Friday, March 19, 2010

The Song of Songs which is of Solomon - Part III

This is a long part and there are many challenges in it with respect to how the poem works. Who am I to say?

This part ends in pain with the strike of the watchman, as Christopher Smart recalls in his long and complex Biblical poem Jubilate Agno - He was not so mad as might seem:
For I am under the same accusation as my Saviour
for they said he is besides himself
For the officers of the peace are at variance with me
and the watchman strikes me with his staff 
(fragment B part 2)

VerseHebrew textA translationWhat shall we say?
ומִי זֹאת עֹלָה
מִן הַמִּדְבָּר
כְּתִימְרוֹת עָשָׁן
מְקֻטֶּרֶתמֹר וּלְבוֹנָה
מִכֹּל אַבְקַת רוֹכֵל
Who is this arising
from the desert
like pillars of smoke
with the perfume
of myrrh and frankincense
with all the aromas of trade
This is a sudden shift. What vision is it? The word קָטַר has a connection to smell or sacrifice. Perfumed (KJV) is imaginative. Solomon was famous for his trade among other things.The image recurs in Song 8:5 and is traditionally part of a Marian liturgy. There is a setting by Healey Willan - listen here. (incomplete unfortunately - this one is complete if not at lissom as some.)
זהִנֵּה מִטָּתוֹ שֶׁלִּשְׁלֹמֹה
שִׁשִּׁים גִּבֹּרִים
סָבִיב לָהּ
מִגִּבֹּרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
Behold his bed, that of Solomon
with threescore valiant ones
circling it
from the valiant of Israel
We move with speed from bed to war imagery. This is not the common couch - one wonders almost if it is a bier rather than a bed. It is not a happily used word.
חכֻּלָּם אֲחֻזֵי חֶרֶב
מְלֻמְּדֵי מִלְחָמָה
אִישׁ חַרְבֹּו עַל יְרֵכוֹ
מִפַּחַד בַּלֵּילוֹת ס
all of them holding a sword
instructed in war
each his sword on his thigh from dread of the nights
לָמַד occurs twice, here and in Song 8:2
טאַפִּרְיוֹן עָשָׂה לוֹ
הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה
מֵעֲצֵי הַלְּבָנוֹן
A chariot he made for himself
the king Solomon
of the trees of Lebanon
יעַמּוּדָיו עָשָׂה כֶסֶף
רְפִידָתוֹ זָהָב
מֶרְכָּבוֹ אַרְגָּמָן
תּוֹכוֹ רָצוּף אַהֲבָה
מִבְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם
its pillars he made silver
its litter of gold
its cover of purple
its floor paved with love
from the daughters of Jerusalem
יאצְאֶנָה וּרְאֶינָה
בְּנוֹת צִיּוֹן
בַּמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה
בָּעֲטָרָה שֶׁעִטְּרָה לּוֹ אִמּוֹ
בְּיוֹם חֲתֻנָּתוֹ
וּבְיוֹם שִׂמְחַת לִבּוֹ ס
Go forth and see
O daughters of Zion
in the king Solomon
in the crown his mother crowned him with
in the day of his wedding
and in the day of gladness in his heart
This is hardly complimentary - Solomon's crown was won with murder - three years of it. Bathsheba was complicit.
4 אהִנָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי
הִנָּךְ יָפָה
עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים מִבַּעַד לְצַמָּתֵךְ
שַׂעְרֵךְ כְּעֵדֶר הָעִזִּים
שֶׁגָּלְשׁוּ מֵהַר גִּלְעָד
Look at you, beautiful, my companion
look at you, beautiful
eyes as doves from within your veil;
your hair like the flock of goats
lying down on the slopes of Gilead
Sudden change again - a song of praise for the individual parts of the body
בשִׁנַּיִךְ כְּעֵדֶר הַקְּצוּבוֹת
שֶׁעָלוּ מִן הָרַחְצָה
שֶׁכֻּלָּם מַתְאִימוֹת
וְשַׁכֻּלָה אֵין בָּהֶם
Your teeth are like the flock of the shorn
that come up from the wash
where all of them are twinned
and not one of them is bereaved
גכְּחוּט הַשָּׁנִי שִׂפְתוֹתַיִךְ
וּמִדְבָּרֵךְ נָאוֶה
כְּפֶלַח הָרִמּוֹן
רַקָּתֵךְ מִבַּעַד לְצַמָּתֵךְ
Like the thread of scarlet are your lips
and your speech is lovely
like the slice of pomegranate
your cheek behind your veil
proleptic definite
דכְּמִגְדַּל דָּוִיד צַוָּארֵךְ בָּנוּי לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת
אֶלֶף הַמָּגֵן תָּלוּי עָלָיו
כֹּל שִׁלְטֵי הַגִּבֹּרִים
Like the tower of David your neck
and built for an armoury
A thousand shields hang there
all the equipment of the valiant
but now we are back to martial imagery
השְׁנֵי שָׁדַיִךְ
כִּשְׁנֵי עֳפָרִים תְּאוֹמֵי צְבִיָּה
הָרוֹעִים בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים
Your paired breasts
are like a pair of young twin roe
the ones feeding among the lilies
One is tempted to bring the name Shaddai into the hidden names in this book (actually it is there already in the charge in the sound of  שָּׂדֶה sadeh, the field. See an earlier post that I had forgotten about!!) especially since the breasts are coupled with the roe image.
ועַד שֶׁיָּפוּחַ הַיּוֹם
וְנָסוּ הַצְּלָלִים
אֵלֶךְ לִי אֶל הַר הַמּוֹר
וְאֶל גִּבְעַת הַלְּבוֹנָה
Until the dawning day
when the shadows flee
I bring myself to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hillock of frankincense
שֶׁ shin is very common in the Song in its role as relative pronoun but often it requires no translation - while this is a common occurrence in forms between any two languages, it still raises the question why? Was this an affectation of the poet? Or is there some necessity in some grammatical function within the tongue?
זכֻּלָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי
וּמוּם אֵין בָּךְ ס
You are all beautiful, my companion
and blemish is there none in you
The joy of the lover in his beloved, the joy and pleasure of Hashem in creation = in every part of it.
חאִתִּי מִלְּבָנוֹן כַּלָּה
אִתִּי מִלְּבָנוֹן תָּבוֹאִי
תָּשׁוּרִי מֵרֹאשׁ אֲמָנָה
מֵרֹאשׁ שְׂנִיר וְחֶרְמוֹן
מִמְּעֹנוֹת אֲרָיוֹת
מֵהַרְרֵי נְמֵרִים
With me from Lebanon, O bride
with me from Lebanon you will come
you will look from the head of Amana
from the head of Shenir and Hermon
from dens of lions
from the mountains of the leopards
I have admittedly in play, imagined children with boxes making a train and imagining themselves taking journeys in strange and dangerous places. The play for me undoes the brutality of Solomon as example.
טלִבַּבְתִּנִיאֲחֹתִי כַלָּה
בְּאַחַת מֵעֵינַיִךְ
  בְּאַחַד עֲנָק מִצַּוְּרֹנָיִךְ
You have ravished my heart my sister, O bride
you have ravished my heart
with one of your eyes
with one of the pendants from your neck
The address אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה which KJV renders as my sister, [my] bride occurs 4 times here at what may be the middle of the whole Song - so it is a significant set of addresses of endearment. The KJV is a nice move, but it does not seem to match the poet's structures which are always of the form
verb my sister,
bride verb
How does one make that poetic and preserve whatever the poet was doing? (Sister and bride occur separately also, the second term never with the person pronoun.)
ימַה יָּפוּ דֹדַיִךְאֲחֹתִי כַלָּה
מַה טֹּבוּ דֹדַיִךְ מִיַּיִן
וְרֵיחַ שְׁמָנַיִךְ מִכָּל בְּשָׂמִים
How beautiful is your love
my sister O bride
how good is your love compared to wine
and the fragrance of your ointments to all spices

based on later thinking on comparatives, I am avoiding the word better where I can
יאנֹפֶת תִּטֹּפְנָה שִׂפְתוֹתַיִךְ כַּלָּה
דְּבַשׁ וְחָלָב תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנֵךְ
וְרֵיחַ שַׂלְמֹתַיִךְ
כְּרֵיחַ לְבָנוֹן ס
Your lips drip honeycomb, O bride
honey and milk under your tongue
and the fragrance of your garments
like the fragrance of Lebanon.
יבגַּן נָעוּל
אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה
גַּל נָעוּל
מַעְיָן חָתוּם
A garden enclosed
my sister O bride,
a spring enclosed
a fountain sealed
יגשְׁלָחַיִךְ פַּרְדֵּס רִמּוֹנִים
עִם פְּרִי מְגָדִים
כְּפָרִים עִם נְרָדִים
Your plants a paradise of pomegranates
with fruits of excellence
camphire, with spikenard
ידנֵרְדְּ וְכַרְכֹּם
קָנֶה וְקִנָּמוֹן
עִם כָּל עֲצֵי לְבוֹנָה
מֹר וַאֲהָלוֹת
עִם כָּל רָאשֵׁי בְשָׂמִים
spikenard and saffron
calamus with cinnamon
with all trees of frankincense
myrrh and aloes
with all the chiefest of spices
טומַעְיַן גַּנִּים
בְּאֵר מַיִם חַיִּים
וְנֹזְלִים מִן לְבָנוֹן
A fountain of gardens
a well of living waters
and flowing from Lebanon
a well (John 4:14) and other well stories
טזעוּרִי צָפוֹן
וּבוֹאִי תֵימָן
הָפִיחִי גַנִּי
יִזְּלוּ בְשָׂמָיו
יָבֹא דוֹדִי לְגַנּוֹ
וְיֹאכַל פְּרִי מְגָדָיו
Rouse yourself, north wind
and come O south
Blow upon my garden
and let its spices flow
Let my love come into his garden
and eat its choicest fruits
hidden dark, from my right, north and south combine opposites in joy
5 אבָּאתִי לְגַנִּי
אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה
מוֹרִי עִם בְּשָׂמִי
אָכַלְתִּי יַעְרִי עִם דִּבְשִׁי
שָׁתִיתִי יֵינִי עִם חֲלָבִי
אִכְלוּ רֵעִים שְׁתוּ וְשִׁכְרוּ דֹּודִים
I am come into my garden
my sister O bride
I have gathered
my myrrh with my spice
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey
I have drunk my wine with my milk
Now eat, friends; and drink
and be intoxicated, O lovers
An argument for incarnation? I am reminded of John 6 - except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in you
באֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה וְלִבִּי עֵר
קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק
פִּתְחִי לִי אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי
יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי
שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא טָל
קְוֻצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה
I - I sleep, but my heart is aroused
the voice of my beloved knocking
Open to me, my sister, my companion
my dove, my undefiled
for my head is filled with dew
my locks with the drops of the night
restless...called - will we respond? Wake to the knock, do not let the cares of the world distract you.
גפָּשַׁטְתִּי אֶת כֻּתָּנְתִּי
אֵיכָכָה אֶלְבָּשֶׁנָּה
רָחַצְתִּי אֶת רַגְלַי
אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם
I have put off my coat
how then shall I put it on?
I have washed my feet
how then shall I soil them?
the moment is missed
דדּוֹדִי שָׁלַח יָדוֹ מִן הַחֹר
וּמֵעַי הָמוּ עָלָיו
My beloved put in his hand by the hole
and my belly moved for him.
the moment is not passed - she is known
הקַמְתִּי אֲנִי לִפְתֹּחַ לְדוֹדִי
וְיָדַי נָטְפוּ מוֹר
וְאֶצְבְּעֹתַי מוֹר
עֹבֵר עַל כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל
I rose up - I - to open to my beloved
and my hands dropped myrrh
and my fingers myrrh
passing through upon the handles of the lock.
p 190 of the verbless clause ed Miller has a misprint - it is missing the translation of וּבֹו תִדְבָּק 'to him you will cleave' (Deuteronomy 10:20) in its example. This is the intimacy called for. I repeat the stand-alone pronoun in English to account for the unnecessary pronoun in Hebrew. It is the I of the open relationship, not the incidental I of the self taken for granted.
ופָּתַחְתִּי אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי
וְדוֹדִי חָמַק עָבָר
נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ
בִּקַּשְׁתִּיהוּ וְלֹא מְצָאתִיהוּ
קְרָאתִיו וְלֹא עָנָנִי
I opened - I - to my beloved
and my beloved had withdrawn, passed on
my self went out to speak to him
I sought him and did not find him
I called him and he did not answer
the missed but not passed moment is sought

Are we not used to silence? and the rebuke of those who have charge of the city? How will the city be redeemed?
זמְצָאֻנִי הַשֹּׁמְרִים
הַסֹּבְבִים בָּעִיר
הִכּוּנִי פְצָעוּנִי
נָשְׂאוּ אֶת רְדִידִי מֵעָלַי
שֹׁמְרֵי הַחֹמוֹת
The keepers found me
circling about the city
they struck me, they wounded me
they took away my veil from me
the keepers of the walls
Christopher Smart alludes to this section in his Jubilate Agno.  Here is the bride's personal knowledge of the cost of his incarnation who was wounded (different word) for our transgressions.The wound in this verse may be like rape. There are violent forces ranged against love. פצע is used only 3 times in the Bible
חהִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם
בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם
אִם תִּמְצְאוּ אֶת דּוֹדִי
מַה תַּגִּידוּ לוֹ
שֶׁחוֹלַת אַהֲבָה אָנִי
I charge You
daughters of Jerusalem
if you will find this my beloved
you will make known to him
that I am sick, of love, am I
There is a certain closure after part III. It is like a death, our death. It was made known in Song 1:7 and closed here. There is no lack in love because of death.
This series on the Song I | 2:4 II 3:5 | III | 5:10 IV 8:4 V


  1. Hello from Oxford! Your Smart quote brings back happy memories of a long-ago performance of Britten. A close reading of the full Jubilate Agno would be very interesting...

  2. Hi Anna - lovely to hear from you. Yes I remember many performances of the Britten. One long ago when Diana first heard my voice singing the flower song!

  3. Hi Bob,

    I have been meaning for some time to ask you about the Song and your response to me on "the Fall" at "Suzanne's Bookshelf" reminded me.

    You said "The play for me undoes the brutality of Solomon as example."

    The brutality of Solomon as example motivated me to ponder since I think its impossible that he is the intended role model! I can see from browsing through your series that you take the Song as allegory of our relationship with Christ, which I think has merit. However, within that framework have you ever considered that there may be THREE main players in the Song (in addition to God)? I have an elderly mentor who sees the Song as the OT equivalent of the book of Revelation where Solomon saw backwards into the Garden of Eden and the THREE players are Adam-shepherd, Eve, and Solomon-Satan. It is a kind of "everyman" story with a "make your own" ending- at the end of the book, you don't know if Eve chooses Adam or Satan. I have posted the play with her notations:
    Song of Solomon- a story of love, seduction, betrayal, paying the price, pain, choices

    Another interpretation which also successfully dispenses with Solomon as "role model" is posted on my blog here: Song of Songs- approval of the “harem” is NOT romantic! This one also has 3 players. The real King Solomon attempts to seduce this woman he fancies into his harem unsuccessfully because she remains faithful to her beloved shepherd with whom she is ultimately reunited.

    Anyway, I just wondered from a Hebrew scholar if these variations are possibilities? Are they compatible with the way the text reads in Hebrew?

  4. Hi Charis - thanks for the links - I think the reading of the three characters as you describe has great merit. I can't answer quickly but I like the openings that this reading gives. I will keep thinking about it.

    It is important for me that even a personal reading should leave the possibilities open for others in the strange language we are coming from and the even stranger mother tongues that we have. 'Strange' came out as an adjective here since I was thinking that our mother tongue can both bind us into assumptions we fail to critique and free us to explore creative possibilities we have ignored.