The Song of Songs – Introduction – Chapter 1

The Song of Songs

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Introduction

The Song of Songs, meaning the greatest of songs (⇒ Song 1:1), contains in exquisite poetic form the sublime portrayal and praise of the mutual love of the Lord and his people. The Lord is the Lover and his people are the beloved. Describing this relationship in terms of human love, the author simply follows Israel’s tradition. Isaiah (⇒ Isaiah 5:1-7; ⇒ 54:4-8), Jeremiah (⇒ Jeremiah 2:2, 3, ⇒ 32), and Ezekiel (Eze 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 (Son 1-3). He also represents the Lord speaking to Israel’s heart (⇒ Song 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” (Song 2:21).

The author of the Song, using the same literary figure, paints a beautiful picture of the ideal Israel, the chosen people of the Old and New Testaments, whom the Lord led by degrees to an exalted spiritual union with himself in the bond of perfect love. When the Song is thus interpreted here is no reason for surprise at the tone of the poem, which employs in its descriptions the courtship and marriage customs of the author’s time. Moreover, the poem is not an allegory in which each remark, e. g., in the dialogue of the lovers, has a higher meaning. It is a parable in which the true meaning of mutual love comes from the poem as a whole.

While the Song is thus commonly understood by most Catholic scholars, it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union.

Although the poem is attributed to Solomon in the traditional title (⇒ Song 1:1), the language and style of the work, among other considerations, point to a time after the end of the Babylonian Exile (538 B.C.) as that in which an unknown poet composed this masterpiece. The structure of the Song is difficult to analyze; here it is regarded as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest.

The use of marriage as a symbol, characteristic of the Song, is found extensively also in the New Testament (⇒ Matthew 9:15; ⇒ 25:1-13; ⇒ John 3:29; ⇒ 2 Cor 11:2; ⇒ Eph 5:23-32; ⇒ Rev 19:7-9; ⇒ 21:9-11). In Christian tradition, the Song has been interpreted in terms of the union between Christ and the Church and, particularly by St. Bernard, of the union between Christ and the individual soul. Throughout the liturgy, especially in the Little Office, there is a consistent application of the Song of Songs to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Chapter 1

1

The Song of Songs

2

2 Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth!
More delightful is your love than wine!

3

Your name spoken is a spreading perfume –
that is why the maidens love you.

4

Draw me!-
D We will follow you eagerly!
B Bring me, O king, to your chambers.
D With you we rejoice and exult,
we extol your love; it is beyond wine:
how rightly you are loved!

5

3 I am as dark-but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem –
As the tents of Kedar,
as the curtains of Salma.

6

4 Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
because the sun has burned me.
My brothers have been angry with me;
they charged me with the care of the vineyards:
my own vineyard I have not cared for.

7

5 Tell me, you whom my heart loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you give them rest at midday,
Lest I be found wandering
after the flocks of your companions.

8

G If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
Follow the tracks of the flock
and pasture the young ones
near the shepherds’ camps.

9

6 To the steeds of Pharaoh’s chariots
would I liken you, my beloved:

10

Your cheeks lovely in pendants,
your neck in jewels.

11

We will make pendants of gold for you,
and silver ornaments.

12

7 For the king’s banquet
my nard gives forth its fragrance.

13

8 My lover is for me a sachet of myrrh
to rest in my bosom.

14

9 My lover is for me a cluster of henna
from the vineyards of Engedi.

15

10 Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves!

16

11 Ah, you are beautiful, my lover –
yes, you are lovely.
Our couch, too, is verdant;

17

the beams of our house are cedars,
our rafters, cypresses.

 

 



1 [1] This title is actually the first verse of chapter 1.

2 [ 1:2- 8:14] The marginal letters indicate the speaker of the verses: B-Bride; D-Daughters of Jerusalem; G-Bridegroom. In  Song 1:2-7 the bride and the daughters address the bridegroom who appears here as a king, but more often in the poem as a shepherd. King and shepherd are familiar figures of the Lord in the Sacred Scriptures. Cf  Psalm 23:1;  Isaiah 40:11;  John 10:1-16.

3 [5] Daughters of Jerusalem: the chorus whom the bride addresses and who ask her questions ( Song 5:9;  6:1) thus developing action within the poem. Kedar: a Syrian desert region whose name suggests blackness; tents were often made of black goat hair. Curtains: tent coverings of Salma, a region close to Kedar.

4 [6] Swarthy: tanned by the sun from working in her brothers’ vineyards. My own vineyard: the bride herself; cf  Isaiah 5:1-7 where Israel is designated as the vineyard and the Lord is the Lover.

5 [7] Here and elsewhere in the Song ( Song 3:1;  5:8;  6:1), the bride expresses her desire to be in the company of her lover. These verses point to a certain tension in the poem. Only at the end ( Song 8:5-14) does mutual possession of the lovers become final.

6 [9-11] The bridegroom compares the girl’s beauty to the rich adornment of the royal chariot of Pharaoh.

7 [12] Nard: a precious perfume, a figure of the bride; cf  Song 4:14.

8 [13] Myrrh: produced from aromatic resin of balsam or roses.

9 [14] Henna: a plant which bears white scented flowers.

10 [15] Doves: suggesting innocence and charm.

11 [16-17] Though the meeting place of the lovers is but a shepherd’s hut of green branches, it becomes a palace with beams of cedar and rafters of cypress when adorned with their love.