Monday, November 26, 2012

Song of Songs 6:4-8:4: Unveiled


4 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love,
   comely as Jerusalem,
   terrible as an army with banners.
5 Turn away your eyes from me,
   for they overwhelm me!
Your hair is like a flock of goats,
   moving down the slopes of Gilead.
6 Your teeth are like a flock of ewes,
   that have come up from the washing;
all of them bear twins,
   and not one among them is bereaved.
7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
   behind your veil.
8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines,
   and maidens without number.
9 My dove, my perfect one, is the only one,
   the darling of her mother,
   flawless to her that bore her.
The maidens saw her and called her happy;
   the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.
10 ‘Who is this that looks forth like the dawn,
   fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
   terrible as an army with banners?’
11 I went down to the nut orchard,
   to look at the blossoms of the valley,
to see whether the vines had budded,
   whether the pomegranates were in bloom.
12 Before I was aware, my fancy set me
   in a chariot beside my prince.
13 Return, return, O Shulammite!
   Return, return, that we may look upon you.
Why should you look upon the Shulammite,
   as upon a dance before two armies?
How graceful are your feet in sandals,
   O queenly maiden!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
   the work of a master hand.
2 Your navel is a rounded bowl
   that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
   encircled with lilies.
3 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
   twins of a gazelle.
4 Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are pools in Heshbon,
   by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon,
   overlooking Damascus.
5 Your head crowns you like Carmel,
   and your flowing locks are like purple;
   a king is held captive in the tresses.
6 How fair and pleasant you are,
   O loved one, delectable maiden!
7 You are stately as a palm tree,
   and your breasts are like its clusters.
8 I say I will climb the palm tree
   and lay hold of its branches.
O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
   and the scent of your breath like apples,
9 and your kisses like the best wine
   that goes down smoothly,
   gliding over lips and teeth.
10 I am my beloved’s,
   and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved,
   let us go forth into the fields,
   and lodge in the villages;
12 let us go out early to the vineyards,
   and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
   and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.
13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance,
   and over our doors are all choice fruits,
new as well as old,
   which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
O that you were like a brother to me,
   who nursed at my mother’s breast!
If I met you outside, I would kiss you,
   and no one would despise me.
2 I would lead you and bring you
   into the house of my mother,
   and into the chamber of the one who bore me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
   the juice of my pomegranates.
3 O that his left hand were under my head,
   and that his right hand embraced me!
4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
   do not stir up or awaken love
   until it is ready! 

This is the second to last section in the Song (I think we will hit our target of finishing the Song before the New Year - barely!). Here we have a poem that is largely by the young man, though the woman does have a small part and it is impossible to say with certainty who the speaker of 6:13 is.

The opening portion of the section is a poem of praise by the man to the woman. Some of the material is drawn from the earlier poem of 4:1-5:1 (see comments on that section here). I won't rehash what I said there. In essence the young man begins describing the woman with a series of metaphors that compliment her. The focus here isn't just on her appearance, but also on the effect she has on him and, he presumes, on others. This comes across strongest in his claim that she is 'terrible,' goddess-like. Perhaps the best image for what he means by terrible is drawn from the scene in the movie Lord of the Rings where Frodo offers Galadriel the ring. Galadriel was beautiful and powerful. Possession of the ring would enhance that power and make her 'terrible.' As his goddess, she is without parallel, even among an oversized collection of the queens and concubines of the king. Even they, the experts, recognize her beauty.[1] His beloved is beyond comparison.

The last three verses of chapter 6 are difficult, but I believe that the woman is speaking initially. Here she is describing the man as a garden much as she has been described as one throughout the Song. Specifically, it's a nut garden. I don't think it takes much imagination to know what that is. Both in this section and the next, the Song is getting a little explicit. Suddenly, in the middle of her imagining, she is suddenly whisked away and next to her (equally) royal lover in his chariot. She conjures him up, or perhaps better, transports herself through her imagination yet again. [2] Now that she is with him, she is gone. Those listening to the man describe the woman (possibly the audience?), miss her. We were enjoying it. Someone defends her. What right have we to access her? She is not a spectacle for us to behold. [3] Perhaps this is her thus far absent father or other leading males in the community. The text does not tell us. All we can do is guess. Perhaps we should be inserting ourselves here and coming to her defense?

After this interruption the man continues, and now he gets much more explicit and graphic. Now he catalogs her body once more with rich metaphors. He opaquely details her feet, butt, navel [4], neck, eyes, nose, and especially her developing breasts. He is enamored by them and in 7:8 even utters a blessing over them! He loves her body and enjoys it with all of his senses. His intention is to 'climb it' or enjoy it to its fullest, especially her breasts. It is a poem of indulgence.

We pick up the woman's reply in 7:10. She puts to words what is obvious to everyone by now, that desire is mutual. She invites him out into the vineyard to see how the fruit is developing. Of course this is double entendre. She is the vineyard, and she is in her spring, the time when she is developing getting ready to fall in love, when she is young and full of life but not yet fully ripened, not ready for eating. She wants him to join her there so that they can explore their love.

While we can't be certain,[5] in all likelihood the opening to chapter 8 implies that they are not yet married. The woman longs to be with the man, she longs to have their relationship legitimized so that they could indulge themselves even more. Not only has her body been somewhat unveiled, but desire has been made plain as well.

Once more we close with the refrain warning the daughters of Jerusalem to not seek out love before the time has come. The further we get into the Song the more convinced I become that we are to take this warning seriously as being the didactic intention of the Song. This is what engagement with men outside of proscribed channels looks like. According to the author, young female sexuality needs to be controlled.

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[1] A point well made by Garrett.

[2] Exum is very strong on this dynamic in the Song.

[3] Though I don't follow her lead, Exum has by far the most nuanced discussion of the question of eroticism and voyerism related to this and other verses among the major commentaries.

[4] Some commentators, e.g., Pope think he's euphemistically describing her vagina, but there's no overwhelming reason to see euphemism here. Some men love belly buttons!

[5] Garrett is correct, we do need to be careful in that we don't know enough about Israelite culture to know if public affection between spouses was permissible. However, the overall tone of the four verses along with many other clues throughout the Song make me think they are not married.