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Song of Songs 1:5-2:7: In Love

5 I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. 6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept! 7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock,   where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions? 
8 If you do not know, O fairest among women, follow the tracks of the flock, and pasture your kids beside the shepherds’ tents. 
9 I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. 10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels. 11 We will make you ornaments of gold,   studded with silver. 
12 While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. 13 My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts. 14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms   in the vineyards of En-gedi. 
15 Ah, you are beautiful, my love; ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. 16 Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.Our couch is green; 17 the beams of our house are cedar,   our rafters are pine. 
I am a rose of Sharon,
   a lily of the valleys. 
a lily of the valleys. 
2 As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens. 
3 As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. 4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention towards me was love. 5 Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love. 6 O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! 7 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready! (NRSV)
This section of the Song begins with the woman being a bit defensive and defiant. In her culture, being tan was not beautiful. Perhaps it may have signaled that one was part of the lower classes. She feels the weight of her culture's definition of beauty. It will not define her. She is dark skinned and beautiful, wildly exotic and rare. Staring isn't welcome. She has been burned, both by the sun and by her brothers. However, in spite of her brothers' actions, she still has pursued her love and won him with her natural beauty. While she has won him, though, she is still under her brothers' control and not with her man as much as she desires. She wants to be with him but does not know where he will be pasturing his flock next. She asks him to tell her where he will be. Surely he doesn't want her going around tent to tent looking for him. The reply is that it is to these tents that she must go because that is where he will be, after all he is a shepherd. When she finds him her desire will be satisfied.[1] By taking her goats she would cover her tracks.[2]

Starting in verse 9, the man affirms her earlier self proclaimed beauty, and that's all that matters. Who cares what society thinks. While her beauty may be natural, she knows how to make herself look good (contradicting her earlier claim). The man will spare no expense to adorn her to maximize her elegance.[3]

In verse 12 the woman resumes. In addition to her jewels, she is adorned by something else. Her lover is as the finest of perfumes, but a scent that she alone indulges in their intimate moments. A pleasure that overwhelms her.

They continue trading compliments. They are enraptured with one another, totally in love, enjoying themselves in the beauty of nature.[4] We get a glimpse into the garden of Eden. They are two ordinary people, but there is great beauty in the ordinary. Great pleasure to be found in the common flower and on the branches of fruit trees.

They know why they are where they are. It is with a single purpose that they have come together. It is to explore the depth of their love for each other, and to enliven themselves on delicacies.[5] Pleasure is maximized, and it is exhausting! And it leaves her begging for more.[6]

When you are in love, your world completely changes. You are conquered. Nothing is more exhilarating or exhausting. It fills you up and leaves you unsatisfied. The woman would tell us to make sure we know what we're doing before we get involved. Love is the most wonderful thing one can experience but it is costly, and the woman of the song is probably just beginning to learn about the cost of love.

Love stories and poems like this one are so refreshing because one can tell that neither the man nor the woman are using their power for their on advantage. The man, in particular has great power over the woman, but we never get the feeling that he's taking advantage of her. Love will not wield power for its own purposes. Love is the perfect antidote to the abuse of power. Love enables us to experience Eden, if only on a small scale.

[1] As Exum points out, the double entendre is very heavy in these verses.

[2] As helpfully noted by Longman.

[3] The struggle of some, like Pope, to understand that the comparison to the horse is only to point to something highly ornamented and nothing else surprises me.

[4] I think that Bergant's tentative suggestion is correct - that the lovers are meeting in an outdoor setting, perhaps in the woods.

[5] The NRSV does not capture 2:5 well. These are raisin cakes not just raisins that she is asking for.

[6] This passage makes me want to write a fun post contrasting 2:1-6 with Business Time by Flight of the Conchords. I can't think of a more complete contrast. We shall see if I have the time.


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