhere in poetry from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syro-Palestine.

* [4:11] Honey: sweet words (cf. Prv 5:3) or perhaps kisses (1:23). Honey and milk: familiar descriptions for the fertile promised land (Ex 3:8, 17; Lv 20:24; Nm 13:27; Dt 6:3).

* [4:12] Garden enclosed…fountain sealed: reserved for the lover alone. Cf. Prv 5:1519 for similar images used to describe fruitful, committed relationship.

* [4:14] These plants are all known for their sweet fragrance.

* [4:16] Awake: the same verb is used of love in 3:5. The woman may be the speaker of 16a, as it is she who issues the invitation of 16b. His garden: the woman herself.

a. [4:13] Sg 6:57.

b. [4:1] Sg 1:15.

c. [4:4] Sg 7:5.

d. [4:5] Sg 7:4.

e. [4:6] Sg 2:17.

f. [4:9] Sg 6:5.

g. [4:10] Sg 1:23.

h. [4:12] Sg 6:2, 11.

CHAPTER 5

1Ma I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride;

I gather my myrrh with my spices,

I eat my honeycomb with my honey,

I drink my wine with my milk.

D? Eat, friends; drink!

Drink deeply, lovers!*

A Fruitless Search

2Wb I was sleeping, but my heart was awake.*

The sound of my lover knocking!

“Open to me, my sister, my friend,

my dove, my perfect one!

For my head is wet with dew,

my hair, with the moisture of the night.”

3I have taken off my robe,*

am I then to put it on?

I have bathed my feet,

am I then to soil them?

4My lover put his hand in through the opening:

my innermost being* trembled because of him.

5I rose to open for my lover,

my hands dripping myrrh:

My fingers, flowing myrrh

upon the handles of the lock.

6I opened for my lover—

but my lover had turned and gone!

At his leaving, my soul sank.

I sought him, but I did not find him;

I called out after him, but he did not answer me.*

7The watchmen* found me,

as they made their rounds in the city;

They beat me, they wounded me,

they tore off my mantle,

the watchmen of the walls.

8c I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem,

if you find my lover

What shall you tell him?

that I am sick with love.

The Lost Lover Described

9D How does your lover differ from any other lover,

most beautiful among women?

How does your lover differ from any other,

that you adjure us so?

10W My lover is radiant and ruddy;*

outstanding among thousands.

11His head is gold, pure gold,

his hair like palm fronds,

as black as a raven.

12His eyes are like doves

beside streams of water,

Bathing in milk,

sitting* by brimming pools.

13His cheeks are like beds of spices

yielding aromatic scents;

his lips are lilies

that drip flowing myrrh.

14His arms are rods of gold

adorned with gems;

His loins, a work of ivory

covered with sapphires.

15His legs, pillars of alabaster,

resting on golden pedestals.

His appearance, like the Lebanon,

imposing as the cedars.

16His mouth is sweetness itself;

he is delightful in every way.

Such is my lover, and such my friend,

Daughters of Jerusalem!

* [5:1] Eat…lovers: the translation and meaning are uncertain.

* [5:28] An experience of anticipation and loss similar to that in 3:15. The lover’s abrupt appearance resembles that in 2:89.

* [5:3] Robe: knee-length undergarment worn by men and women. Am I then…?: the woman’s refusal is a form of gentle teasing; that she does not really reject her lover is shown by her actions in vv. 56. See 1:78; 2:1415, for other teasing interchanges.

* [5:4] My innermost being: lit., “innards.” In Gn 25:23, Is 49:1; Ps 71:6, the word appears to carry the meaning of “womb.”

* [5:6] The motif of the locked-out lover is common in classical Greek and Latin poetry.

* [5:7] The watchmen: they do not know the reason for the woman’s appearance in the city streets; cf. 3:24.

* [5:1011] In answer to the question of 5:9 the woman sings her lover’s praises (vv. 1016). Ruddy: also used of David (1 Sm 16:12; 17:42). Gold: indicates how precious the lover is. Palm fronds: his thick, luxuriant growth of hair.

* [5:12] Sitting…: the translation of this line is uncertain; it may continue the metaphor of the lover’s eyes, or refer to another part of his anatomy (e.g., teeth) which has been omitted from the text.

a. [5:1] Sg 6:2.

b. [5:2] Sg 3:12.

c. [5:8] Sg 2:7; 8:4.

CHAPTER 6

The Lost Lover Found

1D Where has your lover gone,

most beautiful among women?

Where has your lover withdrawn

that we may seek him with you?*

2Wa My lover has come down to his garden,*

to the beds of spices,

To feed in the gardens

and to gather lilies.

3b I belong to my lover, and my lover belongs to me;

he feeds among the lilies.

The Beauty of the Woman

4M Beautiful as Tirzah are you, my friend;*

fair as Jerusalem,

fearsome as celestial visions!

5c Turn your eyes away from me,

for they stir me up.

Your hair is like a flock of goats

streaming down from Gilead.

6d Your teeth are like a flock of ewes

that come up from the washing,

All of them big with twins,

none of them barren.

7Like pomegranate halves,

your cheeks behind your veil.

8Sixty are the queens, eighty the concubines,

and young women without number—

9One alone* is my dove, my perfect one,

her mother’s special one,

favorite of the one who bore her.

Daughters see her and call her happy,

queens and concubines, and they praise her:

10e “Who* is this that comes forth like the dawn,

beautiful as the white moon, pure as the blazing sun,

fearsome as celestial visions?”

Love’s Meeting

11Wf To the walnut grove* I went down,

to see the young growth of the valley;

To see if the vines were in bloom,

if the pomegranates had blossomed.

12Before I knew it, my desire had made me

the blessed one of the prince’s people.*

* [6:1] The Daughters of Jerusalem are won by this description of the lover and offer their aid in seeking him (cf. 5:6, 9).

* [6:23] The woman implies here that she had never really lost her lover, for he has come down to his garden (cf. 2:16; 4:5). Feed…lilies: the imagery here evokes both a shepherd pasturing his flocks and erotic play between the lovers (2:16; 4:5, 12, 16).

* [6:49] The man again celebrates the woman’s beauty. Tirzah: probably meaning “pleasant”; it was the early capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kgs 16). Celestial visions: the meaning is uncertain. Military images may be implied here, i.e., the “heavenly hosts” who fight along with God on Israel’s behalf (cf. Jgs 5:20), or perhaps a reference to the awesome goddesses of the region who combined aspects of both fertility and war.

* [6:9] One alone: the incomparability of the woman is a favorite motif in love poetry.

* [6:10] “Who…”: the speakers may be the women of vv. 89. Moon…sun: lit., “the white” and “the hot,” respectively (cf. Is 24:23; 30:26). Fearsome: see note on 6:49.

* [6:11] Walnut grove: also a site of activity in a wedding hymn of the Syrian moon goddess Nikkal (cf. the woman compared to the moon in v. 10).

* [6:12] The text is obscure in Hebrew and in the ancient versions. The Vulgate reads: “I did not know; my soul disturbed me because of the chariots of Aminadab.” Based on a parallel in Jgs 5:24, “chariots” is here emended to “blessed one.”

a. [6:2] Sg 4:12; 5:1.

b. [6:3] Sg 2:16; 7:11.

c. [6:5] Sg 4:9.

d. [6:67] Sg 4:13.

e. [6:10] Sg 3:6; 8:5.

f. [6:11] Sg 4:125:1; 7:13.

CHAPTER 7

The Beauty of the Beloved

1D? Turn, turn, O Shulammite!*

turn, turn that we may gaze upon you!

W How can you gaze upon the Shulammite

as at the dance of the two camps?

2M How beautiful are your feet in sandals,*

O noble daughter!

Your curving thighs like jewels,

the product of skilled hands.

3Your valley,* a round bowl

that should never lack mixed wine.

Your belly, a mound of wheat,

encircled with lilies.

4a Your breasts are like two fawns,

twins of a gazelle.

5b Your neck like a tower of ivory;

your eyes, pools in Heshbon

by the gate of Bath-rabbim.

Your nose like the tower of Lebanon

that looks toward Damascus.*

6Your head rises upon you like Carmel;*

your hair is like purple;

a king is caught in its locks.

Love’s Desires

7How beautiful you are, how fair,

my love, daughter of delights!

8Your very form resembles a date-palm,*

and your breasts, clusters.

9I thought, “Let me climb the date-palm!

Let me take hold of its branches!

Let your breasts be like clusters of the vine

and the fragrance of your breath like apples,

10And your mouth like the best wine—

Wthat flows down smoothly for my lover,

gliding* over my lips and teeth.

11c I belong to my lover,*

his yearning is for me.

12Come, my lover! Let us go out to the fields,

let us pass the night among the henna.

13d Let us go early to the vineyards, and see

if the vines are in bloom,

If the buds have opened,

if the pomegranates have blossomed;

There will I give you my love.

14The mandrakes* give forth fragrance,

and over our doors are all choice fruits;

Fruits both fresh and dried, my lover,

have I kept in store for you.

* [7:1] Shulammite: the woman is so designated because she is considered to be from Shulam (or Shunem) in the plain of Esdraelon (cf. 1 Kgs 1:3), or because the name may mean “the peaceful one,” and thus recall the name of Solomon. Turn: she is asked to face the speaker(s). How…: she refuses to be regarded as a spectacle (“the dance of the two camps” is unknown). Some interpret the episode as an invitation to her to dance.

* [7:26] Another description of the woman’s charms. Sandals: the woman’s sandaled foot was apparently considered quite seductive (Jdt 16:9). Noble: a possible connection to the enigmatic “prince” of 6:12. Curving…jewels: the meaning of these Hebrew words is not certain. Wine and wheat suggest fertility.

* [7:3] Valley: lit., navel; a discreet allusion to her sex.

* [7:5] The comparison emphasizes the stateliness of her neck, and the clarity of her eyes. Bath-rabbim: a proper name which occurs only here; there was a city of Rabbah northeast of Heshbon in Transjordan. Cf. Jer 49:3.

* [7:6] Carmel: a prominent set of cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.

* [7:89] Date-palm: a figure of stateliness. The lover is eager to enjoy the possession of his beloved.

* [7:10] Gliding: the beloved interrupts her partner’s compliment by referring to the intoxication of their union. The translation rests on an emendation of the enigmatic “the lips of the sleepers.”

* [7:1114] The woman’s answer assures him of her love, and invites him to return with her to the rural delights associated with their love (cf. also 6:1112). Yearning: used only here and in Gn 3:16; 4:7. The dependency and subordination of woman to man presented as a consequence of sin in the Genesis story is here transcended in the mutuality of true love.

* [7:14] Mandrakes: herbs believed to have power to arouse love and promote fertility; cf. Gn 30:1416.

a. [7:4] Sg 4:5.

b. [7:5] Sg 4:4.

c. [7:11] Sg 2:16; 6:3.

d. [7:13] Sg 6:11.

CHAPTER 8

1Would that you were a brother to me,

nursed at my mother’s breasts!

If I met you out of doors, I would kiss you

and none would despise me.

2a I would lead you, bring you to my mother’s house,

where you would teach me,

Where I would give you to drink

spiced wine, my pomegranate* juice.

3b His left hand is under my head,

and his right arm embraces me.

4c I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem,

do not awaken or stir up love

until it is ready!

The Return from the Desert

5D?d Who is this coming up from the desert,

leaning upon her lover?

W Beneath the apple tree I awakened you;*

there your mother conceived you;

there she who bore you conceived.

True Love

6Set me as a seal* upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

For Love is strong as Death,

longing is fierce as Sheol.

Its arrows are arrows of fire,

flames of the divine.

7e Deep waters* cannot quench love,

nor rivers sweep it away.

Were one to offer all the wealth of his house for love,

he would be utterly despised.

An Answer to the Brothers

8W “We have a little sister;*

she has no breasts as yet.

What shall we do for our sister

on the day she is spoken for?

9If she is a wall,

we will build upon her a silver turret;

But if she is a door,

we will board her up with cedar planks.”

10I am a wall,*

and my breasts are like towers.

I became in his eyes

as one who brings peace.

A Boast

11M? Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;*

he gave over the vineyard to caretakers.

For its fruit one would have to pay

a thousand silver pieces.

12My vineyard is at my own disposal;

the thousand pieces are for you, Solomon,

and two hundred for the caretakers of its fruit.

The Lovers’ Yearnings

13M You who dwell in the gardens,*

my companions are listening for your voice—

let me hear it!

14Wf Swiftly, my lover,

be like a gazelle or a young stag

upon the mountains of spices.

* [8:2] Wine…pomegranate: sexual connotations are implied, since the root “drink” (shaqah) is a wordplay on “kiss” (nashaq) in v. 1; cf. 1:2.

* [8:5] Awakened you: the speakers in this verse are difficult to identify. Someone (the poet? Daughters?) hails the couple in v. 5a. According to the Masoretic vocalization, the woman is the speaker in v. 5b.

* [8:6] Seal: this could be worn bound to the arm, as here, or suspended at the neck, or as a ring (Jer 22:24). It was used for identification and signatures. Strong…fierce: in human experience, Death and Sheol are inevitable, unrelenting; in the end they always triumph. Love, which is just as certain of its victory, matches its strength against the natural enemies of life; waters cannot extinguish it nor floods carry it away. It is more priceless than all riches. Flames of the divine: the Hebrew is difficult: the short form (-Yah) of the divine name Yhwh found here may associate love with the Lord, or it may be acting as a superlative—i.e., god-sized flames.

* [8:7] Deep waters: often used to designate chaos (Ps 93:4; 144:7; Is 17:1213; Hb 3:15). The fires of love cannot be extinguished, even by waters of chaos. Wealth: love cannot be bought.

* [8:89] The woman quotes the course of action her elder brothers had decided on. While she is yet immature, they will shelter her in view of eventual marriage. Wall…door: if she is virtuous, she will be honored; if she is not, she will be kept under strict vigilance. Silver turret: a precious ornament.

* [8:10] In reply to the officious and meddling attitude of the brothers, she answers with their terms: she is mature (“wall,” “towers”). Brings peace: or, “finds peace.”

* [8:1112] These enigmatic verses have been variously interpreted, depending on who is taken to be the speaker. In v. 11, if the woman, she boasts that she is a vineyard of great value. If the man, he boasts over his possession of her.

* [8:1314] As in 2:14, her lover asks for a word or a song and she replies in words similar to those found in 2:17.

a. [8:2] Sg 3:4.

b. [8:3] Sg 2:6.

c. [8:4] Sg 2:7; 3:5.

d. [8:5] Sg 3:6; 6:10.

e. [8:7] Prv 6:31.

f. [8:14] Sg 2:9, 17; 4:6.