(Click here to read the whole Sex in Song of Solomon series.)
I’m going to do a series on the sexual passages of the book Song of Solomon (which, if you didn’t know, is in the Bible). This post is about chapter 1. The book is commonly understood as a celebration of marital/sexual love and it contains a lot of rather graphic imagery. It’s an especially important book because it’s very sex-positive and provides a powerful illustration of the joy God takes in the sexual relationship between a husband and a wife.
The book is written in the form of a dialogue between the Lover and his Beloved, with occasionally interjections from the wife’s Friends. The language is dominated by agricultural metaphors that can make the book difficult to understand for modern readers who aren’t familiar with the context (which certainly includes me). I’m going to do my best to untangle the imagery, but some of it is guesswork.
The couple is not yet married at the beginning of the story and are fantasizing about each other. The book begins with the Beloved initiating sex rather explicitly.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.
Nothing ambiguous there. Note especially the “let us hurry!” This woman needs some action. The Beloved continues:
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect.
Tell me, you whom I love,
where you graze your flock
and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I be like a veiled woman
beside the flocks of your friends?
She works hard and takes care of her family, but her own needs have been neglected. The Beloved wants to find her Lover — why should she wander around like a prostitute (“like a veiled woman”) searching for him among the flocks?
Her Lover replies:
I liken you, my darling, to a mare
among Pharaoh’s chariot horses.
Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings,
your neck with strings of jewels.
We will make you earrings of gold,
studded with silver.
The “mare among stallions” imagery is pretty hot. We read above that the young women adore the Lover, and the Beloved is no less in demand. The Lover will array his Beloved in jewels befitting her beauty. (Some have interpreted these jewels to be the Lover’s semen shot onto his Beloved, but that may be a stretch.) When the Beloved replies she again turns the conversation to sex.
While the king was at his table,
my perfume spread its fragrance.
My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
resting between my breasts.
My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
from the vineyards of En Gedi.
These three verses focus on the fragrances of the Beloved and her Lover. While the Beloved is spreading her… fragrance… her Lover is feasting. Her Lover is a packet of perfume (“sachet of myrrh) between her breasts. Women commonly used henna as a beauty product (as a component of make-up or hair coloring), and her Lover makes the Beloved feel beautiful.
The Lovers go on to praise each other:
How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.
How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.
“Verdant” is “green with vegetation; covered with growing plants or grass” — but figuratively: alive and fruitful. The Lovers’ marriage bed is full of primal, natural life. This is a joyous picture that always makes me smile.
The Lover closes the chapter with a metaphor that must transcend the ages.
The beams of our house are cedars;
our rafters are firs.
That’s a lot of wood. Beams and rafters create a rather girthy image in my mind, but given the intimacy of the moment I suppose we’ll excuse the Lover if he brags a little.
The chapter break isn’t fluid here, so let’s finish this post with the first two verses of chapter 2.
I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
Like a lily among thorns
is my darling among the young women.
If wood is the ancient metaphor for the penis, its equivalent for the female is the flower. The Lover’s member is a massive cedar, and his Beloved’s girly bits are a beautiful lily — compared to her, the other young women are thorns and thistles.