Song of Songs 7 Mutual Love in the Garden

By Egon Tschirch, a cycle of paintings on Song of Solomon, number 2, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56842486

Song of Songs 7

Bolded is the woman’s voice, the man’s voice is not bolded in the poem (my interpretation)

1 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. Oh, 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.

The lovers in the poem see what the others cannot and should not. They see one another longingly and they desire to know every part of their loved one. The poetic description of the woman by the man indicates a view that requires a level of intimacy unavailable to the common observer and this may also be behind his rebuke at the end of the previous chapter to the daughters of Jerusalem calling the woman back that they may gaze upon her as ‘upon a dance between two armies.’ Her movements and her dance are to delight the greedy eyes of her lover and to overwhelm him with desire for her.

The two previous compliments of the man[1] have focused on the face and upper body of the woman, but now the man begins with her feet, proceeds through her midsection and ends with her neck and facial features. Thighs, navel, belly, and breasts would be obscured by clothing but here the man describes that which is hidden from all others to the woman he loves. His descriptions are not those of a man keeping distant, but a man who has closed the distance to where even clothing no longer obscures the woman’s beautiful body from his eyes. Others may have overlooked her, but to the man she is overwhelming. She has the feet of a queen, her thighs are a masterwork, her navel and belly are both fertile and desirable. She may not fit the cultural ideal of womanhood, but in his eyes she is the queen of his desire and from head to toe his desire is to drink in every part of her.

His amorous incantation is daring in its open expression of desire. He has come to her and his desire overcomes reserve or decency. His intention is the physical expression of his desire for her, that the long delayed time of union may finally arrive. That they may both delight in the touches and kisses that they share together and celebrate their mutual love and passion. She is a combination of the majesty of royalty, the beauty of the natural world, and the strength and beauty of the great cities. She is the queen of his heart, the nourishment he needs, the kingdom he serves, and a master work to be lifted up. The banquet of love has been delayed, but he too is drunk with love and ready to celebrate this feast.

Previously she has been beckoning to come into the house, while he has invited her outside. Now she invites him to join her in nature. He belongs to her, and she belongs to him. They desire one another and they are surrounded by the awakening of nature: vines have budded, grape blossoms have opened, pomegranates are in bloom, and mandrake puts forth its seductive fragrance. Mandrakes appear in Genesis 30: 14-17 where Rachael grants Leah a night with Jacob in exchange for mandrakes that Leah picks, but here there is no competition for the beloved’s attention: he is hers and she is his. It appears that the night of missed opportunities has been left behind and with the dawning morning the time is finally right for love.

Many readers have read within this section of the poem an allusion to the Garden of Eden and a return to the way relations were meant to be. This is heightened when one realizes that the rare Hebrew word used for desire (teshuqah) here is only used two other places: Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. The first usage in Genesis finds its reversal in Song of Songs: “yet your desire (teshuqah) shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 now becomes “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” The distortion of desire that occurs at the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is now overcome as this man and woman are wrapped up in mutual desire as they enter this new garden anticipating love. The other use of teshuqah is in the story of Cain and Abel, where God warns Cain, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7 In that story jealousy and anger overwhelm the brotherly love of Cain and Abel and Cain is instead mastered by sin. Perhaps this love poetry helps us imagine a world where love can overcome anger and jealousy and desire rightly becomes a mutual invitation to enjoy the presence of one’s partner in the garden. Often Christian theologies have dismissed the passions and desires of the body as a part of the sinful nature of humanity, but Song of Songs (and I would argue the Bible in general) points to a fully embodied experience of love and passion and joy which is both mutual and strong. This man and woman have saved all of themselves for one another as they enter this new Eden of sweet and mutual love.

 

[1] Song of Songs 4:1-5 and 6:4-10

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