Monday, April 16, 2012

Song of Songs 1:2-4: Desire

2Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine, 3your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you. 4Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you. (NRSV)
This is the first of my posts on specific passages of the Song. What you will primarily find is a discussion of metaphor and other literary elements. My goal is to bring out the force of the poetry (much like my posts on Galatians were attempting to bring out the force of Paul's arguments), to help it evoke in us the feeling that I believe the author intended, and in the process form our imagination (in my case reform) and the way we think about sex. I hope that we can replace our culture's dominant dialogue with the Scriptural dialogue.

After that initial discussion, each post will conclude with a reflection on the nature of the relationship, especially the power dynamics at play (I will justify why I am looking at this, particularly, in a later post).

The first section of the song (or first poem) is about desire, a desire so intense that it cannot be contained. It's a desire bred out of knowledge. The woman has experienced the lovemaking of the man and nothing compares.[1] It's experience intoxicates her, it overpowers her, engaging all of her senses. All she wants is to bring him quickly and become lost in him.[2] The effect on her is strong and it lingers like beautiful perfume.

The woman completely adores her beloved. Her descriptions of him are extravagant and exulted. She honors him and worships him as if he were a king, even Solomon. No one compares with him. Is she right to feel this way? She believes she is. Everyone must love her man.[3] She is lucky that she alone possesses him.

It's easy to see after reading this why both Jews and Christians resorted to allegory. It utilizes the language of worship. But (contra Davis), I don't believe that this type of language is inappropriate applied to ones lover. It's part of the royal metaphor that she utilizes. If only every married person felt this way about their spouse. There would be no need for divorce.

This portion of the Song challenges and at times conforms to our preconceived understanding of ancient Jewish culture. The woman has strong desire and it is permissible for her to express it. While we want to avoid generalizing too quickly, this may not be an exceptional case either. We have ancient Egyptian love poems expressing similar sentiments.[4] It may not have been a culture of complete male domination, even after it urbanized. Passion can run both ways and how beautiful it is when it does. Not only can she express her desire, but she does it in a way that initiates. She is not passive. However, it is still up to the man to make the decisive move. He is still in the ultimate position of power. She hopes the he will use it in a way that pleases her.

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[1] The translation 'love' in all of the major translations is too ambiguous (so all of the commentaries I used). It is more literally caresses, and thus probably better translated lovemaking (an option only recognized by the HCSB, and then only in the footnotes).

[2] According to Exum, the shift from third person to second person in verse two may be an attempt to conjure up her lover through speech.

[3] I (following Murphy) take the shift from first person singular to first person plural to represent her assumption of how everyone feels. She's speaking for everyone.

[4]  See Fox for helpful and detailed comparisons between the Song and the ancient Egyptian love songs.

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