THE SONG OF SONGS.
TRANSLATED FROM THE HEBREW.
With a Study of the Plan, the Age, and the
Character of the Poem.
Member of the Academy.
DONE INTO ENGLISH BY
WILLIAM M. THOMSON.
WM. M. THOMSON,
LUDGATE HILL, E.G.
ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE, v
To M. LE BARON DE BUNSEN, . . . . xvi
M. KENAN'S PREFACE, ..... xviii
A STUDY OF THE PLAN, AGE, AND CHARACTER OF THE
POEM, ...... 1
TRANSLATION OF THE POEM, . . . .109
TRANSLATION, IN WHICH ARE INTRODUCED THE DIVISIONS
AND THE SCENIC EXPLANATIONS, . . . 127
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ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
THIS translation into English of the Song of
Songs, or Song of Solomon, is given to the
public as a companion work to the Book of Job,
both works having been translated direct from
the Hebrew into French by Ernest Renan.
That M. Kenan was fully competent for such
a task will not be seriously questioned by any
one ; critics of all shades of opinion, religious
or secular, having for many years assigned him
the very highest place as a Hebrew scholar.
Moreover, no man living has made the study
of the Semitic races and their literature so
peculiarly his own as has the author of the
Life of Jesus. To him it has been the almost
vi ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
exclusive work of a life-time. Among many
who have tacitly held M. Kenan's Hebrew
erudition in high esteem, may be mentioned
the translators of the New Version of the Old
Testament. It is not too much to say that, in
the Book of Job, Ecclesiastes, and especially in
the Song of Songs, they have slavishly followed
M. Kenan's translations as far as they dare,
without, of course, recognising their indebted-
ness to our author. The most cursory com-
parison of the two translations will satisfy
any one who understands French and English
on this point. The design of the present
translation of the Song of Songs is to present
the work in English as nearly as possible as
M. Kenan has presented it in French ; and not
as the translators of the New Version, who
were in no sense free agents, have seen fit to
render it. I do not say that the authors o
the New Version have wilfully perverted the
sense. In no instance have they done this,
ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. vii
so far as I have been able to discover. But,
in deference to a false modesty, or to Mrs
Grundy, if you will, they have so " glossed over "
certain passages, that it is hardly possible at
first sight to recognise them. One instance of
this will suffice for our present purpose. In
the Authorised Version, chap. ILL, v. 9-10, we
read : " King Solomon made himself a chariot
of the wood of Lebanon. He made the pillars
thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold,
the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof
being paved with love for the daughters of
Jerusalem." The New Version runs : " King
Solomon made himself a palanquin of the wood
of Lebanon; he made the pillars thereof of silver,
the bottom thereof of gold, the seat of it of
purple, the midst thereof being paved with love
from the daughters of Jerusalem." M. Kenan's
version is this : " King Solomon had made
for himself a couch of the wood of Lebanon ;
the posts were of silver, the pilasters of gold,
viii ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
the curtains of purple ; in the centre sparkled
a beauty chosen from amongst the daughters
of Jerusalem." (Au centre Grille une belle
choisie entre les filles de Jerusalem.) The
reader will find many other similar instances
if he compares this version with the New
Version. Before leaving this part of the sub-
ject, let me give a few more instances to prove
that the authors of the New Version have
not done their work so well as might have been
expected of them.
Chap. L, v. 4, " Draw me, we will run
after thee," should be, " Draw me after thee,
let us flee." Chap, n., v. 4, " banqueting
house" should read " wine house." The "wine
house" was an apartment above ground in
which the wine was distributed ; it was not a
place for drinking. In chap. II., v. 8, we
read in the New Version : " The voice of
my beloved ! behold he cometh leaping upon
the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My
ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. ix
beloved is like a roe or a young hart." Here
the translators of the New Version have missed
the poetical idea. The poet represents the lover
as bounding over the mountains with all the
strength and agility of a roe, and skipping upon
the hills with all the lightness and grace of a
hind's fawn faon des biches. A " young
hart" does not necessarily connote lightness
and grace. The intelligent reader will discover
other misrenderings, equally important.
M. Kenan's arrangement of the Song of
Songs into a drama of five acts, with an
epilogue, has given rise to much controversy.
By the " unco guid " it has been denounced
as blasphemous ; by people holding moderate
views on the question of divine inspiration, it
has been described as incomplete and inconsist-
ent ; while by out-and-out sceptics it has been
regarded as a work of supererogation, being
no more deserving of separate and serious
treatment than was one of the " racy " tales
x ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
of Boccaccio or Margaret of Navarre. M. Renan
has answered all these critics in the admirable
and exhaustive "study," of about 200 pp. in
length, which precedes the translation of the
Song. Indeed, this study is by far the most
important part of the present work. It is
divided into three parts (1) the plan ; (2)
the age ; and (3) the character of the poem.
The hypothesis M. Kenan advances, to explain
the plan of the work, is to my mind complete.
At any rate, it fulfils the primary and essential
condition of a legitimate hypothesis : it is
consistent with itself, and explains the facts
to which it is applied, and in a way that no
other conceivable hypothesis can. Nay, more,
it explodes the hypothesis invented by the
early Jewish and Christian fathers, as to the
mystical meaning of the Song as touching God
and the Church. M. Eenan is equally successful
in fixing the age of the poem, and in demon-
strating that it could not have been written
ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. xi
by Solomon. As to the character of the poem,
M. Kenan has no difficulty in proving that,
of all the books in the Bible (the Book of
Esther alone excepted, in which the name of
God is not even once mentioned), the Song of
Songs is the last that could lay claim to divine
inspiration, in the sense in which these words
are commonly accepted. It is a profane work,
and possesses no mystical meaning whatever.
It is, in fact, an erotic poem and its language
is to be accepted literally. It deals wholly
and exclusively with that passion which we
are accustomed to denominate love ; or, we
might say, love versus lust. Solomon is re-
presented as being desirous of obtaining posses-
sion of the person of the Shulammite for the
gratification of his lust, but, despite his grandeur
and glory, and tempting offers, he is baffled by
a young shepherd, the lover of the Shulammite.
That a book of the nature of the Song of
Songs should, for a period of nearly three
Xll ENGLISH TRANSLATORS PREFACE.
thousand years, have excited the interest and
curiosity of generation after generation, is not
to be wondered at. Its subject-matter, as we
have said, is love. Now, love is a passion of
which no particular age, or any particular sec-
tion of mankind, ever had or has a monopoly.
It is common to the king and the peasant, to
the palace and the cot. No man or woman has
been so great or so mean as not at some period
of his or her life to have been brought more or
less under its thrall ; or, at any rate, to have
given it more or less attention. It is a passion
which is felt by every one, and is understood by
none. It is ever young and unchanging in its
operations the same yesterday, to-day, and for
ever. Our grandchildren will fall in love in
the same way as our grandmothers and grand-
fathers did, and so ad infinitum. Herein has
consisted and consists the charm of the Song of
Songs. It is a universal appeal to mankind.
But, apart from its subject, the Song of Songs,
ENGLISH TRANSLATORS PREFACE. XI 11
as has already been intimated, possesses a special
and peculiar interest. Not only has it been
read and studied more widely than any love
story, ancient or modern, but also, it has passed
for over two thousand years as a composition of
such transcendent merit as to be mistaken for a
work of direct divine inspiration. This is high
praise, but it is not wholly undeserved, as M.
Renan has shown in the accompanying " study."
That the design of the author, whoever he may
have been, will ever be thoroughly understood
and appreciated, is not probable. The poem
contains passages that are beyond the capacity
of human intelligence now to elucidate. The
times in which it was written have long passed
away, and the customs which it essays to de-
scribe, with them. In such instances, M. Renan
has given what he considers the most probable
interpretation, together with his reasons there-
for. M. Renan does not expect that his opinions
on doubtful passages will pass unquestioned.
xiv ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
He admits frankly in the " study " that the
arrangement he has finally made of the poem
in the dramatic version is not the one he has
always advocated or inclined to. For example,
he says that for a long time he was of opinion
that a transposition of the scenes represented in
the poem was the only way by which the mean-
ing of the author could be made clear ; but just
at the moment when he was about to give effect
to this opinion, his hand trembled, and he
There is one criticism we have to offer on M.
Kenan's estimate of the poem. M. Eenan, while
repudiating the idea of divine inspiration, will
not, on the other hand, admit that the poem is a
purely erotic production. He is not very con-
sistent in this. For, in one place, he avers that
the language in which Solomon addresses the
Shulammite, in his first endeavours to overcome
her virtue, is only fitted for the ears of a pros-
titute ; in another, that he was compelled to
ENGLISH TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. XV
" tone down " certain passages ; while, in a third,
he maintains that, though the teaching of the
poem in the mind of the poet was undoubtedly
moral, the same could not be said of a poet
who, in our days, would clothe his thoughts
in such a dress. To the pure all things are
pure, and it is in this spirit that I have per-
formed my part of the work, in placing before
an English reading public (to use the words of
M. Renan) " this antique work in all its chaste
WM. M. THOMSON.
TO M. LE BARON DE BUNSEN.
WHEN I saw you five months ago, I was still
hesitating whether to give this book to the
public, a book upon which frivolity might easily
expend itself. Your exhortations, and the
agreement which I remarked between your views
and mine, inclines me not to be deterred, by
the misapprehension of a few, from doing that
which might not be without benefit to some
others. You informed me that the Canticle
was a part of your Bible, and that you read it
once every year. You made me understand
that in the Church, which we maintain, every-
thing is of service in view of eternity, and your
conversations revealed to me how much joy (I
do not speak of common gaiety) could be filled
into life, if we could only find again the art of
exciting a passion for the beautiful and the
true. Read, then, this spring, the Shulam pas-
toral, under your orange trees at Cannes, and
return soon to tell us that science is ever young,
that she supposes freshness of soul, and that,
when she fills up life, she puts off old age.
oth April 1860.
ISRAEL lias sometimes allowed herself to be led
away from her high destiny, and for centuries
together we witness this people forgetting the
religious mission it had been called upon to
fulfil. Judea, become the Holy Land for
civilised humanity, appears only to us at such
times as a country of priests and of prophets ;
all the monuments of Hebrew literature are, at
first glance, the sacred books. But this is a
delusion, resulting from the prejudice which pre-
vents us from seeing in great things the very
principle which constitutes their greatness. An
attentive study of these different written data,
devoted wholly to religion, reveal to us numerous
traces of a profane life, which, not being the most
brilliant side of the Jewish people, has naturally
been cast into the shade. By a strange miracle
(thanks to a species of contempt in regard to
which criticism could not afford to be very
severe, since she has preserved to us the most
curious, perhaps, of the monuments of antiquity),
an entire book, the work of those moments of
forgetfulness, when the people of God allowed
their infinite hopes to slumber, has come down
to us. The Song of Songs is not the only pro-
fane composition which the Bible comprises, but
it is, among several, the one as to which the
scribes who decided the fate of Hebrew writings
have most extended their rules as to admitting
such works. I hence believe that I have done
a useful work in studying, after the Book of Job,
this other book, which, though less important
as regards philosophy and religion, is yet, also,
most essential to any one who would know
exactly the history of the development of the
The peculiar nature of the difficulties contained
in the Song of Songs obliges me in this paper to
follow a plan a little different from that which I
adopted for the Book of Job. In neither of
these two studies did I propose to myself to
make a continuous commentary, in which the
meaning of every difficult passage should be
discussed ; rarely have I been led to propose
in detail entirely new interpretations ; the justi-
fication of my translation is found, consequently,
in the number of works in which each line of
these antique writings, together with their de-
velopments, has been examined, to which I have
added but little. But in that which concerns
the Song of Songs, some additional explanations
were necessary. The plan of the work, which,
in the Book of Job, is manifest, offers, in the
poem now in question, the most serious diffi-
culties ; to speak truly, it is this which is the
great problem in the exegesis of the Song of
Songs. I have, therefore, presented to the
reader, without once recoiling before the necessity
of the most complicated deductions, the whole
series of reasonings which have conducted me to
my conclusions in regard to the nature of the
poem. This is the object of the first paragraph
of the Preliminary Study. Without these de-
tails, the arrangement which I have given to
the poem might appear an artificial one, and
many places might present the appearance of
The same consideration has forced me to adopt
a course in the arrangement of the translation
which at first may surprise, but whose utility,
I hope, will be recognised. The translation will
be found in this volume to be twice printed ; in
the first instance, without any explanatory addi-
tion, and under a form which should not raise
any prejudice as to the plan of the poem, the
XX 11 PREFACE.
only divisions found in it being those which at
first sight strike the eye of an attentive reader,
and those divisions in other respects " having
only a provisional character ; * in the second
instance, the divisions and explanations which
result from the discussion to which I have
applied myself in the preliminary study on the
plan of the poem. If I had limited myself to
the first form, I should have failed in the most
essential duty of a translator who would give
the reader a text which explains itself. If I
had given only the second form, I might have
been justly reproached for thrusting forward my
system with my translation ; it would have been
difficult to make an abstract of the divisions and
of the scenic indications ; the naked text would
not have been sufficiently disentangled. Con-
trariwise, in the arrangement I have adopted,
the liberty of the reader is fully respected. He
1 The old division into chapters and verses, which have no
critical value, but which are used for the citations, is marked, ac-
cording to the Hebrew, in the margin of the first translation.
may, if it seem good to him, by reading only
the first version, attempt to construct a better
hypothesis than the one I have submitted. I
warn those, however, who would attempt this
ordeal, that the plan which I have fixed upon
is that which is the result of the labours of
several generations of industrious interpreters.
It will be easy, at first sight, to find weak parts in
it ; but if one would consider it as a whole, and not
direct one's attention exclusively to certain pas-
sages, such a one would, I believe, be brought
to acknowledge that it is impossible to propose
any other arrangement. The latter, however,
be it understood, is applicable only to the en-
semble of the poem. A multitude of shades of
meaning are, in a book of this nature, left to
the discrimination of each individual ; nay, it
is even probable that the author did not take
so strict account of the details of the different
parts as our habits of thought require. Two
passages especially (vi. 11, et seq. ; vm. 8, et
seq.) are extremely difficult. I have given the
explanation which appeared to me the most
probable ; and it would be presumptuous in me
to speak with assurance on passages that are so
I will not dissimulate that there was another
method which at first attracted me, and which I
only renounced when I had subjected my work
to a final revision. I had for long thought that
the only means which could remedy the diffi-
culties that the plan of the Canticle seemed to
offer, was the transposition of some of the scenes.
Certain it is, that in the actual condition of
the poem, the chronological order is altogether
reversed. Thus, in chap. I., we witness the
young maiden make her entry into the seraglio ;
at chap. in. she enters, for the first time, into
Jerusalem ; at chap vi. she is waylaid at Shulam
by the retainers of Solomon ; at chap. vin. her
brothers seem to enter into a plot, the develop-
ment of which constitutes the nodus of the
poem. It was in these two last portions,
especially, that I found the temptation to be
resolute, and I avow that I am sometimes yet
carried to believe that the poem has been
subjected to grave abuses. But at the moment
I realised the boldness of the step, of touching
up a text so anciently established, my hand
trembled. The poem, such as it is, being
capable of being brought back to its original
form certainly not to a form to satisfy our
. exaggerated ideas as to dramatic art, but to
a connected form I am interdicted from the
employment of extreme means, to which re-
course should only be had in cases of absolute
I know that several passages in the translation
will appear a little shocking to two classes of
persons ; first, to those who admire only in
antiquity that which resembles, more or less,
forms adapted to French taste ; in the second
place, to those who know only the Canticle
through the mystic veil with which the religious
conscience has for centuries surrounded it. The
latter are naturally those whose habits it has
cost me the most pain to combat. It is never
without hesitation that I have carried my hand
over sacred texts which have founded or
sustained hopes of eternity, nor, in the name
of critical science, to rectify those conflicting
secular meanings which have consoled humanity,
which have assisted man to cross so many arid
deserts, and which have enabled him to conquer .
truths much superior to those of philosophy.
It were better that humanity should have hoped
for a Messiah, than to have fully comprehended
the passage in Isaiah, where it believes it has
seen him announced ; it were better that it
should have believed in the resurrection than
to have carefully read and fully comprehended
such an obscure passage in the book of Job.,
upon the faith of which its future deliverance
is affirmed. Where should we be, if the con-,
temporaries of Christ and the founders of
Christianity had been as good philologists as
Gesenius ? Faith in the resurrection and faith
in the Messiah have accomplished greater things
than the exact science of the grammarian. But
it is the grandeur of the modern human mind
not to sacrifice the legitimate wants of human
nature ; our hopes depend no longer on a text,
whether well or ill understood. Each, however,
imposes his faith upon texts much more than
he is aware of. Those who need the authority
of Job to enable them to hope in the future,
will not believe the Hebraist, who expounds to
them his doubts and his objections ; without
being disturbed by a different interpretation,
they will boldly declare with humanity : De
terra surrecturus sum. In like manner, the
Canticle, so dear to so many pious souls, will
exist in spite of our demonstrations. Like
an antique statue which the piety of the
middle ages has transformed into a madonna,
XXV 111 PREFACE.
it will continue to be respected, even when
archaeology shall have proved its profane origin.
As for me, my aim has not been to detract
from the veneration of the image now become
holy, but to despoil it for a moment of its
wings, in order to show to laymen antique art
in its chaste nudity.
PLAN, AGE, AND CHARACTER OF THE POEM.
THE Song of Songs is one of the Hebrew books which,
in relation to language, presents the fewest difficulties,
yet, of all the literary monuments of the Jewish
people, it is unquestionably the one whose plan,
nature, and general sense are the most obscure.^
Without taking into account the innumerable
mystical and allegorical explanations advanced by
theologians, and not one of which (as we shall
demonstrate later on) has any foundation in the
original, two opposing schemes still divide the
exegetes as to what concerns this singular book.
According to some, a connected action links together
the different parts of the poem, and makes of it a
coherent composition, possessing a unity. According
to others, the Song of Songs is but a series of
amorous lyrics, possessing no other bond of unity
than the analogy of the subject, and not implying
/; -.A; sTuntf off TJ^ SONG OF SONGS.
beyond that a dramatic action. Although the second
scheme appears to us unsustainable, and is to-day
all but abandoned, we can yet understand that the
ensemble of the poem must present some difficulties,
when such men as Herder, Paulus, Eichhorn,
W. Jones, de Wette, have been driven to admit an
hypothesis so desperate. A hasty glance at the
Song of Songs justifies, moreover, the hesitations
of so many eminent critics. We believe that, if the
reader would carefully run over the first of our
translations of the work, it would be evident to him
that divers Parts, such as the second, third, eighth,
eleventh, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, embody
precise and undoubted allusions to a dramatic action,
whose general contexture is readily discovered.
Several incidents in these Parts are devoid of mean-
ing, if we regard the divisions in which they occur
merely as simple detached romances. On the other
hand, if we seek in the poem for a regular develop-
ment, similar to that which is found in our modern
dramas, we encounter insuperable difficulties ; and
we are fain to believe that the order of the scenes
has been inverted, or that some parts have been
misplaced. A minute examination of the complete
poem, verse by verse, can alone furnish us witli
a key to this singular problem.
Every one is agreed as to two points : first, that
the poem is in dialogue, although the distinction
of characters has not been indicated ; and second
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 3
that it divides itself into distinct parts, similar to
our acts and scenes. Two species of refrain recur
quite regularly in certain places, leaving little doubt
as to the second point. Thus, after verse n. 7, ill. 5,
V. 1, vi. 10, vii. 11, VIII. 4, and vm. 7, there are
evident pauses. An examination of the poem can
alone reveal to us with precision the number and
the importance of these breaks. But, henceforward,
it may be permissible to adopt a division, which
shall prejudge nothing in respect of the plan of the
work. In pausing at all the places where we are
conscious of an abrupt change of situation, we are
led to divide the poem into sixteen Parts, as follows :
I. . . I, 2 1 i, 4
II. . . I, 5 I, 6
III . . I, 7 i, 8
IV. . . i, 9 i, 11
V. . . i, 12 n, 7
VI. n, 8 n, 17
VII. . . in, 1 in, 5
VIII. . . in, 6 in, 11
IX. . . iv, 1 v, 1
X. . v, 2 vi, 3
XL . . vi, 4 vi, 10
XII. . . vi, 11 vn, 11
1 Verse 1 in the Hebrew corresponds to the title. It must be
'observed that the figures of the verses of the Hebrew text differ
sometimes from those of the Vulgate, but never move than a unit.
4 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
XIII . . vii, 12 vni, 4
XIV. . . vni, 5 vm, 7
XV. . . vm, 8 vin, 12
XVI . . vm, 13 vin, 14
This division will serve as a basis for our examina-
tion, although we hope to demonstrate that several
of the Parts, which we separate provisionally, offer
a stronger bond and sequence than one would have
believed at first glance. It is taken for granted
that, in the whole of the reasonings which are to
follow, that the reader has constantly before his eyes
the first of our two translations, where the clearly
apparent division we have just indicated has been
I. Part One consists of the three first verses of the
poem, which evidently constitute an ensemble. These
three verses were, no doubt, pronounced by one or
several women. At first sight it seems natural to
put all the three verses in the mouth of a captive
lover, who sighs after her absent beloved. The rest of
the work, in fact, constantly brings us back to this
theme. But, in examining it closely, we see that
such an interpretation is fraught with the gravest
difficulties. First, the expression of the love in the
three verses in question is wholly sensual. The com-
parison of love to wine is objectionable, for in the
rest of the poem the captive lover always expresses
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 5
herself with much delicacy. ' Besides, there are some
places in the Part which we are discussing (verse 4)
which seem to be pronounced by a chorus of females.
When the captive lover is speaking for herself alone,
she never uses the verb in the first person plural.
In a word, verses 3 and 4 presuppose that the man
to whom these protestations of love are addressed is
beloved at the same time of several women, which
has no meaning in the mouth of a lover who sighs
for a lover separated from her, Let us add that the
word ala/moth designates the group of women who
love the hero designates elsewhere (vi. 8) in a
positive manner the odalisques of Solomon. It
seems, then, that we must understand these three
verses as representing a scene in the harem. 1 Each
of the women sighs for the favours of the master,
and the latter is no other than Solomon (the sequel
certainly proves this). They express their love to
him in passionate invitations, which is forthwith put
into the mouths of the whole chorus, then taken up
by a single female.
As to the words, " The king has brought me into
his chambers," I think that we ought to attribute
them to a young woman who has just been shut up
in the harem. This conjecture becomes almost a
certainty when we examine the succeeding verses,
where we see a young woman (the heroine of the
1 This is a point which MM. Bcettcher and Hitzig were the first
to fully understand.
6 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
poem) addressing herself for the first time to the
ladies of the seraglio. We must not be astonished
at such a scenic indication put into the mouth of the
actor being awkward and contrary to our usages.
It is here that we discover the first example of a
dramatic method which we shall see applied through-
out the whole poem, and which consists in the actor,
in order to make up for the imperfection in the play
and in the discourse, reciting what is expected of him.
Numerous instances will soon make that conclusion
perfectly clear. The tense of the verb employed to
express thus the action which takes place at the
moment when the actor speaks, is always what is de-
nominated in the Hebrew grammars the preterite.
There is no longer any doubt about these words :
"Draw me after thee; let us flee." These words
might very well be in the mouth of the odalisque who
pronounces the first words : " Let him kiss me. . . ."
Nevertheless, as the words which follow, " The king-
has brought me . . ." are in the mouth of the hero-
ine, I prefer to think that the words which we are
now discussing belong to the same person. It is a
cry of distress which she directs to him whom she
loves. In the scenes which are to follow, we shall
see the same heroine taking no account of her
surroundings, and speaking to her lover as though
she were alone in the world with him.
It may probably occur to the minds of some
persons, in pursuing this hypothesis, to place like-
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 7
wise the first words, " Let ' him kiss me," in the
mouth of the heroine. But this is hardly admissible ;
for, first, it is unnatural that the young woman who
is shut up in the harem should ask from her lover
a kiss before demanding of him her deliverance ; be-
sides, the second part of verse 2 is unquestionably
uttered by the same person that utters the end of
verse 4 Now, this ending of verse 4 is the part which
most manifestly appertains to the ladies of the harem.
II. Part Two (i. 5-6) is perfectly clear. A young
maiden from the country, doubtless the one who
has said in the preceding verse, " The king has
brought me to his chambers," makes her entry into
the harem. She excuses herself for her features
being browned by the sun. Her brothers have
maltreated her, and set her to do the roughest
work. We perceive that this monologue fits in well
with the preceding scene, and that we are still in
the harem. The concluding phrase, " Vineam meam
propriam non custodivi" presents alone any equi-
vocation. This phrase finds its explanation in
another place, vm. 12, In comparing the two
passages, we are convinced that these words must
be taken to designate metaphorically that which
constitutes the dowry * (bien fonds) of a young
maiden, to wit, her virginity and her beauty. The
young maiden chides herself here for some impru-
1 The word ke'rc:n (vinca) designates here, rent (fermage) of some
nature or another.
8 A STUDY OF THE PONG OF SONGS.
dence, and, in fact, in chap, vi., verses 11-12, we
shall see the narrative of a surprise, which has been
the source of her misfortunes, and to which, through
her foolhardiness, she had exposed herself.
III. The meaning of Part Three (i. 7-8) presents,
unfortunately, a greater number of difficulties. The
first verse of this Part shows us a shepherdess (the
heroine, doubtless), asking her lover to fix upon a
place where they may meet, and we expect the re-
sponse of the shepherd, which is contained in verse
VIIL It is not absolutely impossible that it may
not have been so ; nevertheless, it must be avowed
that such a response would have been not at all
natural, since, far from indicating the place for a
secret interview, the shepherd, on the contrary,
counsels his lover to associate with the other shep-
herds. Again, in order to obtain this meaning, we
are obliged to accept these words *]b ^1D $b Dtf
in the sense of " Si nescis" which, independently of
the extreme listlessness of the meaning which results
therefrom, is contrary to the tenor of the poem, in
which JTP N 1 ? signifies "to act stupidly; to lose
one's head " (vi. 12). Finally, the expression,
" Oh, thou fairest among women," with which the
interlocutor in verse 8 addresses the peasant girl,
is the one selected for the occasion when the chorus
addresses itself to the heroine. We are hence almost
compelled to believe that verse 8 ought to be placed
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 9
in the mouth of one of the ladies of the harem, and
that verse 7 is pronounced by the peasant girl dur-
ing a sort of dream, or some kind of distraction.
The poor simpleton imagines she is still in the
country ; a victim of love, and a stranger to the
dissimulations of the seraglio, she speaks aloud to a
lover whom she has left behind her in the village,
and asks of him where he will lead his flock to at
noon. One of her companions, or perhaps the entire
chorus, 1 shocked at the na/ivett with which she has
betrayed her love, discover to her her imprudence,
and engage her, since she is so little mistress of her-
self, to quit this abode, and to betake herself again
to the tending of her flocks. What such a hypo-
thesis may in appearance possess of the fanciful,
will soon be explained. We see that the scene thus
understood is quite consistent with the preceding
scene, and that we have not yet quitted the harem.
IV. Part Four, regarded separately, is very simple.
There can be no question that these verses have not
been put into the mouth of Solomon. The young
peasant girl has received in the seraglio her first
trousseau. Solomon sees her, addresses to her a
compliment, to which the poet appears to have in-
tentionally given a somewhat awkward turn, and
promises her some new finery. We shall still have
1 In our poem, as in the Greek drama, the rdle of the chorus is at
once individual and collective.
10 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
to remark more than once that the words put into
the mouth of Solomon have a doubtful charm, and
are very different from those which are prompted
by true love.
V. The short monologue contained in verses 12-14,
is by itself sufficiently clear. These three verses evi-
dently proceed from the lips of the paysanne. The
king is in his divan ; the young maiden is full of the
thoughts of a lover who is coming to repose between
her breasts. That this lover is not the king himself,
is made manifest by the clear distinction established
on the one hand between the king (hosmmele/c), whose
absence she regards as a piece of good fortune, and,
on the other, the well-beloved (nirdi, dodty, whose
arrival she is momentarily expecting. The existence
of the shepherd, who is the beloved of the young
maiden, whom we have already discovered in verse 7,
becomes now an absolute certainty. This is a capital
point, and the key to the entire poem. We are not so
much led into error by the plan of the work as by
the fact that sufficient attention has not been given
to the capital distinction made in this place, a dis-
tinction whence results that Solomon is not the loved
object ; nay, more, that his absence is the necessary
condition to the enjoyment of the loved object.
At verse 15, grave difficulties spring up. One of the
two lovers of the young maiden enters upon the scene,
and addresses to her a vulgar enough compliment,
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 11
which is to be found word for wx>rd in chap. IV., verse
1, and which is certainly put into the mouth of
Solomon. A similar expression is found in chap. VI.,
verse 4, and there, too, of a certainty it proceeds from
the mouth of Solomon. Moreover, the word which
the interlocutor makes use of in addressing himself to
the maiden is raiati, " my love." This is the word
which is used immediately by Solomon (i. 9) and
which he uses again in the sequel (iv. 1, VL, 4). Now,
it seems that this is an hypothesis much resorted to
by the poet in following up a strict rule in the employ-
ment of these vocatives, of which the difference serves
to mark the change of the interlocutor, and takes the
place of the name of the personages. 1
True it is that ra'iati appears also, II. 10, and v. 2,
in the mouth of the lover, but is lost in an enumera-
tion, and attached to other words much more tender.
We hold it, then, as indubitable that verse 15 ought to
be put into the mouth of Solomon.
Verse 16 belongs assuredly to the rdle of the maiden.
She responds by taking up again the turn of phrase
of the interlocutor in verse 15. It seems then natural
to suppose that she addresses Solomon. But to this,
two difficulties oppose : 1st, she calls him dodi, " my
well-beloved," a designation which she always reserves
for her lover, whom she has already addressed by this
appellation (l. 13, 14), and whom she has formally
1 Tliis capital principle in the exegesis of the Song of Songs has been
established by M. Ewald (Das Hohclicd Solomon's, Gcettin^en, 1826).
12 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
distinguished from Solomon ; 2d, this phrase, " Lectulm
noster viridis" is but little adapted to a seraglio. It
seems that here, as in verse 7, the peasant girl, whose
youthful and lively imagination is constantly trans-
ported to the country, recalls to her lover the bed of
leaves which was a witness to their childish delights.
It is at least very probable that this verse is addressed
to her lover, and not to Solomon.
Who pronounces verse 17 ? This is a question
upon which many interpretations have been put.
Some suggest that this verse, like the one preceding
and following, should be put in the mouth of the
peasant girl, with the three verses, I. 16, I. 17, n. 4,
and form a discourse for the maiden. But these three
verses so joined make an incoherent and contradictory
ensemble. The similies of the green bed, beams of
cedar, lilies of the valley, clash with one another in a
manner altogether unusual with the poet. It is still
less natural to place verse 17 in the mouth of the
shepherd who has not yet spoken. We therefore
conclude that verse 17 comes from the lips of Solomon.
The peasant girl, who dreams only of her vine and her
lover, has just recalled the greenwood bed where she
first knew love. Solomon, who has no notion of her
fidelity, contrasts the greenwood bed with the beams
of cedar and the rafters of fir of his seraglio.
We perceive now the singular character of this little
scene. Verse 15 and verse 17 proceed from Solomon,
verse 16 is in the mouth of the peasant girl ; but,
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 13
in place of addressing herself to Solomon, the maiden
speaks there of her absent lover, whose coming she
has been expecting (verses 12-14), or, at least, the
thought of whom was occupying her mind. However
strange this result may be, it appears to us it ought to
be accepted. For to suppose that verse 15 and verse
17 come from the mouth of a real lover, who is
expected at verses 12-14, as it is so natural to think,
is out of the question. The author, in fact, takes
great care in distinguishing the sentiments of his
characters, and he could never commit the blunder of
putting here into the mouth of a lover, the same
words that he puts elsewhere into the mouth of
Solomon. And as to saying that the tender protesta-
tion of the peasant girl (verse 16) is addressed to
Solomon, is in contradiction both with verses 12-14,
where the maiden is happy in the absence of the king,
and with the entire poem, where the triumph of the
shepherdess rightly consists in her having passed
through various experiences without having responded
in a single word to the love and advances of Solomon.
We have, then, no hesitation in avowing that there
is here a sort of bye-play, further examples of which
we shall find as we proceed. To the compliments of
Solomon, the youthful maiden responds by protesting
that the king may, if it seem good to him, take her to
himself ; but, in reality, she is addressing herself to
an absent friend. This friend himself is absent only
according to the meaning we attach to the scene.
14 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
We see him soon after interposing abruptly, and
speaking as if he had heard what had preceded.
Further on, other applications of this dramatic method
will present themselves to us. We are led to believe '
that, in representations such as those to whieh the
poem has given scope, all the actors were present at \
once, and that they took up speech in turn, in fulfil-
ment of their part, on the presumption that the
characters not engaged in the scene had not heard
them. The Hebrews, in composing dramatic scenes,!
do not appear to have attained to the idea of the ]
complete drama, where it is essential to place the
action before the eyes of the spectator, and where
verisimilitude, in its relation to changes of place, ought
to be observed.
Verse n. 1, which, by unanimous consent, must
be put in the mouth of the shepherdess, has no connec-
tion whatever with what precedes and what follows ;
it takes a singular turn, and one is tempted at times
to regard it as a mere debut, or the beginning
of a scene. Nevertheless, the following verses con-
tinue very appropriately the scene of verses 15, 16
and 17. We are hence of opinion that the dual
dialogue is here still protracted. Solomon has just
been boasting of his palace of cedar. The peasant
girl, as in verse 16, recurs to her dreams of the
country, and protests her innocence in ambiguous
terms. If, in adopting this interpretation, the
statement in verse 1 is found to be a little dis-
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 15
tortecl, there is no reason why we should not regard
it as a couplet of a popular song, which is sung by
the shepherdess, in a bantering tone, in order to
reveal her presence to her lover. In fact, it is very
remarkable that the lover, as though he had re-
cognised in that sign the fidelity of his beloved, enters
abruptly upon the scene, which we will prove
presently. At verse II. 15, we shall find, without
the possibility of a doubt, a similar artifice. What-
ever be the exact meaning, we are compelled to
see in the verse in question, a continuance of the
disagreement which the poet seems to take pleasure
in establishing between Solomon and the young-
maiden, each of them pursuing his or her idea, and
(thanks to the ingenious mechanism of the scene)
prolonging the misunderstanding.
Verse 2. Is it pronounced by Solomon or by the
lover? The word raiali, "my friend," leads one to
believe that it is by Solomon. But it is only in
the apostrophes in the vocative cases that the poet
makes use of the distinction in the terms of love.
We are tempted, on the contrary, by very strong
reasons, to attribute this verse to the lover. Be-
ginning with the following verse (verse 3), it is, in
fact, no longer possible for the scene to take place
in the absence of the lover, while, at verse 7, his
presence is beyond dispute, inasmuch as he speaks-
Is it at this point that the new character is intro-
duced ? In our opinion, it is at verse 2. The in-
16 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
terlocutor, in fact, enters into the feelings of the
peasant girl, and continues the rural metaphors of
verse 1 ; contrariwise, each time that the poet brings
Solomon on the scene, it is always inopportunely,
and represents him as being antagonistic to the
sentiments of the young maiden. Whilst Solomon
is responding to the bed of green by the beams of
cedar, the interlocutor is carried away in thought
to the village. The young women are now called
banoth, and not alamoth, like the odalisques of the
seraglio (i. 3; VI. 8). One very characteristic fact
is that the actor who pronounces this verse does not
speak directly to the young maiden. Indeed, it
might be said that the conversation of Solomon with
the peasant girl takes place outside of the piece, and
that it is abruptly inserted in the dialogue. The
action of the scene which we have described, p. 14,
seems then to reappear here. And what is not to be
gainsaid is the improbability of the lover entering
the harem, and making Solomon a witness to his
own wrong-doing, since at the end of the scene
(verse 7) the lover is undoubtedly present, and
speaks. Other portions of the poem show us the
same uncertainty in the entrances and exits of the
actors. Verse IV. 8, in particular, will show us an
entry of the lover on the scene identical with the
Verses 3, 4, 5 and 6 ought, without doubt, to be put
in the mouth of the young maiden. The protestations
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 17
of love in verse 3 could only be addressed to the
lover. The voice of the lover (verse 2) awakens the
shepherdess out of her dream, and leads to that eager-
ness of tone peculiar to one coming out of a swoon.
We can even take for granted that, in pronouncing
the last words of verse 3, the maiden has thrown her-
self into the arms of her lover, adhering always to
the principle that, in the dramatic arrangement of
the poet, each actor announces what he does at the
moment he does it. To speak the truth, the whole
difficulty turns upon verse 4. How is this passage
to be understood ? " He brought me into his wine-
house, and his banner over me was love." The
word " wine-house " seems to signify a cellar above
ground, and we are abruptly transported thence into
the country. For to admit with Gesenius that this
expression designates "the room in which wine is
drunk," and that that signifies metaphorically, " he
has inebriated me with love," is what a man of judg-
ment will not readily assent to. The female vine-
dresser is never used except as a rural figure of
speech. The words of verse 5, where the heroine,
about to faint away, asks to be comforted with fruit
or with a piece of those pressed raisin cakes which
are the residuum of the vintage, proves that the
scene takes place, or is ascribed to take place, at a
spot where the wine is made and stored away. When
we. compare the passage in question with the very
similar passage (i. 4) : " The king has brought me to
18 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
his chambers," we feel convinced that there is here,
again, one of those indications of change of place
which the poet (the fault of the scenic machinery)
puts in the mouth of the actor. The shepherdess,
who has not been able to detach herself in imagina-
tion from the village, having refound him whom she
loves, gives herself wholly up to the allusion ; or, to
speak more exactly, the poet, desirous of expressing
the triumph of the two lovers, shows them to us,
after their separation, reunited at the farm where
they first became enamoured of one another. Between
verse ill. 4 and verse ill. 5, we shall find yet another
of those passages, which transport us in imagination
from Jerusalem to the country. It is evident that,
in the mind of the dramatist, the scene is never strictly
localised, and that no figure of speech indicates the
exterior circumstances in the midst of which the
action has taken place.
What follows, up to verse 7, is perfectly clear. The
young maiden experiences an amorous fainting-fit, and
falls into the arms of the shepherd. The formula which
expresses the swooning away is reproduced in two
other places in the poem, III. 5 and VIIL 4. In these
two places, as in the present instance, the fainting
away indicates a very marked division, the end of an
act. We are, therefore, justified in forming from
the twenty-three verses which we have so far ex-
amined, a first act, whose construction is this : A
young female vine-dresser, reared in her native village,
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 19
is brought by compulsion into the harem of Solomon.
Being a stranger to the whole surroundings, she re-
serves all her thoughts for a lover whom she has left
in the fields. It is in vain that Solomon promises
her jewels, and compliments her on her beauty.
While the king is absent, she abandons herself to the
hope of seeing her lover. She believes that he is
about to come. But, instead, it is Solomon who pre-
sents himself, and seeks to gain her good graces. Then
follows a dialogue, in which the young maiden re-
sponds to the compliments of Solomon in significant
terms, which in reality are intended for her lover. A
phrase, perhaps a couplet of a popular song which the
young maiden sings, suddenly brings the lover on the
scene. The two lovers are reunited. In imagination
both they and the spectators are transported to the
country ; the lover is supposed to introduce his be-
loved into the wine room of the farm, where they are
recognised, and the young woman faints away in the
arms of her lover.
Such a dramatic arrangement, viewed from the
standpoint of our modern usages, appears, I admit,
somewhat singular ; we are astonished, in particular,
at finding at the end of the first act the denouement
which we did not expect to meet until the end of
the drama; but the second act, which we are about
to analyse, presents an analogous disposition : and
here it is so palpable that the doubts which might
still remain as to our deductions will, I hope, dis-
20 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONCS.
appear when the dramatic method of the author
shall, by a second application, have become clear.
Let it be observed, however, that the final ending
(vn. 12, et seq.) sensibly differs from the peculiar
endings of the first and second acts. The final
ending is indeed realistic, and is accompanied by all
the scenic apparatus which befits lovers returning
to the village. Here, instead, as well as in the act
which immediately follows, the two lovers do not
actually leave Jerusalem, and the reunion in the
village is represented only in perspective and in
VI. Part Six (n. 8-17) leaves room for no manner
of doubt. The young captive dreams of her lover.
She imagines she hears him, and descries him stand-
ing behind the window bars. She addresses to him
a passionate discourse, and establishes a kind of
dialogue between herself and him. The lover is
regarded as being outside the seraglio, at the foot of
a terraced tower (verse 14) ; he asks his beloved to
let him hear her voice : she responds in a spring lyric,
which they had probably sung in the village, and
which serves as a token of recognition. She finishes
by protesting that she will never belong to any one
but her lover, and engages to return to him in the
evening^ It is all the time doubtful whether this
scene ought to be considered as a dream or as a
reality. It is equally difficult to say whether, in
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 21
the intention of the poet, this scene is a monologue,
comprising a dialogue recited by the heroine, or
whether the person who enacts the role of the
shepherd ought to pronounce in person verses
10-14. The formula, 1DNT TOtf, "He spake and
said unto me," of verse 10, and still more the
refrain of verse 16, where the heroine continues
her discourse, after having repeated the response
which she made to her lover, induces the belief
that the amorous dialogue of verses 10-15 is wholly
recited by the shepherdess.
VII. Part Seven presents still fewer difficulties
than the preceding. The shepherdess awakens during
the night, seeks her lover, perambulates the city,
encounters him, attaches herself to him. By a turn
of expression analogous to that which terminates the
first act, the poet suddenly transports us in imagina-
tion from Jerusalem to the maternal home of the
young maiden, and shows us the shepherdess in a
faint. This is decisive. What doubt might remain
as to the abrupt passages in verses II. 4, 7, disappears
on a comparison with verses in. 4-5. At verse in. 5,
there terminates a second act, which is in a manner
the counterpart of the first, in respect of the denoue-
ment, at least. The design of the author is to show,
in each act, the heroine undergoing an experience
which terminates in the victory of true love over
corruption and constraint, the two essential features
22 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
of his method of composition. The changes of place
effected in imagination, and the tendency to supply
by recitations that which the imperfect dramatic
machinery at his disposal was insufficient to do,
appear thus in their full light.
VIII. This scene has a character peculiar to itself.
The interlocutors are the bourgeois of Jerusalem, who
form a male chorus. They assist, and we make them
assist, at a solemn entry of Solomon into Jerusalem.
We see first the cortege in the distance, which an-
nounces itself by a cloud of perfumes. Then the
palanquin of Solomon defiles past, its guard composed
of sixty men ; its litter contains a new dazzling beauty
whom he is taking to his seraglio ; and the king him-
self, with his crown on his head, ready for the cere-
mony of the marriage. There is no portion of the
poem which bears more than this the traces of a
realistic representation, and even of a definite scenic
mounting, as well as of costumes.
IX. The long Part which follows, comprising the
whole of chap. IV. and the first verse of chap, v.,
forms a very satisfactory continuation, if the principles
which we have above been compelled to premise in
the two preceding acts are admitted. Most people
have taken it for granted that the whole of the
amorous tirade which makes up chap, iv., except the
last sentences, were uttered by Solomon. On ex-
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 23
amining the matter attentively, we see that it is neces-
sary to make a distinction. There can be no doubt
at all that the first seven verses are not in the mouth
of Solomon ; the mise en scene of the preceding Part,
the formulas of verse 1, and the general tenor of
the whole passage, which is more a rhetorical display
than an expression of tenderness, proclaims this in
a positive manner. But from verse 8 up to the first
half of verse 16, inclusive, the tone is entirely different.
The interlocutor is much more passionate ; he calls
the heroine "my espoused sister." Similarly, in
verse II. 14, he complains that his "dove" is shut
up in a place which to him is inaccessible. He asks
her to look on him. Then, as though he had been
accorded this favour, he declares that she has ravished
his heart ; he is firmly convinced of her fidelity, and
he praises her virtue as a fountain sealed to every one
save himself. It can hardly be doubted, then, that
this whole scene ought to be put into the mouth of
the lover. The language of verse 6, where Solomon
promises himself in the evening the favours of his
new spouse, are overheard by the shepherd ; * he
trembles in case his beloved prefers the splendours of
the palace of Solomon to the love which she has
pledged to him. Making use of an artifice, of which
we have already discovered a striking example in the
first act, the poet now makes the lover interpose with
this eager exclamation : " Come to me. Come to me,
1 S<j above, pp. 13, 14.
24 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
my spouse ! " The shepherdess responds to his volup-
tuous entreaties with an invitation no less passionate.
The lover celebrates his triumph before the chorus,
and engages it to be a sharer in his joys.
I will not insist upon an observation which might
be taxed with subtlety; I mean, the necessity of
making a break after verse 6. Certain it is that
verse 7, regarded as the final sentence of Solomon's
discourse, is somewhat lugubrious. Expressions
similar to that of verse 6, which are to be found
in other places (n. 17, in. 4), w^ould ordinarily suggest
that the action announced by the future verb was
accomplished before the verse which follows: more
than this, these kind of verses which imply an
amorous hope should always terminate a scene.
I am hence led to believe that verse 7, although
pronounced, as well as the preceding one, by
Solomon, commences another scene ; I mean, the
interview in the evening, which terminates in a
manner so contrary to the hopes of Solomon. This
would be a certainty if the Hebrews had had
a theatre similar to ours; but the liberties which
the poet takes with the verisimilitudes of time and
of place ought to make us very circumspect when
the question is one of superimposing modern
exigencies upon a composition so far removed from
We see that Parts VIII. and IX., when combined,
form a complete act, which is conducted exactly
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 25
according to the plan of the two previous acts. The
poet, first of all, excites the imagination with the
eclat of the cortege of Solomon. The marriage is
in some manner celebrated in advance, so that the
triumph of this powerful king over a simple vine-
dresser appears certain. Solomon announces that
he will return in the evening. At that decisive
moment, the voice of the lover makes itself heard,
and reawakens the passion of the young maiden;
she has no longer any ears except for him, and the
shepherd obtains the victory under the very eyes
of his rival. The scene does not close this time
with a swooning fit, but by the union of the two
lovers and the jubilation of the chorus.
And let it not be objected to me that the chorus,
which is composed at the commencement of the
bourgeois of Jerusalem, cannot be the same as that
which the lover invites here to share in his rejoicings.
The chorus, in the poem, has no distinct identity.
It is a neuter- entity, representing in a kind of way
the crowd of spectators who give expression to
the sentiments which the situation suggests. Let
no one accuse me any longer for the circumstance
that the scene of Part VIII., in which we show the
triumphal entry of Solomon with his new spouse,
is anterior in time to the scenes of the preceding
acts, which all take place in the harem. This objec-
tion would lie if the different acts of the poem were
consecutive; that is to say, if each of these took
26 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
up the action where the preceding act left it. But
it is not so ; the acts are in a manner parallel ; each
of them represents the same idea, we mean the hopes
and efforts of Solomon baffled to the advantage of
the lover. The third act takes us back a little
farther than the two preceding acts, which commence
in the harem : this is the whole difference.
X. Part Ten, in regard to its general sense, does
not present any confusion. It is the scene of Part
VII. more developed. The young maiden starts out
of her sleep ; she hears the voice of her well-beloved,
who is knocking at the door. Yielding to a petty
amorous fancy, she makes some difficulty about open-
ing. She opens, finally, but the lover, responding
to her "teasing by teasing" her in turn, has disap-
peared; she goes in search of him, and meets with
the same adventures as in Part VII. She encounters
the chorus of women, to whom she gives a descrip-
tion of her beloved. Piqued by curiosity at her
description, the women of Jerusalem wish to aid
her in her search. The response of the young
maiden (vi. 2, 3) appears singular, and has made
some critics believe that it was owing to a sentiment
of jealousy that she refused the services of her
female friends. But the principle that we have laid
down in verses I. 4, II. 4, v. 1, and numerous
instances of which we shall yet discover, to wit,
that the actor indicates generally by a verb in the
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 27
preterite, the action which, according to our theatrical
usages, has taken place at the moment it is uttered,
gives us the key to the passage. It is hardly to be
doubted that, between verse 1 and verse 2, the meet-
ing of the two lovers has not taken place. The Part
ends thus, like the three first acts, and constitutes an
act by itself alone.
Here, as in Part VII., the young maiden recites
a dialogue which is represented as having taken
place between her and her lover, and which, accord-
ing to the usages of our theatres, must be presented
at once ; for, although the speech of the lover at
verse v. 2 has not preceded IQJOrOy, as at verse
II. 10, the refrain of verse 4 indicates clearly that
it is the young maiden who speaks, and that it is
the invitation of the lover and her own response.
XL Part Eleven presents but few difficulties. That
verses vi. 4-7 are in the mouth of Solomon, there
can be no doubt. The king commences, as is his
habit, with a compliment, which produces little effect
upon the heart of the female vine- dresser, inasmuch
as her only response to it is cold and fixed eyes.
Embarrassed, Solomon begs of her to turn her eyes,
and repeats to her the compliment he has made be-
fore (Part IX). There is nothing in this which is
absolutely opposed to that which has been put into
the mouth of Solomon at verses 8-9. Nevertheless,
this is far from being natural. Several particulars,
28 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
such as the recollection of the young maiden's mother,
a recollection that recurs frequently between the two
lovers (in. 4, vnr. 1, 5), have no meaning as between
her and Solomon. The epithets which the inter-
locutor applies to the shepherdess are such as affect
the lover. The interlocutor speaks of the harem as
a stranger would. Finally, the plan of the first and
of the third acts seem to be reproduced here. Now
the plan requires that, after the speech of Solomon,
the lover should intervene, in order to destroy the
effect of the words of the king, and as preparatory to
his own victory over the heart of his beloved.
Verse 10 is the ordinary formula of the chorus.
Having regard always to the unity of the personages,
the poet insists, as in verses in. 6, vm. 5, upon the
principal circumstance of the scene, which is here the
obstinate determination of the lover, who is resolved
not to yield. This formula is made use of in other
places (Parts VIII. and XIV.) of the work, and is, so
to speak, the rising of the curtain ; but, seen as it is
here, joined to the final words of verse 9, it would be
better to regard it this time, at least provisionally,
as a scenic close. We shall show presently that the
scene of Part XII. is designed to follow immediately
the scene of Part XI. The question of knowing to
what scene verse 10 belongs becomes now almost
XII. It is here that the sequence of the poem
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 29
presents the greatest difficulties. We have just left
the shepherdess victorious over the blandishments of
Solomon ; we expect the proof of it to follow in the
ordinary finale that is to say, the ardent expression
of the happiness of the two lovers, reunited. There
is nothing of the kind. At verse 11 we find in the
scene a young maiden who has left the house of her
mother, in order to go and enjoy herself among the
plants and the flowers of the valley. The scene
would now seem to be removed from Jerusalem. At
verse 12 the young simpleton finds herself trans-
ported, without her knowing it, into the midst of a
princely suite, which is unquestionably the suite of
Solomon. In Hebrew the indecision as to the tense
prevents us from determining at first sight whether
this is the recital of an action which has taken place
long before, or the enunciation of a fact which is
intended should take place in the view of the spec-
tator. In the first portion of verse vii. 1, some one
calls out to the young maiden to return or to turn
round (the word in. Hebrew may be construed in
both senses), which evidently implies that the young
maiden, after pronouncing verse 12, either makes a
pretence to flee, or stands with her back turned.
Hence the interpretation which one adopts as to
this verse depends wholly upon the meaning of the
scone. If the former is adopted, the scene must
evidently be placed in the country, and assumes
that it is the people of the cortege, who, seeing- a
30 A STUDY OF THE SOKQ OF SONGS.
young peasant girl confused and frightened, recall
her to her senses (pour la regarder). If, on the
contrary, we adopt the latter, the scene takes place
in the harem, and it is the wives of Solomon who
pronounce verse vm. 1. The former sense, certainly,
appears at first the more natural. And such is the
singular structure of the poem, that those kinds of
retours do not contain any element of improbability ;
and the scene in Part VII., which is evidently an-
terior to those which precede, is the proof of this.
But we must next assume that Part XI. is a com-
plete act in itself, which is opposed to the whole
economy of the poem. 1 In point of fact, each act
terminates with the reunion of the two lovers. We
have not, however, witnessed resistance on the part
(of the young maiden at verse 10. It is necessary to
; assume, further, that Part XII. happens in the country,
| previous to the principal action, and Part XIII.
'occurs at Jerusalem, at the moment of departure;
and being at the close of the action form a single
act, which is simply impossible. It cannot, then, be
admitted that a scene, happening in the country,
has been mortised into that place in the poem. One
is, in a manner, led to think that Part XII. forms
1 In order to escape from this difficulty, I have for long considered
that the whole scene of Part XII. ought to be transferred to the com-
mencement of the poem. But the principle guiding transpositions
ought only to be admitted in evident cases, and such a principle being
seldom resorted to in the criticism of Hebrew writings, I have re-
nounced such desperate means of getting rid of the embarrassment.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 31
a second scene of the act commenced by Part XL
that Part XI. going back, as is the habit with the
poet, to the debut of the action, and even further
than any of the preceding acts, shows us the first
efforts made by Solomon to overcome a young maiden
whom his servants are about to carry off, and who
resists fiercely; that verses vi. 11-12 are pronounced
as a sort of aside, the shepherdess, newly introduced
into the seraglio, turning her back upon the com-
pany, and refusing to look at anything; that, at
verse VII. 1, finally, the women of the harem seek to
quiet her. and induce her to let them look at her.
There is a word in verse vm. 1 which strikes us.
The persons who recall the young maiden are termed
kassulammith. This word is not a proper name, for
it is preceded by the article. The name of Shulam-
inith hence signifies "a young maiden of Shulam"
Shulam, or Shunam, was a village belonging to the
tribe of Issachar, the country of a certain Abishag the
Shunammite, whose adventures, related at I. (Vulg.
m.) Keg. L, 3, II. 17, et seq., are not without some
analogy to those which form the ground- work of the
poem. We read, in fact, at the first of the passages
cited, that the people of David, in circumstances too
far removed from our modern manners to be repro-
duced here, caused a search to be made in all the
tribes of Israel for the most beautiful young virgin,
and that that virgin was Abishag the Shunammite.
This Abishag, on the decease of David, was trans-
32 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
ferred to the harem of Solomon, but she had inspired
such a passion in the breast of Adonijah, another son
of David, that the latter had the temerity to make an
indiscreet demand for her hand from Solomon, which
was the cause of or the pretext for his death. What-
ever be the resemblance, it is certain that the two
verses and a half, which we have just been analysing,
throw a singular light upon the fable which forms
the subject of the poem. In the first place, the scenic
name of the young maiden is given us. In the second
place, we know how the young maiden, whom we have
formerly seen shut up in the harem, was brought there.
It was a young peasant girl of Shulam who, as she
was walking about one day among the flowers, was
captured by a party of Solomon's people.
The second half of verse vn. 1 is, unfortunately,
a great stumbling-block, and has never been inter-
preted in a manner to gain the positive assent of
critics. The first words, " Quid intuemini Sulam-
mitidem ? " or " Quid vultis intueri Sulammitidem?"
seem to respond to these words of the women of
the harem, " ut intueamur te" But if we place
them in the mouth of the Shulammite, we obtain a
sense not at all natural, and an unusual turn of ex-
pression. This manner of speaking of her, in order
to designate her by name, is exceedingly clumsy.
But, above all, how are the concluding words
of the verse, D^HDH rbnni to be understood?
This passage is one of those where the lack of
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 33
grammatical precision in the Hebrew, causes the
greatest embarrassment to the philologist. Let us
put to one side the difficulty contained in the word
Mahanaim, which is only a matter of detail. 1 Who
utters these two last words ? What is the meaning
of these dances to which it would appear the Shulam-
mite is compared ? What bond is established between
all these ideas, which jar with one another ? How
are we to link them on to the grand descriptions of
verses 2-10 ? Before answering these questions, it is
of moment to subject the description contained in
verses 2-10 to a searching examination.
In short, this description, or, rather, this dithy-
rambus, in praise of a woman, is distinguished from
the analogous parts which precede, by some essential
features. Everything goes to show that the young
maiden referred to in these verses executes a dance
while she is being praised. " How beautiful are thy
feet," is by itself almost conclusive of this. The
1 Some translate this word by " Choirs of angels ; " others regard
it as the city of Mahanaim, situated near the confines of Gad and
Mannasah. At bottom, these two interpretations differ in little if
we read chap. xxxn. of Genesis. The name of the city of Mahanaim
is there associated with a group of angels or of elohim, which Jacob
encountered in that place. The word in question signifies duo castra,
and may designate two groups of dancers executing some figures,
facing each other. It is probable that the city of Mahanaim had
been the centre of some non-Israelitish cult, and was still celebrated
for its dancing girls. Did the author of the Sony of Songs believe it
to be the city of Mahanaim, or did he consider it as a common noun
(duo. chori), the very word from which the city of Mahanaim has
derived its name ? This is a question which is very difficult to
34 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
remark which has been made by critics, to wit, that
the other descriptions proceed a capite ad calcem,
whilst the latter proceeds a calce ad caput, is, put
in such form, simply childish. In short, the simi-
larity of the last words of the verse proves that the
dance, at this moment, is an important circumstance
in the poem. This premised, two questions present
themselves ; First, In whose mouth should this Part
be placed ? Second, Who is the woman who dances,
or, in other words, to whom are verses 2-10 ad-
The first question need only detain us for a short
time. Verses 9-10, uttered with the tone of a master,
imply such a positive confidence of possession, that
they could only proceed from Solomon. 1 The chorus,
collectively, might well pronounce verses 2-8, but
verses 9-10 do not fit in with it at all. The chorus,
moreover, hardly ever intervenes, except by short
exclamations, of a character easily recognisable. As
to the second question, that of discovering the person
to whom these verses are addressed, is a subject of
very great difficulty.
1 I agree with Ammon, Ewald, Hitzig, that we must suppress in
verse 10 the word *nVv> which has no meaning there. The word
iTflbj recurring at a distance of twenty-three letters, that is to say,
at almost the next line, we may assume that this word commenced
a, line in the manuscript, from which all the others proceeded.
The copyist must at first have made the mistake of a line, then,
perceiving his error, he marks the word ^TYl? as a sign of de~
Icatur. The copyists following him have not taken into account
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 35
Many interpreters have thought that the young
maiden who dances is the Shulammite. Dividing verse
1 into three parts, they translate it thus, or nearly so :
" Return, return, oh ! Shulammite, that we may behold
thee ! What will ye see in the Shulammite ? A
Mahanaim dance." Yielding to the invitation ad-
dressed to her, the Shulammite executes a dance, dur-
ing which the compliments contained in verses 2-10
are addressed to her. Let us put out of sight for a
moment the repugnance that one experiences in put-
ting into the mouth of the Shulammite the clause of
a sentence in which she refers to herself. Even so,
enormous difficulties spring up against such an inter-
pretation. And, first, it is grammatically untenable.
The particle 2 which follows the verb HTH in two
clauses of consecutive phrases, mark in the former an
accusative case. In the latter, it is impossible that
it should not have the same value. M. Hitzig has
acknowledged this with perfect frankness. It is in-
dubitable that it must be translated by the accusa-
tive : " CUT intuemini Sulammitidem ? " or " Cur
vultis intueri Sulammitidem?" But this is the
least of the objections which may be brought against
the opinion which we combat. It implies so many
incongruities, that we are surprised that men of
judgment have been puzzled by it. What ! that a
timid, reserved, peasant girl, such as the poet is
anxious to hold up to us as a model of fidelity, who,
losing her wits in the court of Solomon, seeks only
36 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
to flee or conceal herself, should become so sud-
denly emboldened that, on the first asking, she dances
in such manner as to merit the praises which could
belong only to a nautch girl ! The first compliment of
Solomon to a poor girl, who had been engaged in
attending vineyards, would be to ask for his slippers !
How can we suppose that the poet, who elsewhere
gives proof of so just a taste, has forgotten himself at
this point ? Let us add, 1st, that the king calls the
danseuse bath nadib, " prince's daughter," which
words, addressed to a peasant girl, would be absurd,
the rather when they are to be found two verses above
applied to the people of Solomon's cortege ; 2d, that
Solomon had been for a long time acquainted with
the woman to whom he speaks, seeing that he boasts
of her hidden charms (vn. 7) ; 3d, and, finally, that
the compliments addressed to the Shulammite in the
other portions of the poem are of an absolutely differ-
.ent character from those which we read here, The
passage which we are now discussing is the only one
in which Oriental sensuality is given full swing, and
one which the translator was obliged to tone down.
It is impossible to admit that Solomon, seeing for the
first time the young shepherdess, held language to her
which was only fitting to be addressed to a prosti-
tute, and which forms so striking a contrast to that
which he has elsewhere addressed to her.
Only one hypothesis is then possible, and that is,
that verses 2-10 are addressed to a dancing girl of
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 37
Solomon's seraglio. It seems that here the poet
wishes to contrast, like as he has already done in
Part I., the sensual manners and the licentious love
of the seraglio with the innocent manners and the
sincere love of his rustic heroine. I am disposed to
see in that scene, as well as in Part XV., which we
shall analyse presently, a sort of contrast designed to
set off the tender and strong passion of the other
scenes. Perhaps, too, a slight pretext served the
author, like that which has a place in our operas, to
introduce a ballet. Several scenes, indeed, in the
poem would appear to be conceived with a view to
furnishing motifs for the nuptial festivities. In this
relation, Part VII. presents a great similarity to that
now under consideration.
Such an explanation being admitted as the least
improbable which is compatible with the bizarre
monologue of verses 2-10, we must go back to the
last words of verse 1, which serve as its introduction,
and the significance of which we have, up to this point,
left in abeyance. Entertaining an invincible repug-
nance to putting a phrase, in which the Shulammite is
named, into the mouth of the Shulammite herself, I
am led to believe that it is necessary to place all
the second half of verse 1 in the mouth of a woman
of Solomon's harem, probably in that of the dancing
girl praised in verses 2-10. The women of the harem
have just requested the Shulammite to turn towards
them, in order that they might judge of her beauty.
38 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
The dancing girl interrupts in order to oppose to the
charms of the peasant girl those of her own, which
she believes to be superior. " How can you," she says,
" pay any attention to a Shulammite in presence of
charms like mine ? " which leads up to the divertisse-
ment of verses 2-10. The definition which must be
ascribed to the particle 3 in order to obtain this sense,
will not surprise Hebraists who are willing to have
recourse to the examples cited by Gesenuis (Thes. p
649, B. 3.), and, above all, to the passage in Isaiah
xvni. 4, 5.
As if chance itself took delight in accumulating
difficulties in that part of the poem, verse 11 again
gives occasion for a certain amount of doubt. M.
Hitzig places this verse in the mouth of the danseuse.
According to him, the poet would thus oppose the
condescension of the women of the harem to the
fidelity of the peasant girl. The phrase l/lplt^Jl seems
to him a voluptuous phrase, which is not in keeping
with the rdle of the Shulammite. But the words *\rf) 9
"to my well-beloved," applied to Solomon in the
mouth of the danseuse, is still much more incongruous
than the words l/p^Tl in the mouth of the Shulam-
mite. We are of opinion, then, that the phrase i*]Y] is
applied here, as throughout the poem, to the lover,
that, consequently, this verse belongs to the Shulam-
mite, and that we are forced to regard it as a pro-
testation of fidelity analogous to those which termi-
nate several other scenes. The bold tone of verses
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 39
0-10 excites only amongst the , village people a senti-
ment of disgust ; she hugs the memory of her lover,
and is consoled by thinking that he, in turn, reserves
for her all his thoughts and desires.
Let any one examine the whole of these interpre-
tations, and he will not, I believe, find one of them
more natural to the text than the one we have just
analysed. Solomon has just delivered, in Part XI.,
a first assault on the virtue of the shepherdess; 1
the Shulammite has responded to it only by obstinate
looks, which strike the chorus with astonishment.
The heroine, as in Parts I., II., III., is placed face to
face with the women of the harem : thrown into this,
to her, new world, she opens her mouth only to pro-
test that she will remain faithful to her lover. The
dramatic arrangement of the author, which consists
in completing the acts, the one by the other, rather
than by exhibiting them to us in their natural order,
is thus once more demonstrated. The spectator, in-
deed, knew the fable beforehand, and that which he
sought for in these spectacles is less surprises and
peripatetics than passionate developments and some
snatches of music. This is the reason why the hero-
ine is only named at so late a stage. This is also
how it happens, that Part VIII. , in which we witness
Solomon re-entering Jerusalem after an expedition
1 We must always remember that each act takes us back to the
debut, and what we are now considering in particular, is that which
takes us back furtherest, since it all but makes us assist at the abduc-
tion of the young maiden.
40 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
which has resulted in capturing a new beauty for
his seraglio, is only explained by Part XII., in which
we assist in the love-hunting expedition of which
Part VIII. shows us the return. 1
XIII. This charming scene is happily as clear as
the preceding is obscure. The overpowering desire
for the country again seizes the Shulammite ; she
beseeches her lover to restore her to the village, to
her mother's house, near to which their love had its
origin. To this tender effusion succeeds, as in Parts
V. and VII., a fainting away into the arms of her
lover. This swooning is the ordinary formula that
marks the close of the acts, and it seems at first sight
that the act which we are discussing ought to ter-
minate here. The Shulammite, in fact, has just over-
come a trial which is to be the last of the series in the
poem, a voluptuous scene of which she has been a
witness tends only to fortify her in her virtue. The
prize of the victory is, as in the other acts, the reunion
of the two lovers. Only, before this reunion is made
definitive, the poet nas qualms of conscience in regard
to allowing her to return to her rough toil in the
1 M. Ewald has clearly recognised that the gravamen of the scene
we are now discussing is the first rencontre of the Shulammite and
Solomon. Only a learned Hebraist would think of placing the entire
scene in the form of a recital in the mouth of the Shulammite. This
hypothesis, which M. Ewald applies in other places, and the result of
which is the putting of the entire dialogues of two or three persons into
the mouth of a single actor, occasions complicated and most unnatural
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 41
village. The Shulamraite then postpones the final
pledges of her love until the day on which her
beloved shall return to Shulam.
XIV. Here, again, there can be no doubt as to the
march of the poem. The scene commences with the
accustomed salutation of the chorus, modified to suit
the circumstances. The Shulammite crosses the stage,
supported by her dearly-beloved. She is asleep, as is
proved by the first words of the second part of the
verse. While she is asleep, the lover is supposed to
transport her to the village. We have already observed
changes of place brought about as instantaneously,
and in as wholly unconventional a manner. The
lover disposes his sleeping beauty under an apple tree
in the vineyard, and awakens her to point out the
spot where she was born. The Shulammite (verse 6)
resigns herself to him, and rejoices in the invincible
power of love. Verse 7 is a resumd of the whole
piece. "Nothing can quench true love; to offer to
purchase it with gold " (as Solomon does) " is only to
expose one's self to reproach." It is not impossible
that this verse likewise proceeds from the mouth of
the Shulammite. Nevertheless, there is something
objectionable in the speech of the maiden, at the
moment of the fulfilment of her desires, when she
sets herself to moralising and to pointing epigrams
at Solomon. Verse 6 makes an excellent close to the
role of the Shulammite, The admirable art and the
42 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
exquisite taste to be remarked in these two last scenes,
interdict us from believing that the poet had com-
mitted the blunder of putting the abstract formula of
his drama into the mouth of the heroine. We assume,
then, that verse 7 is spoken by a person, a stranger
to the action, by a sort of moralist, or choragus, or
perhaps by the chorus. However it may be with this
unimportant detail, it is evident 1st, that the end of
the act occurs at Shulam ; and 2d, that the piece,
properly speaking, finishes at verse 7. Not only,
indeed, is the action terminated by the oath taken
by the two lovers, but also by the moral having been
drawn in such an explicit manner ; still, we experience
some surprise in seeing the poem prolonged beyond
the scene with which we have just been occupied.
XV. Our surprise increases when we study the
verses thus placed as a sort of appendix to the final
act. The scene of these verses is at Shulam; but at first
sight it seems impossible to give any meaning, after
the conclusion of verse 7, to the action which takes
place there. The hypothesis advanced by several
exegetes that it is some new snares laid by her brothers
for the Shulammite, is opposed to the text, and ascribes
to the poet inconceivable stupidity. What ! that when
the action is closed, he should begin another action,
not to develop it, but to introduce a dry and insig-
nificant dialogue of four or five lines ! When we
seriously reflect upon the difficulties of this singular
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 43
part, we cease to regard as strange the opinion of
Umbreit, who considers that the epilogue in question
had no manner of connection with the poem, and that,
in fair criticism, it ought to be suppressed. We believe,
nevertheless, that a minute analysis of the passage
will show us that it is too closely interwoven with the
general action of the poem to be struck out in such
an arbitrary manner.
Verse 8 is perfectly clear. The brothers and a
young sister, who has not yet reached a marriageable
age, have a conversation together, and the question
is, what shall be done with her on the day when
people begin to seek after her. At verse 9 one of
her brothers makes an equivocal answer, which, by
many interpreters, is explained thus : " If she be
still irreproachable, we shall reward her : if she have
shown weakness, we shall shut her up." But this
interpretation opens the door to grave difficulties.
I do not insist upon the point that she has become
dejected and languid. Let us admit, in face of all
probability, that the battlement of silver spoken of
by the brothers is intended to designate a sort of
jewel which the young maiden has received as a
recompense for her virtue. There yet remains one
point, the signification of which is an enigma. If
the brothers are desirous of punishing their sister in
the event of her having committed a fault, why do
they threaten to enclose her with panels of cedar?
It is apparent that this circumstance implies an idea
44 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
of wealth and of luxury. Battlements of silver,
panels of cedar, is the response. Neither of these
alternatives connotes an idea of punishment or recom-
pense. If they both comprise the idea of vigilance
and of great care, of some sort, they must be in-
terpreted thus : " If our sister is virtuous, let us
guard her well ; if she is frail, let us guard her still
more." This cannot be. In short, if she is virtuous,
why enclose her with walls of silver ? Why these pre-
cautions (which, in the mind of the poet, are impera-
tive) of cedar and silver? Is it natural, again, to
suppose that the brothers of the heroine should
constitute themselves the jealous guardians of her
virtue, when we read elsewhere (i. 6) that they are
her enemies, that they hate her, and that, so far from
confining her, they have made her pass her life in the
open air ? l Everything, then, induces the belief that
the thought expressed in verses 8-9 is not a bene-
volent thought. We believe that, in these verses,
the brothers of the Shulammite announce their inten-
tion of trying to profit by the beauty of their sister,
and of selling her to some harem. These figures of
battlements of silver and panels of cedar designate,
in their minds, the luxury of the seraglio, or, mayhap,
1 The idea of representing the young maiden as a little orphan and
outcast pervades the whole poem. The question is often as to her
mother, but never as to her father. I know that, in the manners of
polygamous Orientals, the child is much more closely drawn to the
mother than to the father. .Nevertheless, in Psalm XLV., so like our
poem, it is the house of her fatJier that the fiancee abandons to go to
join her future spouse.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 45
the silver which they hoped to receive as the reward
of their evil action. Two distinct shades of meaning,
at least, appear to us as certainly implied in this little
dialogue. These are, on the one hand, the desire
of being relieved from the surveillance of their
sister; on the other, a selfish desire which would
lead them to disengage themselves of that sur-
veillance in a manner advantageous to their avarice.
These two verses seem to refer us, as in verses VL,
11-12, to a period anterior to the abduction, a period
when the heroine of the poem was still a little peasant
girl at Shulam. But verse 10 assumes, on the con-
trary, that the Shulammite, at the time of which we
are now speaking, has crossed the threshold of the
harem. This verse, in fact, undoubtedly proceeds
from the lips of the Shulammite. She interposes, in
the dialogue between her brothers that she is pre-
sumed to have heard, and replies to the alternative
they have posited. She is as a wall (that is to say,
her virtue is unassailable), her breasts are as towers
(which no one has been able to capture). The literal
interpretation presents no difficulty. But the shade
of meaning she wishes, in veiled language, to convey,
is difficult to seize, and depends upon the meaning
which is given to the words which follow, ' Tune
fui oculis ejus sicut inveniens pacem." These words
have caused interpreters to despair. Taken with
verse VIL, 1, they comprise the nodus of the diffi-
culties of the Canticle. Without entering here into a
46 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
discussion of all the hypotheses which have been pro-
posed, let us say that, after much hesitation, one only
appears to us as tenable, namely, the one which ascribes
the pronoun ejus to Solomon. The brothers have just
given expression to their concern as touching the
virtue of their sister. The sister suddenly enters
upon the scene, and declares to them that her virtue is
unshaken, and that, thanks to her firmness, she has
obtained leave from Solomon to depart in peace. All
my efforts to escape from such a conclusion have been
of no avail. 1 The second member of verse 10, and, in
particular the particle IN " then," which recalls to our
mind a past adventure, has driven me to adopt this
sense, let the objections raised against it be what
These objections can all be pointed out at once.
Solomon does not figure, directly or indirectly, in
the place where the scene of the poem, at the point
we have at present in view, is laid. How can the
author designate him by a simple personal pronoun ?
Again, if the Shulammite, at the moment we are now
1 For a long time I believed that the whole epilogue vm. 8-14
ought to be transposed, and that we must recognise in it a prologue
designed to point out to us that the parents of the Shulammite were
ready to make merchandise of her beauty. This hypothesis, which is
almost that of Velthusen, might very well be applied to verses 8-9,
but not so appropriately to verses 11-12 ; much reflection, however, on
verse 10 has forced me to abandon this idea. The transposition of the
whole of chap. VIII. recently proposed by M. Blaubach (Das llohe
Lied, Berlin, 1855) is to no purpose, and but serves to augment the
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 47
discussing, has made the grand adventure of the
harem, how could her brothers speak of her in verse 8
as a young woman who had not yet reached the age
of puberty, and upon whose fate her relations were
deliberating ? Two solutions might be put forward
to obviate these difficulties, and, first, we can say
that the brothers of the Shulammite did not know of
her abduction and of her enforced sojourn in the harem.
They believed she was in the country attending to
the vines, and they speak of her future lot as if
nothing extraordinary had taken place. We cannot,
it is true, very well make out how by this hypo-
thesis the Shulammite, when speaking to them of her
adventure, merely alludes to it, and designates her
seducer by a simple personal pronoun, which would
induce the belief that the latter was known of them
all. But it is necessary to remember that scenic
probabilities are not, in our poem, rigidly observed.
It is much more with a view to please the public
than her brothers that the Shulammite interposes.
What she desires is much less to give a clear account
of her adventure than to affirm her victory and to
insist, conformably with the idea in verse 7, upon
the discomfiture of Solomon. M. Ewald has proposed
another solution. In his view, the dialogue of the
brothers should be pronounced by the Shulammite.
He founds this upon the analogies of Parts VI.,
VII., X., where the Shulammite recounts the conversa-
tions which, according to our usages, ought to be re-
48 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
cited almost immediately by the other actors, and
assumes that the Shulammite, overwhelmed with joy
and proud of her triumph, repeats herself the words
of her brothers, stamped with defiance and ill-will,
in order to jeer at and to oppose to them, at verse 10,
a kind of challenge. But in Parts VI., VII., X.,
the passages quoted are woven into a recital which
determines its sense. Here, on the contrary, the cita-
tion made by the Shulammite would embrace some-
thing which was too unnatural. It is imperative
that there should be placed at the head of verse 8 :
'ON "02 "HEN, "the sons of my mother have
said. . . ."
It is difficult to pronounce between these diverse
meanings. With the extreme latitude of the author's
dramatic method, with the liberty he avails himself
of, in taking little account of neither time nor place,
it is not impossible that, in order to show the as-
surance of the Shulammite he should make the dis-
course, which he gives to the heroine, precede the
retrospective dialogue between the brothers a dia-
logue which is destitute of meaning at the point in
the poem at which we have now arrived, but which
shows clearly the idea which is designed to be put
in relief. Verses VI., 11-12, are, indeed, also of a
retrospective character at the place in the poem where
they are inserted.
We are of opinion, then, that all this Part, as far as
verse 8, ought to be considered as an epilogue, de-
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 49
signed, not to complete the action (the latter finishes
at verse 7), but to show the dangers with which the
poor girl was threatened, and to hurl a last shaft at
Solomon. Verses 11-12, under this supposition, have
received a very natural explanation. Almost all the
interpreters, in fact, are at one as to putting these
two verses in the mouth of the Shulammite. 1 " Solo-
mon," says she, "has vineyards which are esteemed
very highly by the keepers ; as for me, I have my
beauty and my virginity, which are my vineyard, and
which I have known how to protect." She finishes
with an ironical apostrophe addressed directly to
Solomon. Solomon is not supposed to be present
during the scene ; nevertheless, as all the actors, in
our opinion, would figure at once on the estrade, the
epigram would strike him full in the breast, which, it
it is true, is opposed to all probability, but would
doubtless be received with great applause by the
XVI. These two verses form by themselves alone
.a short scene, very clear in itself, but which, in the
place we find it, causes us some surprise. At verse 13,
we see a young man, accompanied by youths from
the village, at the end of a pavilion situated at the
1 1 had for long the idea that verses 11-12 proceeded from the mouth
of a brother or au uncle of the Shulammite, who dreams of paying his rent
by the bestowing of the young maiden on the harem of Solomon. But,
by adopting this hypothesis, the ensemble of the scene would be exposed
to too many grave objections.
50 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
bottom of the garden. He calls to his well-beloved,
and asks her to let him hear her voice. At verse 14,
the well-beloved responds, and begs of the young
man to listen. It is evident that the young man is
the lover of the Shulammite, and the young people
are his paranymphs, or village companions. The
lovers are mutually pledged (vm. 6). Preparations
are now made for the marriage, and the whole
village becomes interested in the doings of the
shepherd. There is here, doubtless, some allusion
to those usages which are still to be found in the
countries in which ancient manners have been con-
served, and which consist in imposing upon the
fiances a series of first of April quests, and attempts
at deception. The response in which the Shulammite
engages her lover to take flight, can only be accepted
as a mere pleasantry. In a word, this verse is
superimposed upon verse II. 17, where the captive
lover invites, in similar terms, the shepherd to re-
turn. We feel, moreover, that the whole of this
appendix, from verse 8, is only of secondary import-
ance. It is probable that it will come to be re-
garded as hardly forming any part of the poem,
and that it will be omitted in the majority of
The consequences to be drawn from the preceding
analysis lead us to divide the Song of Songs into
five complete acts, plus an epilogue, which may be
detached from the poem at will.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 51
The 1st Act extends from I. 2 to II. 7.
The 2d n. 8 to in. 5.
The 3d m. 6 to v. 1.
The 4th v. 2 to VI. 3.
The 5th vi. 4 to VIIL 7.
The Epilogue vm. 8 to vm. 14.
Another consequence which results from our ex-
amination is, that it is not necessary to suppose,
although several exegetes 1 have done so, that the
text of the Canticle has suffered from transpositions,
nor that some parts of it have been lost. The end
of the poem is abrupt, and bears little resemblance
to our usages. It may be that the closing verses
were made use of to introduce new developments.
But, in the body of the poem, no essential lacune is
discoverable ; while as to transpositions, if there are
some which have the appearance of probability, there
are none which betray evidence sufficient to necessi-
tate a modification of the text which the Hebrew
manuscripts, conforming to the most ancient versions,
have transmitted to us.
In applying to this ancient poem the usages of our
modern theatres, we are thus warranted in present-
ing a list of the characters, as well as an analysis of
the several parts of which it is composed, as follows :
1 The system which M. P. Macpherson has recently developed, under
the title Cantici Canticorum structura architectonica (Berlin, 1857),
and according to which the Canticle ought to be written in columns
similar to those employed on the inscriptions of the Alhatnbra, is a
mere fancy which has no serious foundation in fact.
52 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS,
THE SHULAMMITE, a young maiden of the milage of
Shulam, of the tribe of Issachar.
A SHEPHERD, the lover of the Shulammite.
BROTHERS OF THE SHULAMMITE.
LADIES OF THE HAREM OF SOLOMON.
WOMEN OF JERUSALEM.
CITIZENS OF JERUSALEM.
MEMBERS OF THE SUITE OF SOLOMON. )
PARANYMPHS OP THE SHEPHERD. }* e P ersona S es -
SAGE drawing the moral from the poem.
Scene I. The poet introduces us to the harem of
Solomon, and shows us the ardour of the venal and sen-
sual love which surrounds the master. The Shulammite,
a young orphan, abducted from her native village by a
party of Solomon's retainers, who scour the tribes of the
north in order to supply the seraglio of Solomon at
Jerusalem, is introduced, and utters a few words, which
show her naivete. Scene II. Ignorant of the dissimula-
tions of the seraglio, and a stranger to that which is
passing around her, the young maiden addresses herself to an
absent friend. An odalisque recalls her to reason. Solomon
makes her a first compliment, and promises her jewelry.
Scene HI. The Shulammite, during the absence of Solomon,
dreams of her lover, and believes he is about to arrive, when
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 53
Solomon enters. The Shulammit resists his flattery, and
responds in affectionate terms, which have reference only to
her lover. The lover suddenly enters on the scene. The
Shulammite, overwhelmed, is, or believes herself to be,
transported to the village, and falls swooning into the
arms of her lover.
Scene I. The Shulammite hears, or believes she hears,
the voice of her well-beloved, who hastens to her, and
invites her to return to the village. She engages to
return in the evening. Scene n. In the evening, she
seeks her well-beloved; not finding him, she sets out to
perambulate the city in order to find him. She is repre-
sented as meeting him, and returning with him to her
mother's house. She swoons away in his arms.
Scene I. Solemn entry of Solomon into Jerusalem,
bringing with him the Shulammite that he is going to
espouse. Scene n. Solomon addresses to the Shulammite
the most pressing flatteries, and promises himself that in
the evening he will enjoy her favours. The lover, supposed
to be at the end of the pavilion, recalls the Shulammite to
fidelity. He is reassured by a look from the young
maiden. The Shulammite invites him to enter. The lover
enters, and, with the chorus, celebrates his triumph.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
A single Scene. The Shulammite, while asleep, hears, or
believes she hears, her lover knocking, and calls to him.
She delays a moment in opening. The lover has disap-
peared. The Shulammite goes in search of him. She
encounters the night watchmen, who maltreat her ; then
the chorus of women, whom she invites to assist her in
seeking for her lover. She gives them her lover's signal.
But the moment when they are about to begin the search
with the young maiden, she encounters her lover, and
throws herself into his arms.
Scene I. Solomon attempts to overcome the obstinacy
of the Shulammite. The voice of the lover makes itself
heard, and triumphs again. Scene n. The Shulammite
recounts how that, in the morning, when she was taking a
walk amongst the shrubs of the valley, she was surprised
by Solomon's servants. The women of the harem en-
deavour to mollify her. She is a witness to voluptuous
dances, and, learning their design, which, far from seducing
her, serve only to make her cling more closely to the
memory of her lover. Scene in. The Shulammite, victori-
ous over all temptations, supplicates her lover to carry her
back to the village; there she will give him the highest
pledges of her love. She falls fainting into the arms of
her lover, who transports her, asleep, to the village of
Shulam. Scene iv. The lover disposes his sleeping burden
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 55
under the apple tree of the farm on which she was born,
and awakens her. They swear eternal fidelity to one
another. A personage, a sort of chorister, interposes, in
order to extract a moral from the piece.
The brothers of the Shulammite, who are ignorant of
the adventure, hold a consultation among themselves as to
what should be done about their sister. The Shulammite
interposes, mocks at their useless precautions, declares that
she has known, and shall know, how to take care of herself,
and hurls disdainful defiance at all the wealth of Solomon.
Meanwhile, the voice of the shepherd, who has arrived with
his paranymphs, is heard. The young maiden again adjures
him to confide in her.
THE plan and the method pursued in the composition
of the Song of Songs must now appear, if I am not
mistaken, in their true light. If we take the term
dramatic poetry in its widest sense to designate a
composition in dialogue form with its corresponding
action, the Song of Songs is a drama. But it is
useless to set forth again how much this drama lacks,
not only of that which the moderns, but also the
Greeks, the Romans, and the Hindoos have considered
as the essence of stage poetry. The theatre of the
Greeks, Latins, and Hindoos is a complete theatre,
possessing actors, who, at a very early period, suc-
ceeded in making a profession of their art. With
all these peoples, the estrade is erected in public
or in some spacious buildings ; the actors have their
entries and exits ; scenery, however imperfect, guides
the attention of the spectator ; finally, the scene is
always laid in a fixed place, and probability is re-
spected up to a certain point. It is not so in the
Song of Songs: in it changes of place are made
instantly, and in such manner that no mechanism
could indicate them; the characters enter upon the
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 57
scene in a fashion contrary to all probability: the
contexture of the poem 'proves that the actors
recite, sing, and declaim, but that they act very
little. The passages I. 4, n. 4, v. 1, vi. 2, vm. 5,
would otherwise be destitute of meaning. In all
these passages, in fact, the actor recites that which
is supposed to be set down for him ; such indications
would be manifestly absurd if the actor had acted
at the same time as he spoke. The same remark
applies to Parts VI., VII, X., which are narrative
rather than dramatic, and in which a character
not only recounts the fact which, with us, would
be placed before the eyes of the spectator, but also
repeats the words appertaining to other actors. M.
Ewald has pressed this principle too far in admitting
that some entire scenes and dialogues are so recited
by a single person ; yet it is certain that, in the three
parts above cited, the poem almost ceases to be
dramatic, and falls into romance or song.
The absence of mountings is not less clearly shown
in the passages above cited, and above all by the
abrupt changes of place, which assume that it is
never localised by any exterior signs. When we seek
to represent to ourselves the circumstances in which
this singular drama is enacted, we are led to conceive
of an area or arena where three principal actors
figure the shepherd, the shepherdess, and the king.
The shepherdess is placed between the king and the
shepherd, and receives in turn their homage. These
58 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
actors are always present, even at the moment when
the exigencies of the scene require that they should
be out of view. The actors express by their gestures
and their facial expression the sentiments which ani-
mate them (bear witness, Part XL). The meetings,
and on one occasion (iv. 10. V. 1) even the kissing of
the two lovers, the fainting fits of the shepherdess,
the falling into the arms of her lover, the transporting
of the sleeping shepherdess, supported by her well-
beloved (vin. 5), and some other instances of a similar
kind, were in reality represented, as is proved by the
exclamations of the chorus or by indications more
clear still ; but, in the detail, no care is taken to pre-
sent to the eye an action which is at once complete
and possible. Behind the three principal actors, or
standing around them, there must have been ranged
the secondary characters forming two choirs, the one
composed of men, the other of women, who intervened
in the piece with reflections appropriate to the circum-
stances, and executed at times some evolutions, as is
proved by the ceremony of Part VIII. The scene of
Part XIII., in fine, supposes dances and divertisse-
ments analogous to our ballets. Some portions were
doubtless chanted ; in the formulas of the fainting fits,
and in the ingenious rhythm of some passages (the
first half of verse vii. 1, for example), one feels even,
if I may say so, the modulations which accompany
the voice of the actors. A single reading, on the other
hand, suffices to show the difference between solo
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 59
lyrics, where one of the characters gives forth in a
studied manner his sentiments, and the dialogues in
prose which serve to lead up to their developments.
Nevertheless, the distinction between prose and verse
is, in the poem, far from being as apparent as in the
Book of Job or in the Psalms, and it would be sheer
temerity to seek to establish rigorous distinctions as
to this point.
One very important fact bears out the preceding
inductions, and completely reveals to us what was
the nature of the drama amongst the ancient
Hebrews. In the whole history of the Jews, before
Herod, there is not a trace of a theatre at Jerusalem,
even at the periods when this city was following
in paths the most profane. Neither is there a trace
of professional actors, nor of any institution what-
ever bearing a relation to scenic representations. One
may even say a priori that institutions of this char-
acter would very soon have presented an appearance
of idolatrous practices; that, doubtless, the people
might not yet have seen the feasts of Baal, and that,
amongst the declamations of the prophets, who often
pursued objects much more objectionable, there might
not have been directions against a usage so contrary
to the simplicity of the Hebrew mind. The high
priest Jason incurred the maledictions of his co-reli-
gionists for having established a gymnasium at Jeru-
salem, and for having celebrated Greek fetes therein* 1
1 Mace. IV. 11, et seq. ; 22 et seq.
60 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
Herod, in constructing a circus in his capital, wounded
much more deeply still the Jewish conscience. 1 A
lack o appreciation for grand fictions is one of the
characteristics of the Semitic mind. The Mussulmans
of our day have inherited strongly this ancient anti-
pathy, while the efforts which have been made at
Beirouth and in Algeria to introduce among the Arabs
theatrical representations have not resulted in suc-
cess; 2 and as to the 'mysteries which are acted in
Persia on the anniversary of the death of Ali, they
are a product of the ^Persian mind, so opposed in
everything to that of Islamisrn.
This singular deficiency in the literature of the
Semitic peoples proceeds, moreover, from a more
general cause : I mean, from the absence of a compli-
cated mythology, resembling that which is possessed
by all the Indo-European peoples. Mythology, her-
self the daughter of primitive naturalism, is the fruit-
ful source whence issues all epics and all dramas. The
only two great original theatres of antiquity, the
Greek and the Hindoo theatres (I persist in believing
that the latter is not a copy of the former), spring
directly from mythology, and derive from it most of
their subjects ; and it is not long ago since it was the
1 Joseph. Antiq. XV. vm. 1 ; De bello jud. I. xxi. 8.
2 Poems in dialogue form, or accompanied by singers, are very com-
mon in the East ; but whatever M. Ewald may say (Die Dichter des
Alien Bundes, I. 39 et seq. Gesch. des Volkes Israel, III. 459, note),
these poems have always been far removed from the drama.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 61
custom for people to found dramas on the simplest
fictions of the fancy. Monotheism, in stifling the
development of mythology, shattered with the same
blow the theatre and grand poetical recitals amongst
We have every warrant, then, in affirming that
theatrical representations did not at Jerusalem par-
take of any public character. Whereas, on the other
hand, the Song, if one sees in it only a literary com-
position, designed solely to be read, is inexplicable,
the dryness and incoherency of certain passages denot-
ing clearly a libretto designed to be completed by the
playing of the actors and the music one is forcibly
driven to believe that this poem was represented in
private theatricals and en famille. There is an opin-
ion, first developed in a most ingenious manner by
Bossuet, 1 then adopted by Lowth, 2 which is, since the
discoveries of modern criticism, found to be perfectly
admissible, viz., that the Canticle ought to be divided
into days corresponding to those on which the fetes
and marriages take place. Perhaps it was played on
these solemn occasions. The formulas, "Wake not
up," etc. (n. 7 ; in. 5 ; vm. 4), would appear to indi-
cate what we call "waits." In two places, it is a
question whether the scene has reference to the morn-
ing or the night (ll. 17 ; IV. 6). The unity of char-
acter which the acts, regarded separately, present.
1 Commentary upon the Song of Songs. Pref.
2 Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, Third Part, lesson xxx.
62 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
each having its own denotement and always a happy
denotement, is thus very clearly set forth by this
hypothesis. Finally, several circumstances in the
representation, such as the procession of Part VIII.,
in which the young men of the village defile past in
imitation of the bodyguards of Solomon, and in which
the females represent the dames of Jerusalem (in. 11),
the final scene of the paranymphs (vm. 13), the two
scenes representing the pursuit (Parts VII., X.), the
passage V. 1, in which we see so clearly that the
chorus at certain times was composed of the com-
panions of the fiance ; the allusion which is made in
the same passage to the continuation of the nuptial
feast, according to Oriental usage, whilst the union of
the espoused couple is accomplished ; the divertisse-
ment of Part XII, as well as other traits, seem ex-
pressly designed for noce festivities. All that we
know of the marriage feasts of the Hebrews l is in
accord with this hypothesis. Marriage amongst the
Hebrews was not accompanied by any religious cere-
mony. It was celebrated en famille, or, rather, in
the centre of the village or of the tribe, by songs and
dances, and with processions of lamps and of choirs
of music, banquets accompanied with jeux d'esprit,
such as riddles in verse. I doubt not that the Song
of Songs was the most celebrated of these perform-
1 S.e especially Judges xiv. 10, ct scq.; Ps. XLIV. ; I. Mace. ix. 37,
et seq. ; III. Mace, (apocr.), xiv. 6 ; Evang. Saint Matthew ix. 15 ;
xxv. 1, et seq. ; Saint John ill. 29.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 63
ances which were held on the occasions of marriage, 1
and which probably all turn upon a subject analogous
to the latter. The fiance and the fiancee seek one
another, and overcome every obstacle in order to be
The defects which the Song of Songs seems to
present, when we apply to it the ordinary rules of
dramatic poetry, thus disappear. There is nothing
more shocking, according to our ideas, than that the
finales of acts, which, in place of keeping the interest
in suspense, should provide a denotement, and thus
make of the act an entire drama by itself. There is,
on the contrary, nothing more natural than to find in
each act a distinct performance, designed for each
day of the fete. The resemblance which Parts VII.
and X. have to one another would be a defect in a
consecutive drama, where each scene is immediately
connected with the one preceding. This is sufficiently
accounted for by a series of divertissements which do
not follow a rigorous plan. In fine, the Song of
Songs is not an exception to that great law which
shows to us the Hebrew mind, incapable of pro-
ducing literary works having grands ensembles and
a well-defined unity. The regular progress of an
1 M. Ch. Schefer, who is so well acquainted with the Orient Mussul-
man, informs me that divertissements of the same kind are practised
still at marriages in Damietta, and in certain localities of Syria. They
last for several days, during which the bride appears each day in a
different costume. These festivities take place in the harems ; the in-
vited, as is the case in our poem, form the chorus.
64 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
action always hastens the arrival of an event, a
progress which constitutes the essence of the drama
and of the epic, has never been well understood by
them. In like manner, in the poem of Job, the dis-
cussion, from beginning to end, does not advance a
step, and the last speaker takes up the question
where each of the previous speakers has taken it
up and left it; that is to say, at the point he set
out at. In ancient times it was the Greek genius
alone which had discovered the secret of the con-
tinuous march of events in poetry, and the art
of combining secondary incidents in view of a
The Song of Songs ought then to be regarded as
occupying a middle place between the regular drama
and the eclogue or pastoral in dialogue form. It
possesses less progressive action than the former.
It has more plot than the latter in its action and
incidents. The middle ages here offer us the nearest
approximation. Without having a regularly estab-
lished profane theatre, the middle ages had some-
times, in addition to the mysteries, scenic plays
fairly well worked out. The bourgeois of Arras,
especially, succeeded in creating some very ingenious
amusements. The most celebrated of their perform-
ances, the Play of Robin and Marion, is, both in
relation to the subject and to scenic arrangements,
a perfect analogue of the Canticle. The principal
data in both are the same, a shepherdess preferring
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 65
the shepherd, her lover, to a knight who wished to
seduce her ; the same changes of place and the same
disposition of characters, there being only two prin-
cipal parts, all the other actors constituting the
chorus ; the same means used to bring about the
divertissements and the cantilenes ; the same mean-
ing to be attached to the unity and the march of the
poem. The want of nobleness and of style, which
spoiled almost all the works of the middle ages, and
imprint upon them the seal of garish vulgarity,
constitute the only difference between the old lyric
pastoral of the Hebrews, and the work of Adam de
la Halle. The poem of Aucassin and Nicolette. ['
which, in the manuscripts, has the form of a romance
besprinkled with ariettes, seem likewise to have had
originally a dramatic arrangement analogous to that
which we have been attempting to explain.
To what period does the poem, whose plan and
character we have been investigating, belong ? This
is a question which has greatly divided critics.
Between those who attribute the Song of Songs to
Solomon, and those who, like Eichhorn, Rosenrnuller,
Bertholdt, Koester, Hartmann and Gesenius, believe
it to belong to the last days of Hebrew literature
(some have ventured to come down as far as thejbhird
century before Jesus Christ), there is an interval of
TOO or 800 years. To speak the truth, we are of
opinion that so great a divergence ought not to
exist, and that it is owing to the incomplete method
which the Hebraists of the school of Gesenius have
followed in the determination of the age of Hebrew
books. Pre-occupied exclusively with grammatical
niceties, they have too often neglected the historical
and literary considerations, which are not less im-
portant than those of philology in questions of the
kind that we are now treating of.
The title which the Song of Songs bears in the
Hebrew text, implies a distinct attribution of the
poem to Solomon. But such an attribution can in no
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 67
wise be maintained. Solomon plays in the poem
a part which is manifestly sacrificed, and sometimes
almost ridiculous. In a multitude of places, a touch
of opposition or of ill- humour is allowed to present
itself against the harem of this prince, and against
the manners which the sumptuous royalty of the son
of David caused to prevail. Verses vin., 7, 11-12,
embody a bitter derision of his power, and a sort of
retaliation which partook of the old free spirit of the
tribes in regard to the servility which absolute power
had already created about him at Jerusalem. It is
hence certain that the present title was added at a
period comparatively modern, and that when the
poem was no longer well understood. The vague
name of Sir hassirim was unquestionably not the
original title (to the extent that our version carries
one); it presupposes that the poem, at the head of
which it is inscribed, was already celebrated. We
know that, in the attribution of works to the authors
of antiquity, the scribes permitted themselves often
to be guided by the most superficial considerations.
The name of Solomon being inscribed in the title of
the Song of Songs no more proves the designation
of the real author than does the name of David
inscribed at the head of several psalms, which notori-
ously, and by the admission of every one, could not be
by this king. Let us add that a multitude of details
(I. 4, 5, 12; m. 6-11; IV. 4; vn. 6; vm. 11-12) formally
banishes the idea that Solomon may himself have
68 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
^written the drama in which he appeared as an actor,
and that, too, in a role often so little flattering to his
There is no mention made, nor absolute citation to
be discovered, of the Song of Songs in other Hebrew
works. But I find a very probable allusion to our
poem in the book of Jeremiah. 1 "I will cause to
cease in the cities of Judah and the places of Jeru-
salem the shouts of joy and the jsongs of gladness,
the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride,
for all the land shall be desolated." What do these
words signify the voice of the bridegroom and the
voice of the bride, used as synonymous with songs
of joy ? It would be the height of affectation to
regard them simply as conversations which the
fiances had had with each other at Jerusalem.
Everything goes to show that these phrases were
applied to a particular species of gladsome poems, and
to a kind of literary composition then in vogue, and of
which the Song of Songs was the most celebrated speci-
men. Perhaps the words of Jeremiah H^DblpI ]/1!"6lp
give us the title by which, before the captivity, they
Many resemblances are to be remarked between
verses of the Canticle and passages in other Hebrew
books, especially in the Book of Proverbs. That of
1 vii. "4 ; xxv. 10. We know that .Jeremiah is the most scholarly
of the ancient Hebrew authors. Almost every work anterior to his
time is referred to in his book.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 69
verse VI. 9, and of Prov. xxxi. 28, are the most strik-
ing. But none of these rapprochments furnish solid
inductions, 1 for it is difficult to determine on which
side the imitation may have taken place; besides,
there are here some peculiarities which, in a manner,
are public property, and run off spontaneously from
the pen of every writer. It is only in a general way
that the Canticle ought to be regarded as belonging
to the epoch of the Kings, an epoch in which these
kind of peculiarities were in some sort the common
places of Hebrew poetry. It is in an examination of
the Song of Songs itself that we must seek for precise
indications of the question under discussion ; for a
poem which adheres so closely to popular customs
cannot fail but reveal to us the state of the nation at
the time it was written.
This revelation is one of such transparency that we
are surprised it has not struck the whole race of
critics. One passage (vi. 4) is of itself a sufficient
demonstration. The Shulammite in point of beauty is
compared in it to Tirzah and Jerusalem. The author
here brings into juxtaposition the capitals of the two
kingdoms of Judah and -of Israel. Now Tirzah was
the capital of the kingdom of Israel from the reign of
Jeroboam to that of Omri, 975 to 924, before Jesus
Christ. In 923 Omri built Samaria, which became
thenceforward the kingdom of the north. From
this period Tirzah almost disappears from history ; its
1 bte the discussion of Hitzig. Das Uokc Lied, p. 9.
70 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
downfall was so complete that its situation is un-
known, and it is now no longer attempted to repre-
sent it upon the maps of Palestine. How could a
poet subsequent to the captivity, or even in the last
days of the Kings, after the fall of the kingdom of
Israel, have the idea of putting the forgotten city of
Tirzah in juxtaposition with Jerusalem ? The anti-
pathy against Samaria was such at this period that it
is wholly inadmissible that any one should cite as a
type of beauty a city of the north. If it is said
that the author desired to paint the manners of the
time of Solomon, and chose Tirzah in order to give
a local colouring to his picture, this is but to raise up
fresh difficulties. For Tirzah was only the capital
from the schism which took place under Rehoboam ;
consequently, it is necessary to accuse the poet of an
inadvertence irreconcilable with the finished design he
has been credited with. Let us suppose a poem in
which Clovis played a part, and in which Aix-la-
Chapelle figured by the side of Paris ; we should con-
fidently affirm that this poem must have been written
under the first Carloviginians ; in short, a learned
poet of a more modern age could not have been guilty
of such an inexactitude, and the error of ingenuous
poets always consists in transporting into the past
the world which is under their eyes.
This passage alone would justify us in affirming
that the first adaptation of the Canticle must have
been anterior to the year 924 before Jesus Christ.
A STUDY OF THE SON OF SONGS. 71
On the other hand, it is evident that it is posterior
to the death of Solomon and to the schism, which
happened in the year 986. We are thus brought
to fix within very narrow limits the date of the
composition of our poem. But indications like that
drawn from the name of the city of Tirzah is not
an isolated case ; many other circumstances prove,
in a very complete manner, that the Song of Songs
was composed a short time after the death of
So far, in fact, from the reign of that prince being
represented therein with those legendary character-
istics, which should invest a distant ideal, it appears
there in a character singularly determined. The
king's defences consist of sixty forts; his arsenal
contains a thousand bucklers ; his seraglio comprises
sixty queens and eighty concubines. Such is the
true state of affairs. We know that the bands
which made the fortune of David, and which were
bequeathed to Solomon, were not very numerous;
an arsenal containing a thousand bucklers, at a
period so little removed from the anarchy of the
Judges, appeared an unheard of marvel. Doubtless,
at a more recent period, and in the mouth of a poet,
sketching a hyperbolic ideal, these modest figures
might have become thousands of thousands. In the
book of the Kings, and in the book of Chronicles,
in which some legendary and exaggerated documents
might be mixed up with original and exact docu-
72 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
ments, the numbers are very much greater, 1 forty
thousand appears to be the round number affected
by the author ; the harem is composed of seven
hundred queens and three hundred concubines. The
riches and the power of Solomon are described with
an emphasis which gives to the sobriety of our poem
a singular relief. A multitude of incidents, such as
the mentioning of Heshbon 2 (Heshbon had ceased
to be a Jewish city at the time of Isaiah) ; 3 the
familiar relations with the ancient Arab tribe of
Kedar ; the circumstance that the luxurious equipages
are called the " Chariots of Pharaoh " 4 (we know
for certain that Solomon bought at great expense
horses and chariots in Egypt) ; 5 the lively impres-
sions of the reigns of David and of Solomon; the
mention of the Mahanaim dances, which we regard
as the most ancient traditions of Israel, 6 all point
to the same result, or at least render inadmissible
the opinion of those who would place the composition
of the Canticle after the captivity, a period when
the recollections of the ancient kingdom had become
The spirit of the poem, if I may say so, furnishes
1 I. (III. according to the Vulgate) Kings v. (vi. according to
the Vulgate); x. xi.; II. Chron. I. 10.
2 Seetzen saw them still existing in 1805.
3 Is. xv. 4 ; Jeremiah XLVIIT. 2.
4 1. 9.
5 1. (III. Vulgate) Kings x. 29; II. Chron. i. 17. See Ceseniua
Thes., p. 942.
6 Compare Genesis xxxn.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 73
arguments even more decisive. In every page we per-
ceive the opposition that the luxury and the habits
of the Egyptians and Tyrians, rather than that of
the Israelites of the time of Solomon, had excited in
the breasts of the representatives of ancient Hebrew
simplicity. There is no doubt that the poet was
animated by a spirit of strong dislike against the
king; the establishment of the harem, especially,
appeared to irritate him to a great degree, and he
experiences a lively pleasure in representing to us a
simple shepherdess victorious over the presumptuous
sultan, who believed that he could purchase love, like
everything else, for its price in gold. We know that
the principal animosity of the republican Israelites
against royalty was the right which the king assumed
of taking their daughters to make domestics of them. 1
We know, likewise, that the great expenditure of
Solomon was odious to the tribes of the north, and
that it was one of the causes of the revolt which
occurred after his death. 2 Our poem seems to embrace
the result of this twofold opposition. Now, such a
view could only be arrived at in the years immediately
succeeding the death of Solomon. The transient dis-
content which resulted from the royal expenditures
were speedily forgotten ; soon after only the monu-
ments of it remained, without a question being asked
as to what they had cost. The recollections of the
1 I. ftaumel VIII. lo.
2 I. (III. Vulg.) Kings xii. 4, ct stg.; II. Chron. x. 1,
74 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
sufferings which rendered the reign of Louis XTV.
odious to the people, and made the latter insult his
obsequies, were soon effaced by the general impression
of grandeur which his reign had left behind it, and by
the forms of admiration which the rhetoricans made
fashionable in speaking of him. It was the same
with Solomon. At the time of his death, we see the
hatred against his administration produce a violent
revolution ; later, we find nothing but glowing legend
The freshness, the na'ivctd, the youthfulness of the
poem, suffice to persuade us that the Song of Songs
belonged to the period when the genius of Israel had
reached its liveliest and most unrestrained point.
Never shall we believe that wholly profane composi-
tions like our poem, or like the Book of Job, 1 could
have been the progeny of an epoch of rabbinism and
of littleness of spirit, such as was that of Esdras, and
even (in going further back) that of Josias and
Jeremiah. The Jewish nation, setting out with this
grand triumph of pietism, becomes absorbed by its
religious idea ; to it, art becomes indifferent, and is
only made use of, as in a few of the psalms, in
1 1 have sometimes been tempted to place the Koheleth or Ecclesiastes
in the same category. But the latest study I have made of this work
has convinced me that it belongs to a modern epoch, and that it must
be assigned to the period of the re-awakening of parabolic poetry,
which took place about the time of Alexander. Solomon being the
chosen representative of that kind of literature, it is to him that people
persisted in ascribing the works composed in imitation of the old
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 75
celebrating the Law of Jehovah. Every one of the
bold and comprehensive works of the Hebrew genius,
works which I should rather call Semitic than Jewish,
in the sense that the neighbouring peoples to Palestine
possessed a similar literature, and that there has only
been found in it the special seal of the Jewish spirit,
must be placed before the times of the great religious
vojcation of Israel. Henceforth, in fact, a vast differ-
ence makes itself felt in the poetic creations of the
Hebrew people. Ruth, Job, the Shulammite, the
Femme forte all these ancient types, imprinted with a
masculine vigour, give place to the pious heroines, to
the Judiths, to the Esthers, devoted victims of the
faith which had been preached to them by holy
persons, such as Esdras and Nehemiah, to a few types
of interior devotion, such as are represented in the
Book of Tobias. There is an indefinite interval
between the compositions of that period of decadence
and the bold enchantments of our poem. The pride
of the young republican of the tribes of the north,
and his disdain for Solomon, would not have any
longer had any object at an epoch when almost all
Israel was embraced in Jerusalem, and when Solomon
had become a miracle of wisdom, the model of an
accomplished prince. Compare Esther with the
Shulammite, for example. The former, by assuming
the truculent manners of an eunuch, finds no difficulty
in pushing her fortune, and in gaining by her com-
plaisances the favour that another woman would have
76 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
forfeited by her pride; 1 a motive excuses all in her
eyes : the interest and the vengeance of her co-reli-
gionists. The latter yields to promptings much less
subtle (raffine's). The sincere love for the lover she
has left behind in the village, the taste for the fields,
the hatred of the artificial life of the seraglio, the
sentiment of the simple and noble manners of the
tribe these were her religion. 2 The eclat of Solomon's
court, to which succeeding ages had given a sort of
semi-sacred ideal, inspired her only with disgust and
contempt. The gladness, the openness, the liberty of
spirit which breathe throughout the poem, are the in-
verse of the sentiments which prevail in the literary
monuments of the dogmatic and godly ages.
But there is one consideration to which I am dis-
posed to attribute even greater importance. We shall
presently establish that the allegorical explanations
of the Song of Songs (explanations, assuredly, of
which the author never dreamt) began to take shape
in the century which preceded and the century which
followed the Christian era. In other words, about
the time of Jesus Christ, the Song of Songs, together
with the ideas that people had arrived at in respect of
canonicity, had become a source of embarrassment,
from which there was no means of escape except
1 See especially chapter II. cf the Book of Esther.
2 The piquante expression of these old ideas is found to be opposed to
the new customs introduced by royalty in the 1st Book of Samuel, ch.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 77
in pious subterfuge. Let us picture to ourselves
the consequences which, in adopting the hypothesis
that the Song of Songs was composed 300 or 400
years before Christ, would result from this fact. Two
or three hundred years after the period when such a
book might have reflected the popular conscience,
people have come to regard it as scandalous, and feel
that it is their duty to give it a different acceptation !
This is inadmissible. We ca,n quite well understand
how a pious book like the Wisdom of Jesus, son of
Sirach, came to be canonised a short time after its
composition, for the canonisation of writings, which
was neither the Law nor the Prophets, implied only
a certain aptitude to produce edification, something
analogous to the character which the Catholic Church
attributes to the Imitation, the Spiritual Combat,
etc., by the side of the Bible. We can understand even
better how that a very old book, though little edify-
ing, became sacred, and how that it came to be sur-
rounded with a halo of pious allegory, for antiquity
has been, with all peoples, the principal factor in
veneration. But that a book at once so profane and
modern should be unhesitatingly accepted as canonical
is out of the question impossible. For, in a word, if
people were scandalised at the libertinism of the work,
why approve it ? Canonicity, in this epoch, did not
understand inspiration in the sense that Christians
have attached to this word, but it implied, at least,
the opinion that the book was pious. If, then, the
78 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
artificial composition of the Song of Songs at a
modern epoch is contrary to all the probabilities of
literary history, the canonicity of the book and the
allegorical interpretation which was applied to it, are
much more inconceivable still in the hypothesis which
we are combating. For, on the one hand, this canon-
icity, not being founded on the internal character of
the work, can only rest on the single ground of its
antiquity, and, on the other, the allegorical interpreta-
tion supposes that the book, when explained in such a
manner, was entirely foreign to the popular usages.
Such misconstructions can only be practised on old
texts which no longer correspond to the spirit of the
times, and which are no longer well understood.
What are the reasons, then, which have led some
eminent critics to adopt an hypothesis in regard to
the age of the Song of Songs which explains so badly
both its literary style and its symbolic character?
One only, and one, assuredly, very grave, but one
which requires to be considered with the closest
attention. I mean the styje of the poem. The
language of the Song of Songs has appeared to the
minute grammarians who have analysed it that, for at
least a century, the science of the Hebrews inclined
towards the forms of the Chaldean epoch, that is to
say, the epoch which began a little before the Cap-
tivity. To them it appears that several words can
only belong to the Persian epoch, or even to the Greek.
Chaldeanisms, when reference is had to the age of
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 79
Hebrew books, are a very dangerous critdrium. 1
Certain peculiarities of the dialects of the north of
Palestine, or some traits of the common language, are
often taken for Chaldeanisms. In that which con-
cerns the Song of Songs, these two solutions are
equally applicable. On the one hand, we have a
popular book, and on the other, we shall show pre-
sently that this book was probably written in the
kingdom of the north. Now, the popular language
and the language of the tribes of the north trench
both very strongly upon the Aramean. The pure
Hebrew of Jerusalem became, at an early period, a
sort of classic tongue which the purists alone spoke
a tongue which was at once concise, rhythmic, and
enigmatic, in the common use of which people pre-
ferred its more analytical and scientific forms to those
which were to be found in the Aramean. There are
no idioms from which we can draw any conclusions
as to the modern date of the Song of Songs that are
not thus to be explained in a sufficient manner. If
the style is somewhat loose and very different from
that of the ancient Hebrew poetry, it must be borne
in mind that this violent contortion, similar to that of
a cord firmly plaited, which characterise the verse of
Job, for example, would not be suitable for a composi-
tion designed for such humble uses. The language of
Plautus has even more resemblance to the low Latinity
than that of Cicero and Seneca. As for the words in
1 See Hist, generate des langues Semitiyues, I. n. c. 1. sec. 3.
80 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
which traces are believed to have been found of
Greek and Persian influence, one only merits con-
sideration, and that is the word pardes, "park."
This word, by common consent, could not have entered
into the Hebrew any more than it has into the
languages of Western Asia, and into the Greek
(vapddsiGoi), except at the Achemenidian period. The
argument of those who would bring down the Song
to the Greek or Persian epoch is here better founded.
Still, I own that I hesitate to to do violence to a
whole series of concordant inductions for a single em-
barrassing word. The text of works whiclfliad little
religious importance were not so strictly guarded as
to permit us to appeal to a peculiarity in a detached
style when the question is one of the compilation of
the whole book. It may be that the Song of Songs
served for a long time as a popular ballad, and was
not written down till some considerable time after.
We know that these kind of unwritten songs were
subjected, in the mouth of the people, to perpetual
changes. Let us add that the Achemenidian origin of
the word paradis is, perhaps, not incontestable. 1 The
Achemenides might have borrowed the word and the
thing itself from the great royal houses which had
preceded them in Western Asia. The word is of
1 The Greeks believed in this origin (see Thess. lingua:, Grcecce edit.
Didot, on the word Tra/actcJacros). But it is natural they should ascribe
the words to the people who had transmitted them, without being at
the trouble to find out whether this people itself had not accepted it
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 8]
Ayrian origin, but it is not specially Iranian. It
seems rather to be connected with the Armenian.
We persist, then, with Herder, Ewald, de Wette, B.
Werzel and Hitzig, in placing the composition of the
Song of Songs a little after the schism, that is to say,
about the middle of the tenth century before Christ.
This was one of the most licentious epochs of the
Hebrew genius. No great prophet appeared about
this time to impose his spirit upon the nation ; religious
institutions had not the rigour which they attained
later on ; royalty at Jerusalem timidly continued the
ostentatious customs inaugurated by Solomon; but
the old republican spirit had its abode in the north,
and very soon reached a climax on the appearance
of the most seditious of the prophets the demagogue
Elias. It was in the midst of these historic sur-
roundings that, in our opinion, the author of the
Song of Songs moved. This is equivalent to admit-
ting, as most probable, an hypothesis proposed by
Ewald and Hitzig, according to which our poem
must have been composed in the north. We can
understand quite well how a poem proceeding from
the kingdom of Israel would place on the same level
the little capital of Tirzah and Jerusalem, whilst we
cannot conceive it in the case of a Jerusalemite, The
antipathy against the harem of Solomon, composed
of the "daughters of Jerusalem," is also a feature
which does jaot fit in with the north. The style
carries us to the regions bordering on Syria. Finally,
82 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
the rapprochements which M. Hitzig 1 has established
between our author and Hosea, who, as we know,
was an author from the north (eighth century before
Jesus Christ), if they do not distinctly prove that this
prophet had read the Song of Songs, prove, at least,
that the two authors were surrounded by the same
circle of images, and were familiar with the same
expressions. 2 We scent in them, if I may say so,
the aroma of the north, at once green and fresh.
Palestine of the north, as is justly observed by M.
Reville, 3 appeared in the history of the Israelites,
as less accessible to religious spiritualism, less prone
to a reaction contrary to nature and to a natural life,
than the Palestine of the south. It was there, too,
that popular poetry seems to have taken its boldest
nights. It is thence that has come to us the patriotic
Song of Deborah, the Apologue of Jotham (Judges
IX. 5-20) ; the narratives of Gideon, Jephthah, and of
Samson, in which the poetic element holds so great
a place; the prophecies of Hosea, so strongly coloured;
the prophets who did not write, but whose vigorous
impression upon the popular imagination is attested
by history, Elias and Elisha, the legend of Jonah,
etc. Let us add that the natural beauties of the
country of Lebanon, an agricultural country of mar-
^Das HoJie Lied, p. 9-10.
2 This consideration is especially important, if we remember that the
very ancient poets present always a poverty of expression, and make no
effort to vary their periods.
3 Revue de Thtoloyie de M. Colani, May 1857, pp. 278-279.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 83
vellous fertility, rich in woods, in grassy plains, in
running streams, .were better inspirations for pastoral
poetry than the sandy and somewhat rocky districts
of the south. Let us add, further, that, with the
exception of Engedi, Jerusalem, and Heshbon, the
whole of the localities cited in the poem, Sharon,
Gilead, Tirzah, Lebanon, Amana, Shenir, Baal-hamon
and Shulam, the country of the heroine, appertain
to the kingdom of the north.
THE history of the preservation and the interpreta-
tion of the Song of Songs is too singular, and gives
birth to problems that are too nearly allied to the
nature of the book itself, to be passed over here in
silence. There can be no doubt that, in its inception,
the Song of Songs was not a profane book, in the
ordinary acceptation of that term. Not only is there
no mystical afterthought left in it to be divined,
but the contexture and the plan of the poem ab-
solutely exclude the idea of an allegory. The tone
and the images of the impassioned utterances are
those of the love songs ^of the Arabs, in which no
one has ever pretended to find a trace of religious
One solitary argument may be invoked to uphold
the possibility of a religious arriere-pensee in the
Song of Songs: to wit, the mystical-erotic poetry
of India and Persia. We know that, in those two
countries, a vast literature has been developed, in
which divine and terrestrial love are interwoven in
such a fashion that it is often difficult to distinguish
between them. The origin of this singular species
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 85
of poetry is a question that has not yet been cleared
up. In many cases, the mystical sense which has
been lent to certain Persian and Hindoo erotic poetry
has no more reality than the allegories of the Song
of Songs. In Hafiz, for example, it seems indeed
that the allegorical explanation is of tener a product of
the commentator's fancy, or mere precautions which
the admirers of the poet were obliged to take in
order to save the orthodoxy of their favourite author.
Imagination then mounting this theme, and minds
being deceived by an exegesis which would see no-
thing but allegories, people came to give to the
poem a really double sense, like those of Djelal-Eddin
Roumi, de Wali, etc. A distinct line of demarca-
tion, in fact, divides these later poems, in which the
author has actually sought to conceal a mystical
thought under an erotic form, from those in which
the mystical thought has been invented by some
complaisant exegetes. In India, at least, the allego-
rical exegesis seems to have preceded the allegorical
poems, and to have been the cause of their composition. 1
However it be on this point, it is quite certain that
neither in India nor in Persia is the kind of poetry
of which we speak very ancient. Soufism, to which it
is attached in Persia, began only to produce such writ-
ings towards the twelfth century of our era. The most
celebrated mystical-erotic poem of India, the Gita-
1 F. Albert Weber, Hittoire de la Liltirature Indienne (trad. Sadous),
86 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
Govinda de. Jayadeva, belongs, in all probability, to the
middle of the fourteenth century. 1 The Adhyatma
, Ramayana, another poem of the same kind, does not
appear to be more ancient. 2 In India and Persia,
this kind of poetry is the result of an extreme re-
finement and a lively imagination, carried the length
of quietism, of a strong liking for mystery, and also in
Persia, at least, by the hypocrisy imposed by Mussul-
man fanaticism. It is, in fact, a sort of reaction
against the barrenness of Islamism that Soufism
has made headway among the non-Arab Mussulmans.
There is to be seen in it a revolt of the Aryan spirit
against the hideous simplicity of the Semitic spirit,
excluding by the rigour of its theology all individual
worship, all secret doctrine, all living and varied
It is evident that no reconciliation could be es-
tablished between the products of a mysticism so
advanced and a pastoral drama which has not, like
ours, any religious pretensions. And, first, if the
author had really had any theological pretension, it
is not the dramatic form that he would have selected :
1 M. A. Weber has kindly sent me a short memoir, full of science
and criticism, in which the date above indicated is established by
rapprochements which have great weight.
2 What is indubitable, at least, is that it is not anterior to the
eleventh century. M. Weber has established this as a positive fact. A
silly synchronism, which is difficult to comprehend, is the almost simul-
taneous appearance of a similar allsgorism, although of a much less
religious character, in the Latin world by Francis d'Assisi, Dante, and
the Florentine school in general.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 8"7
the lyric form alone becomes those sort of debauched
metaphysics. To what improbabilities, however, do
we not expose ourselves in placing a great develop-
ment of transcendental theology in Judea, in the
tenth century before Jesus Christ ? Nothing was !
ever more removed from mysticism than the ancient
Hebrew spirit, than the Arab spirit, and, in general,
than the Semitic spirit. The idea of putting the
Creator en rapport with the creature, the supposition
that they could be enamoured of each other, and the
thousand refinements of this kind in which Hindoo
mysticism and Christian mysticism go hand in hand,
are the very antipodes of the severe Semitic con- f
ception of God. It is unquestionable that such ideas
could only be regarded in Israel as blasphemies. Up
to the last or second last century before the Christian
era, there had been no secret doctrine in the bosom
of Judaism.. These kind of religious allegories in-
dicate always a certain necessity for concealment, a
retaliation against some exterior compression. Under
the refined language of the Soufis, under the burning
lyrical passion of Louis de Leon, under the studied
quietude of Madame Guyon, one feels the intolerant
rigour of orthodox Islamism, the inquisition, and of
Gallican Catholicism. Now, the history of the Jewish
people does not present, at least before the epoch of
the prophets addicted to a severe Mosaism, and the
pietest kings, any example of persecution on account
of doctrine. The old patriarchial religion was so
88 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
simple, so natural, and so little embarrassing, that no
one thought of seeking to evade it. The mystical-
erotic poems, in a word, implied that there was around
them a great development of the philosophical and
theological schools. Now, no people has been more
' discreet in regard to symbolism, allegories, and
speculations as to the divinity, than the Hebrews.
Drawing a line of absolute demarcation between God
and man, all familiarity, all tender sentiment, all
reciprocity between heaven and earth, were rendered
impossible. Christianity has changed only in this
sense, by doing violence to its Judaic origin, and in
provoking the anger of true Israelites, who have re-
mained faithful to the severe notion of the Divinity.
We regard it, then, as certain that the author of
the Song of Songs, in writing his poem, had no.
n\vj3Jiical intention. Why, and at what epoch, did
the idea of seeing in this poem an allegorical and
sacred work begin to be formed? The answer, it
seems, must be that the want of an allegorical and
mystical signification made itself felt, when the idea
of the canonisation of the ancient books had gained
consistency. Saved from the wreck of ancient
Hebrew books because of its celebrity, and of its
almost daily use, the Song of Songs, in consequence
of the difficulties which it presented, ceased very
early, probably from the days of Esdras and of
Nehemiah, to be thoroughly understood. It is never-
theless improbable that, from that time, it was looked
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 89
upon as sacred ; the Law, the historical books and
the prophets, had alone at that period a recognised
authority. But little by little the idea of inspiration
was extended and determined. About the time of
the Maccabees, all the ancient books were much
venerated, 1 and about the epoch of Jesus Christ,
they were sacred. The authors of New Testament
books never cited, it is true, the Old Testament as
a body of works ; they refer incidently to the Law,
the Prophets, and the Psalms. 2 But Josephus, their
contemporary, gives us a canon of books "reputed
divine," of which the Song of Songs forms a part. 3
We can understand the revolution that such a notion
of canonicity must have produced in the exegesis.
The Song of Songs, which had passed almost into
oblivion from the time of Esdras to the Christian
era, must have appeared a scandalous book when
looked at from the point of view of rigorous ortho-
doxy, whose chief pretension was that the canonical
books comprised nothing that was not holy. People
thought, hence, of saving the honour of the ancient
poem by searching in it for an allegorical meaning.
But as their explanations rest upon the most com-
plete arbitrary grounds, no system has accepted un-
1 See Ecclesiasticus, prologue. This prologue was written about
130 years before Jesus Christ.
2 See especially Luke xxiv. 44.
3 Contre Apion, i. 8. The text of Josephus leaves us in doubt as to
whether he understood the Sony in an allegorical sense, or in a purely
90 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
reservedly the above, hence the multitude of inter-
pretations, often poetic, sometimes insignificant, which
have been put forth by both Jews and Christians,
with an exuberance of imagination which produces
sometimes veritable astonishment. 1
It is, then, in the first century before our era, or in
the first century after Jesus Christ, that it is proper
to place the commencement of the allegorical exegesis
of the Canticle. 2 The preference for this perverted
sense was never more strong than at that period, as
we see in Philo, the Evangelists, St Paul, and in the
Talmud. 3 A doctor of the second century, well versed
in the science of the Scriptures, Melito, Bishop of Sar-
1 It is important to observe, moreover, that these interpretations were
not most often given by those who imagined them, as representing the
idea of the author. The usages of rigorous philology, which leads us to
seek only in a text for that %\hich the author had intended to say, did
not belong to those times. A text was something objective, indepen-
dent of the intentions of him who wrote it, a theme, in short, which
every one expounded after his own manner. When Etienne Langton
in the twelfth century composed a sermon in praise of the Virgin on the
song, Bde Alix matin leva, he did not pretend that, in the intention of
the author of that song, Bele Alix had been the Virgin. In like
manner, when such a preacher would moralise on Ovid, he, doubtless,
did not maintain that Ovid had had the ideas which he had set forth
(v. Histoire Litterature de la France, tome xxui. p. 250, et seq.). At
these periods everything became a text, or rather pretexts, for so-called
allegories and homilies.
2 The traces of the allegorical explanation of the Song, which some
have believed to discover in the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the
Gospels, the Apocalypse, the fourth book (Apocrypha), Esdras, and in
Josephus, are wholly doubtful.
3 The same exege is was current for a long time with the Greeks, at
least with Homer ( V. Egger, Hist, de la Critique chez les Grecs, p. 55, et
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 91
dis, had already constructed a key to these allegories. 1
The so-called Greek version of the Septuagint does
not present, it is true, for the Song of Songs any
trace of mystical interpretation, but the Syriac ver-
sion seems to offer one ; 2 the Talmud is full of them.
The Christians, above all, in greatly exaggerating the
ideas of the Jews in respect of canonicity and inspir-
ation, were obliged to make desperate efforts to find
in the Song a mystical sense. Theophilus of Antioch,
in the second century, explains the wood of Lebanon
by Ruth, which comprises in its bosom the whole race
of David, and the litter by the souls which carry God
in themselves. 3 Origen, finally, in the third century,
gave the first complete allegorical explanation of our
poem, laying down as a principle that everything
which appeared in the Bible to be unworthy of divine
inspiration, and, consequently, everything which did
not serve for the edification and instruction of the
reader, must embrace some hidden meaning, and de-
clared that the love in question of the Song of Songs
could only be divine love, and that this poem was
nothing else than the epithalamium of the Church
with her celestial bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
1 Numerous remains of this ancient symbolism have been collected to-
gether, but not always with enough discernment as to dates s by Don
Pitra in the vols. II. and in. of his Spicilegium Solesminse.
" The Chaldean Targum is impregnated throughout with allegories,
but it is posterior to the Talmud.
3 Gallindi, Bibl. Pair. torn. n. pp. 141-142. The ascription of this pas-
sage to Theophilus of Antioch is not altogether a certainty.
92 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
After this, we can understand how the inductions
we have drawn are denuded of their value, in favour
of the mystical interpretation, of the presence of the
Song in the canon and of the tradition which, for
eighteen centuries, ascribes to it a pious sense. Why
suppose, say people, that a purely profane book could
be accepted as a sacred book ? Is not this consecration
a proof of the religious character which from that
time the book so adopted presents ? Let us observe,
first, that even though it should be proved that, at the
period when the Jewish canon was formed, the Song
was held to be allegorical, it does not thence follow
that it was in the mind of its author, since, between
its composition and canonisation, eight or nine cen-
turies must have rolled over. We have found in
Persia and in India some poems to which all commen-
tators ascribe some theological sense, and which, how-
ever, in their origin possessed nothing mysterious.
Let us observe, further, that the symbolic hypothesis
was formed at a period when all sentiment of veritable
exegesis was lost, and when the taste for allegorical
interpretations had been pressed to foolish lengths.
There is not a book in the Bible which has not been
subjected to contortions of this kind, and, in order to
be consistent, the partisans of tradition were obliged
to treat the book of Ruth also as an allegory, for this
book has an allegorical explanation as complete as the
Song of Songs. The ancient Jewish exegesis admitted
that each passage of the Bible had seventy senses, all
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 93
equally true, and among a maze of senses, anagogical,
tropological, etc., which acknowledged the Christian
interpretation, the literal sense was almost the only
sense which was neglected. Remark, finally, that the
above argument rests upon a false notion of the
canonicity current among the Jews. The idea of
a strictly limited canon, and of a divine inspiration
which was uniform in all the books contained in the
canon, is a Christian, not a Jewish, idea. 1 The ancient
Jewish doctors permitted the fullest criticism of the
reputed sacred books of Ecclesiastes and the Song
of Songs, for example. 2 When people began to regard
indifferently the ancient books as a repertoire of wis-
dom, there was no longer any choice to be made.
Time had solved the question : all that remained of
the old literature, even that portion which did not
correspond with the religious sentiment of the period,
was carefully preserved. It was in this way that
moderately instructive works passed for sacred. The
Song of Songs, in fact, is not the only book to which
the objection that I am answering may be applied.
The book of Proverbs, and several of the Psalms, are
moral, but not religious works. The book of Job is a
philosophical and controversial book; no work re-
sembles less a sacred book. The psalm Eructavit
cor meum, is an epithalamium like the Song of Songs.
1 Vide the excellent observations of M. Derenbourg upon this point
in the Archives Israelites, March 1856.
2 Vide de Wette, Einleitung, sects. 276-283.
94 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
Ecclesiastes, in fine, although composed at a modern
epoch, and containing much that is so singular, was
none the less consecrated, because, at the period when
the first ideas of canonicity were formed, it was
found to be read by lettered men. Canonicity, though
embracing a wholly religious idea, appears, then, as a
matter of fact, to have been applied to some works
which had hardly any religious character, and people
were at a loss to know how to treat the efforts which
were subsequently made to sanctify these works
which might have, in the mind of the author, the
sense that a pious tradition ascribed to them.
It does not enter into our plan to follow up the
whole of the arguments of that singular exegesis,
which, from the point of view of a rabbinical or
Christian literateur, possesses a certain interest, but
which is of no value in the interpretation of the book
itself. 1 One solitary voice, previous to the sixteenth
century, was raised in support of the justness of this
sound exegesis, to wit, that of Theodore de Mopsuestus.
The condemnations of the second council of Constanti-
nople show the scandal which his opinion caused.
In the middle ages, not a single doubt was raised, nay,
new allegories were even invented, namely, the great
extension which was made to the cult of the Virgin ;
1 Tliis history has been set forth with much erudition and judg-
ment in a thesis which was argued before the Faculty of Protestant
Theology of Strasburg, by M. Ed. Cunitz. Hist. Grit, de V Interpretation
du Cantique des Cantiqucs (Strasburg, 1834). See also the article of
M. lieville in the Revue de Tlitdogie of M. Colani, Apiil 1 857.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 95
the Shulammite was identified with Mary, and almost
all the characteristics of the Song of Songs were applied
to the mother of God. The absence of real exegetical
and philosophical studies in the monasteries and uni-
versities, joined to a habit of seeking in the Scriptures
for distorted and arbitrary senses, precluded any
doctor of the time from divining the true interpre-
tation of the Song of Songs. The first Protestant theo-
logians differed in no particular from the Catholic
tradition. In fine, the Jewish exegetes, like all the
others affected with the mania, gave to it a figurative
explanation. When the Arab philosophy became the
fashion amongst them, the Shulammite became the in-
tellect actif to which the individual soul aspired to be
united. 1 Some gleams of a better method penetrated
the Jewish school. Several rabbis, like Aben-Esra,
carefully distinguished the literal sense, the reality of
which they recognised, from the mystic sense : we some-
times even see orthodox interpreters arguing with
illiterate persons who regarded the Song as a profane
poem. But the names of these bold disputants have
not come down to us, and I do not believe that a single
Jewish doctor of the period of which we speak would
have dared to oppose to the reigning prejudice as to
the indispensable necessity of seeking for the antique
idyl of Israel, any other sense than the literal one.
1 Upon the origin and progress of this singular interpretation, see
Steinsclmeider, in the EncyL of Ersch and Gruber, Section II. part
xxxi. p. 53, et seq.
96 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGb.
The first, after Theodore de Mopsuestus, who dared
to maintain that the Song of Songs was a profane book,
was the noble and unfortunate Sebastian Castalion.
He pushed his opinions to extremes, and, through an
error which must have exercised a hurtful influence
upon the exegesis, he declared it to be an objectionable
book a book which should be struck out of the
canon. His opinion found no supporters for nearly a
century. Grotius and Jean Leclerc revived it, the
former timidly and awkwardly, the latter decisively
and keenly. A mitigated opinion was formed by
another group, which included Vatable (or the author,
whoever he was, of the notes published under his
name), Bossuet, and Lowth. According to this opinion,
similar to that of Aben-Esra, the two senses, the one
natural, the other mystic, both existed, and ought
both to be upheld. There was, hence, amongst the
theological opinions of the time, a veritable progress
which allowed Bossuet, in particular, to advance ideas
as to the plan of the poem much more correct than
those which any one before him had done.
The grand exegetical school which was formed in
Germany towards the close of the last century, laid
down at length the essential condition of a good
interpretation of the Song, in absolutely discarding
the mystical sense, or, at least, in proving from
evidence that the author had not had in view any
other sense than that which conformed with the
letter. Semeler, J. D. Michaelis, and Herder exult-
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 97
ingly insist upon this point. 1 But this was far from
finding a key to the poem. The principal obstacle
to a good interpretation was thus removed, but the
work still presented in itself a veritable chaos. The
error of Castalion engaged the most enlightened
minds. It was difficult to make people believe that,
if the Song was not a mystical, it was an obscene
book. The idea that Solomon was the object of the
love of the shepherdess closed the door completely
to a satisfactory interpretation. Neither Grotius
nor Leclerc, who had demonstrated the vanity of
mystical explanations, nor Bossuet, who had so art-
fully discovered the literal character and division of
the work, did not perceive that which constituted
its essential meaning: to wit, the love of the Shulam-
rnite for a lover who was not Solomon, her resist-
ance to the proposals of the king, and her triumph
over the seductions of the seraglio.
The first who established this fundamental point
was J. F. Jacobi (1771). Michaelis had already
clearly perceived that the Song, interpreted liter-
ally, was far from being an object of scandal. He
had proclaimed that the love which was chanted
1 The allegorical interpretation finds still at the present day, in
Germany, two defenders in MM. Hengstenberg and Delitzsch. But
their arguments, so denuded of reason, and much less poetic than
those of the Fathers, the scholastics, and the theologians, are con-
ceived from a standpoint wholly different from those of the critic or
the philologist. M. Delitzsch has acknowledged, however, that the
author of the Song had only in his mind the natural sense.
98 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
therein was sincere love (castos conjugum amores).
But Jacobi found the explanation of the enigma in
demonstrating that the subject of the drama was
" the victory of the faithful lovers ; " that the
heroine was a shepherdess brought to the court to
minister to the sensual desires of the king, and
that, far from setting forth unbecoming ideas, the
poem was, in the mind of the poet, perfectly moral.
The role of the shepherd, which is the nodus or
plot of the whole poem, began henceforth to dis-
engage itself. Anton, Ammon, Stseudlin, Linde-
mann, and especially Velthusen (1786), developed
the idea of Jacobi in discarding the subtle explana-
tions which had been confounded in it. But such
are the obscurities which, according to our modern
ideas, this singular poem presents, that the methods
pursued by these ingenious critics were not at first
able to command universal assent. A contrary
method, which regarded the Song as a simple col-
lection of love songs, amongst which we must not
seek for either bond or consecutive plan, an idea
which had already seduced Richard Simon, found
numerous adherents Herder, Dcederlein, Hufnagel,
Kleuker and Eichhorn, and, even in our own day,
Doepke, Magnus, and de Wette.
The vast labour of philology and criticism which,
in the first half of our century, has brought about
such great progress in the knowledge of ancient
Hebrew literature, has fully confirmed, by modify-
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 99
ing several points of detail, the hypothesis of Jacobi
and Velthusen. The able studies of MM. Umbreit
(1820), Ewald (1826), and Hitzig (1855), in putting
wholly to one side so many doubts, have obtained
an almost unanimous assent, 1 and triumphantly
established the plan of the Song and its true char-
acter. The poem is neither mystical, as the theo-
logians would have us believe, nor objectionable,
as Castalion has thought, nor purely erotic, as
Herder would have it ; it is moral ; it is summed
up in a verse, the 7th of chap, viu., the last of the
poem. " Nothing can overcome sincere love ; where
riches aspires to purchase love, it purchases only
shame." The object of the poem is not the volup-
tuous passion which insinuates itself into the seraglios
of the degenerate East, nor the equivocal sentiment
of Hindoo or Persian quietism, concealing under its
deceptive mask its refined hypocrisy, but true love,
the love inspired by courage and sacrifice, preferring
unconstrained poverty to servile opulence, opposing
a vigorous hatred to. all that is false and base, and
resulting in undisturbed happiness and fidelity.
Thus the difficulties, both in the eyes of theologians
and of critics, raised by the book on which we are
now engaged, have been solved. Even in the eyes of
the critic, it must have appeared strange that, from
1 We can name, among those who have adhered to their opinion,
MM. B. Hirzel, Boettcher, E. Meier, Veth, Hcekstra, and Reville.
This opinion has become in a manner classic in Germany, Holland,
100 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
amongst this literature, there should proceed one of
the props of the faith of humanity, from amongst the
monuments of this Hebraic thought, always grave
and reserved, one of those venerated writings which
have passed the ordeal of so many pious scribes, to
appearance an equivocal booklet, a poem consecrated
unreservedly to sensual love. The Song of Songs is
/no such work. 1 It is neither to the purely erotic
poems of India, such as the poetry of Amarou and
Bhartrihari, nor to the poetry of Hafiz, nor to the
maouals of the Arabs, that the present poem must be
compared. The Song of Songs is a profane book,
but it is not a frivolous book. The traits of de-
tail, though they may seem to shock our modesty
(too often carried to a ridiculous extent), are those
which are to be found in all antique poetry. Voltaire
did wrong in making game of it, and the faithful were
wrong in feeling scandalised. It should be remarked,
however, that the only two really sensual passages in
the work (I. 2-4 ; vn. 2-10) are designed to represent
the harem and the manners of the court of Solomon
in a most hideous light, and serve to produce a sort of
contrast. The sentiment of the book, like that of all
Hebrew books, is pure, and, if the execution some-
times lacks delicacy and discrimination, yet these latter
qualities, the product of our attenuated modesty, are
by no means characteristic of the Semitic genius in
1 See the excellent reflections of M. Eeville in the Revue de TMo-
logic, May 1857, p. 284, et seq.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 101
general. For my part, I find the Song } understood in
its natural sense, much more sacred than many other
books which do not shock us very much the Book
of Esther, for example, which is inhuman, boastful,
cruel, and arrogant, whence God is absent (it is the
only book in the Bible in which the name of God is
not once pronounced). I might even say that the
Song of Songs is of great importance as touching the
honour of the Jewish people, in the sense that it
brings out qualities in the Hebrew mind which, but
for it, would never have been suspected. In view of
the terrible tension of that austerity of character
which has produced the ardent passion of a David,
and the fanaticism of the prophets, one might be
tempted to believe that there could be no lodgment
for any sentiment of tenderness and of goodness in the
mind of such a people. The Song of Songs proves
that, if the grandiose struggle in which Israel engaged
stifled for a certain period the purely human part
of its development, this part of the Hebrew character
had its season, and produced its flower. Israel, be-
come the people of God, ought not to make us forget
the young Israel at the time of the patriarchs ; Israel,
the Arab tribe, whose spirit was continued, especially
in the kingdom of the North, and in whose bosom
developed freely a life wholly profane, though eclipsed
in the end by the incomparable eclat of the religious
From the point of view of enlightened philosophy,
102 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
it was then an error to believe that the Song, if it
was not a scandalous book, must be a mystical book.
But the conscience of humanity was never so wholly
deceived. Such is the force of religious sentiment,
that it knows how to give a double sense of beauty
and of charm. The mystical sense is false philo-
logically, but true theologically. It corresponds to
that grand sanctification of love which Christianity
has inaugurated. The Shulammite has taken the
Christian veil ; under this veil she is beautiful still.
In a word, why regret this garland of poetic false-
hoods which the Christian imagination has woven
round the object of its favourite dreams, when one
remembers that, without this network of pious decep-
tions, mystical souls should never have had their holy
book ? What love can be more pure than is contained
in that beautiful Vulnerasti cor meum which the
Church chants at its feasts ? Those litanies of the
Virgin, and those hymns composed wholly of melan-
choly images or brdlantes empruntees to the sacred
idyll 1 which have caused many tears (the best, per-
haps, which have been shed on earth) to flow ! Let
it be added that the Christian interpretation has given
to the Song what in the original it lacked of trans-
parency and delicacy. The Christian Shulammite is,
indeed, more distinguished than the ancient virgin of
1 See in particular several hymns of Adam de Saint Victor (t. II.,
pp. 189, 340, edit. Gautier), and of his school (Pitra, Spicil Solesm. III.
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 103
the tribe of Issachar ; the delicacy of sentiment of
modern races has corrected that which the Hebrew
genius lacks of polish and brightness.
Within the compass of the ancient Song has thus
been constructed a book altogether different from
anything Hebrew infinitely curious, however, and
in a manner sacred. In philology the letter alone
ought to be considered. In the original development
of humanity, it is the spirit which giveth life. To be
the fruit of mystical conceptions far removed from
those of ancient Israel, the mystical spouse which
aesthetic Christians have evolved from their dreams
ought not to be banished from amongst the conse-
crated images. Yet, by being a stranger to the subtle
theology of her Christian sister, the poor shepherdess,
who preferred to Solomon him whom she loved, ought
no longer to be disdained. None of her contempor-
aries in the heathen world, although more civilised
the Chamite and Couschite races has accomplished
what she has done ; no daughter of Memphis or of
Babylon, a thousand years before Jesus Christ, has
resisted a king, or preferred a hut to a seraglio. The
Shulammite was a -saint of her time. She signalised
the first appearance of the virtue of love the moment
when, sensual though it yet was, the profound instinct
which God has concealed in the bosom of human
nature attained, in the free and proud conscience of a
young Israelite maiden, the highest sphere of morality.
Do not criticise, according to the rules of our modern
104 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
proprieties, each sentence of the ingenuous peasant
girl ; do not require of her the extreme refinements
of a Saint Theresa. She is a simple daughter of
naive antiquity. Though her heart was not touched
with the flame of seraphic fire, she knew " that love
was stronger than death," she felt " the glow of the
fire of Jehovah." "T>
I am not one of those who regard love as the most
exalted principle of human morality, and who would
have it believed that man is only grand when he
yields to that passion. That which makes man
noble is duty and right ; in reality, he is only great
when he subordinates his passions to a desirable and
disinterested end. Still less am I one of those who
make much of that selfish and unpoetical love of the
east and the south, which has never inspired a high
thought, and has contributed in nothing to ameliorate
the condition of humanity. But the profound senti-
ment which plays so essential a part in the history
of the progress of morals ought not to be confounded
with that inferior pleasure, the residuum of sensual
humanity, which civilisation has vanquished. After
duty, love, such as it has been transformed into by
the greatest races, has been the mainspring of en-
noblement, and the potent lever in elevating the
human species to a more perfect ideal. It must not
be put in the front rank with the gods ; neither must
it bring down to the level of things terrestrial the
virtuous sentiment which sheds a ray on the brow
A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS. 105
the most tarnished by selfishness, an illusion which
has crossed lives the most melancholy, a fugitive
moment of poetry which has dragged from their
lairs the most vulgar natures. Love increases or
diminishes, according as the noble elements of
humanity are raised or abased. In base epochs,
people do not even know how to love ; and there
can be no doubt that if, in default of honour, our
leaden age has at least preserved the vigour of the
strong passion, it will not be so easily reduced to the
pitiful pursuits of riches without consideration, and
honours without glory. Amidst bourgeoises engross-
ments which have ever been the lot of the greatest
number, there is still left scope for great ambition
and daring enterprises. A principle secondary to noble-
ness, but most efficacious in the case of those to whom
duty appears too abstract, love possesses for him, in
addition, the incomparable eclat of virtue and genius.
The book which, ten centuries before Jesus Christ,
demonstrates this to us, though not yet distinguished
or delicate, but true and strong, is then, in a sense, a
sacred book. Let us place it boldly in the ark in
which holy things are guarded ; let the theologian
believe that, to save the honour of the old song, it
must be travestied, and to those who, for reasons of
propriety, would defend this superannuated interpreta-
tion, let us recall the response of Niebuhr * to a young
1 I am indebted for this trait in the life of Niebuhr to M. le Baron
106 A STUDY OF THE SONG OF SONGS.
parson who was grieved at the necessity of admitting
into the Biblical canon a song of love. " For me," said
the illustrious critic, with animation, "I should think
that the Bible was lacking in something if one could
not find in it expression for the deepest and strongest
sentiments of humanity."
THE SONG OF SONGS.
THE SONG OF SONGS.
ASCRIBED TO KING SOLOMON. 1
Let him kiss me with a kiss of his mouth ! Thy I, 2
caresses are sweeter than wine, when they are mingled
with the fragrance of thy exquisite odours; thy 3
name is as oil poured out. Hence it is the young
maidens love thee.
Draw me after thee : let us flee. The king has
brought me into his harem.
Our transports and our delights are for thee alone
Better far are thy caresses than wine. Right are they
in loving thee.
I am black, but I am comely, O daughters of
Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the pavilions
1 This title is posterior to the composition of the poem, and implies an
attiioution manifestly erroneons.
110 THE SONG OF SONGS.
of Solomon. Despise me not, because I am a little
black, because the sun has scorched me. My
mother's sons held me in contempt: they sent me
into the fields to keep vineyards. But, alas ! mine
own vineyard have I indeed badly kept.
I, 7 Tell me, O thou whom my heart loveth, whither
thou leadest thy sheep, where thou makest them re-
pose at noon, so that I stray not, as one wandered,
around the flocks of thy companions.
8 If thou knowest not this, thou fairest of women,
get thee again to the footsteps of thy flock, and cause
thy kids to pasture beside the shepherds' tents.
9 I have likened thee, O my love, to my young
cavale (mare), when she is yoked to the chariots sent
10 me by Pharoah. 1 Thy cheeks are adorned with rows
11 of pearls, thy neck with strings of corals. We will
make thee necklaces of gold, pointed with silver.
12 While the king is in his divan, the spikenard
wherewith I am scented 2 sent forth its fragrance.
1 The chariots which Solomon got from Egypt, the horses of which
were covered with ornaments resembling necklaces.
2 That is to say, her lover ; the thought is to her as a perfume.
THE SONG OF SONGS. Ill
My beloved is to me as a bundle of myrrh ; he shall I, 13
repose betwixt my breasts. My beloved is to me as 14
a cluster of camphire, from the vineyards of Engedi.
Yea, thou are fair, my love; yes, thou art fair. 15
Thy eyes are as doves' eyes.
Yea, thou art fair, my beloved ; yes, thou art charm- 16
ing. Our bed is a bed of green.
The beams of our palace are of cedar, our panels of 17
I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys ! n, i
As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among 2
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, 1
so is my beloved among the youths. I have longed
to sit under his shadow, and his fruit is sweet to
He brought me into his wine house, and the ban- 4
ner 2 he raised over me was love. Stay me with 5
grapes, fortify me with fruits, for I am dying of love.
His left hand sustains my head, and his right 6
I beseech you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the 7
gazelles and the hinds of the fields, awake not, awake
not my beloved until it pleases her.
1 That is to say, a tree with fruit among trees which have none.
2 A flag was hoisted over the wine house, in which the wine was dis-
tributed. See Moallaca d'Antara, v. 52, and Lebid, v. 58. Caussin
de Perceval, Essay upon the History of the Arabs, I. 11. p. 525.
112 THE SONG OF SONGS.
IT, 8 It is the voice of my beloved; behold he cometh
bounding over the mountains and skipping upon
9 the hills. My beloved is like to a roe or a hind's
fawn. Behold him who standeth behind the wall,
10 who looketh forth of the window, who peepeth
through the lattice. He said unto me, "Arise, my
love, my fair one, and come away. For behold the
11 winter is ended, the rain is past, it has gone. The
12 flowers begin to appear on the earth. The time of
the singing [of birds] is at hand. The voice of the
turtle has been heard in our fields ; the tender shoots
13 of the fig tree begin to ripen ; the vine is in bloom
and exhales its fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair
14 one, and come away. My dove, nestled in the clefts
of the rock, concealed on the summit of the high places,
show me thy countenance, make me to hear thy
voice ; for thy voice is sweet, and thy countenance is
15 Take us those foxes, the little foxes, that ravage
the vines, for our vineyard is in blossom.
16 My beloved is mine, and I am his ... my
beloved, who maketh his flock to feed among the
17 lilies. 1 At the hour when the day shall cool, and the
shadows lengthen, return, my beloved, and be thou
1 The plains of Sharon are, in certain seasons, covered with lilies, like
as are our plains with colchicum in autumn.
THE SONG OF SONGS. 113
like unto a roe or a hind's fawn upon the defied
On my bed by night, I sought him whom my heart in, i
loveth : I sought him and I found him not. ... I said 2
to myself: " I will arise ; make the circuit of the city ;
pass through the market places and the highways,
and seek for him whom my heart loveth." I sought
for him and I found him not. The watchmen who 3
make the round of the city encountered me. I said to
them : " Hast thou seen him whom my heart loveth ? "
Hardly had I passed from them when I found him 4
whom my heart loveth. I laid hold of him, and would
not let him go until I had brought him into my
mother's house, into the chamber of her that had given
I beseech you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the 5
gazelles and the hinds of the fields, awake not, awake
not my love until it pleases her.
Who is this that ariseth out of the desert, 1 like a
pillar of smoke, giving forth the fragrance of myrrh,
1 That is to say, " who appeareth on the horizon," Jerusalem for a
considerable distance being girdled by deserts.
114 THE SONG OF SONGS.
of frankincense, and of all the powders of the per-
Ill, 7 Behold the palanquin of Solomon. Threescore
valiant men from amongst the valiant of Israel
8 surround it ; these all bear swords and are practised
in war ; each hath his sword upon his hip in order
to dispel the terrors of the night.
9 King Solomon had made for himself a couch of
10 the wood of Lebanon. The posts were of silver, the
pilasters of gold, the curtains of purple. In the centre
sparkled a beauty chosen from amongst the daughters
of Jerusalem. 1
11 Go forth, O daughters of Sion, and behold King
Solomon, wearing the crown wherewith his mother
crowned him 2 on the day of his espousals, the day of
the gladness of his heart.
1 Of a truth thou art fair, my love ; yea thou art
fair. Thy eyes are as doves' eyes, under the folds of
thy veil. Thy hair is like a flock of goats, depending
from the sides of Gilead.
2 Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep newly shorn,
which have just been w^ashed, each of which bears
3 twins, and none is barren. Thy lips are like a thread
1 Au centre brille une belle choisie entre les filles de Jerusalem.
2 Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, always exercised much authority
THE SONG OF SONGS. 115
of purple, and thy mouth is charming. Thy cheek is
like the one side of a pomegranate behind thy veil.
Thy neck l is like the tower of David, builded to IV, 4
serve as an armoury, in which are suspended a thou-
sand breastplates, and all the bucklers of the valiant.
Thy two breasts are like the two twins of a hind, 5
which feed among the lilies. When the day shall 6
cool, and the shadows lengthen, I will get me to the
mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.
Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no blemish 7
Come with me, come with me, my spouse ! Come 8
with me from Lebanon : look upon me from the top
of Amana, from the summit of Shenir and Hermon,
from the depths of the lions' dens, from the tops of
the mountains which the leopards inhabit. Thou hast 9
ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast
ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one of
the ringlets which encircle thy neck. How pleasant ic
is thy love, my sister, my spouse. How sweet are thy
embraces. They are better than wine, and the odour
of thy perfumes than all balsams. Thy lips, my n
spouse, distil honey ; honey and milk are concealed
under thy tongue, and the odour of thy garments is
as the odour of Lebanon. My espoused sister is a 12
garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed ;
a grove where the pomegranate blossoms together is
1 Because of the necklets which encircle it, and cause it to resemble a
tower decked with armour.
116 THE SONG OF SONGS.
with the most pleasant fruits, camphire with
IV 14 spikenard, saffron, calamus, cinnamon, with all
manner of fragrant trees ; myrrh and aloes, with all
15 manner of sweet-smelling plants ; a fountain in a
garden, a spring of living water, a stream which
16 descends from Lebanon. Awake, north winds, come,
south winds, blow upon my garden, that its fragrance
may be diffused.
Let my beloved enter into his garden, and let him
taste of its choicest fruits.
V, 1 I have entered my garden, my sister, my spouse. I
have gathered my myrrh and my balsam : I have
eaten my sweets and my honey ; I have drunk my
wine and my milk. Eat, O friends, drink, drink
abundantly, beloved !
2 I sleep, but my heart is awake. . . . It is the
voice of my well- beloved I 1 He knocketh, saying,
" Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my unde-
liled, for my head is all covered with dew, -the locks
of my hair are all dropping with the night mists. I
3 have cast off my coat ; wherefore wouldst thou that
] The vision of the beloved is identified in everything which follows
with the beloved himself, according to a figure much used by the Arab
poets, and called Tliaif al Klialal. See Asiatic Journal, April 1838,
p. 378, et seq. (Art. de M. de Slane).
THE SONG OF. SONGS. 117
I put it on again ? I have washed my feet : wherefore
should I defile them ? " My beloved now put his hand V, 4
through the lattice, and my bosom quivered thereat. I
arose to open to my beloved. My hands were found 5
to be dropping with myrrh, my fingers with liquid
myrrh, which covered the handle of the lock. 1 I opened
to my beloved, but my beloved had vanished, he had 6
fled. The sound of his voice had bereft me of reason.
I issued forth ; I sought for him and found him not ;
I called after him, and he answered me not. The
watchmen who go about the city encountered me : 7
they smote me ; they bruised me ; the keepers of the
wall stripped me of my veil. I beseech you, O 8
daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, tell
him that I am dying of love.
In what is thy beloved better (than another), O
thou fairest of women ? In what is thy beloved 9
better (than another), that thou dost so charge us ?
My beloved is white and ruddy ; you would tell him 10
amongst a thousand. His head is as fine gold ; the 11
locks of his hair are as flexible as palm leaves, and as
black as a raven. His eyes are as doves' eyes reflected 12
in streams of running water, like pigeons bathing
themselves in milk, perched on the rim of a full vase.
His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, like unto a bank 13
of sweet-smelling plants ; his lips are as lilies gush-
1 At lacrumans exclusus amator limi/na scepa
FLoribus et certes operit, posteisgue superbos.
Unjuit amaracino. LUCRECE iv. 1173-5.
118 THE SONG OF SONGS.
v, 14 ing with myrrh ; his hands are as rings of gold en-
amelled with stones of Tharsis ; his reins are as a
15 masterpiece in ivory, overlaid with sapphires ; his legs
are as pillars of marble set on pedestals of gold ; his
countenance is as Lebanon, beautiful as the cedars.
16 From his palate is diffused sweetness ; his person is
altogether lovely. Such is my beloved, such is my
friend, daughters of Jerusalem.
71, l Whither is thy beloved gone, O fairest among
women ? Whither has he turned aside, that we may
seek for him with thee ?
2 My beloved has descended into his garden ; he has
reached the beds of balsam, that he may feed his
3 flock in the gardens, and gather lilies. I am my
beloved's, and my beloved is mine. . . . my be-
loved, who maketh his flock to feed among the lilies.
4 Thou art beautiful, my love, as Tirzah, 1 charming as
5 Jerusalem ; yet terrible as an army in battle. Turn
thine eyes away from me, for they distress me. Thy
hair is as a flock of goats, depending from the sides
6 of Gilead. Thy teeth are like unto a flock of sheep
which have just been washed ; each of them bears
7 twins, none of them is barren. Thy cheek is as one
side of a pomegranate under the folds of thy veil.
1 A city in the north of Palestine, which, from the time of Jeroboam
to that of Omri, was the capital of Israel.
THE SONG OF ^SONGS. 119
There are threescore queens and fourscore con- VI 8
cubines, besides young maidens without number.
But the jewel is my dove, my undefiled ; she is 9
the only one of her mother, the chosen one of her
who gave her birth. The young maidens saw her,
and proclaimed her blessed ; the queens and the con-
cubines saw her, and praised her.
Who is this whose countenance is as Aurora, fair 10
as the moon, clear as the sun, yet terrible as an army
in battle ?
I descended into the garden of nuts, to see the 11
herbs of the valley, to see whether the vine had
budded, whether the pomegranates were in flower.
Oh, fatal step! that this caprice should plunge me 12
into the midst of the chariots of a prince's train !
In mercy, in mercy, Shulammite, 1 in mercy turn vil, l
thou, that we may look on thee.
Why look at the Shulammite, in preference to a
Mahanaim 2 dance ?
How beautiful are thy feet in thy sandals, O 2
prince's daughter. The curves of thy thighs are
1 That is to say, an inhabitant of Shulam, or Shunen, a city of the
tribe of Issachar.
2 An ancient city celebrated for its bayaderes and for the orgiastic
cults which were practised there.
120 THE SONG OF SONGS.
like that of a necklace, the work of a skilled hand.
VII, 3 Thy navel is as a round goblet, full of aromatic wine ;
4 thy belly is as a heap of wheat encircled with lilies ;
thy two breasts are as the two twins of a gazelle;
5 thy neck is as a tower of ivory ; thy eyes are as
the fishpools of Heshbon, near the gate Fille de la
foule; x thy nose is erect and proud, like the tower
of Lebanon, 2 as seen from the side of Damascus. Thy
6 head is like Carmel ; thy locks are like threads of
7 purple ; a king is enchained to their boucles. How
fair and how pleasant art thou, O my love, in the
8 moments of embrace ! Thy stature is like unto a
9 palm tree, and thy breasts unto grapes. I said, I will
go up to the palm tree; I will cluster its branches.
Thy breasts are to me as clusters of grapes ; thy
10 breath as the odour of apples ; thy mouth like the
most exquisite wine, which droppeth sweetly and
.moistens the lips of the eager lover !
11 I am my beloved's, and he is mine, therefore it is
that his desire is towards me.
12 Come, my beloved ; let us go forth into the fields,
13 let us sleep in the village. Let us arise early to go
1 Bathrabbim, one of the gates of Heshbon.
2 One of the towers which David had built in the north of Palestine,
to serve as a post of observation against the Syrians. (2 Sam. viii. 6.)
THE SONG OF SONGS. 121
to the vines ; let us see whether the vine stocks have
budded, whether the shoots have opened, whether
the pomegranates are in flower. There I will give
thee my caresses. The apple of love l gave forth its ' ^
perfume ; at our gate are heaped up the most beauti-
ful fruits; new and old, I have guarded them for .
thee, O my beloved. ! that thou wert as my VIII - 1
brother, who has sucked the breasts of my mother,
so that I could, when I should meet you without,
embrace thee, and not be despised therefor ! I would
lead you, bring you into my mother's house; there
thou wouldst instruct me in everything, and I would
cause thee to drink of spiced wine, the juice of my
His left hand sustains my head, and his right
I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem, awake
not, awake not my well-beloved until it pleases
Who is this that issues from the desert, leaning
upon her beloved ?
I awoke thee under the apple tree. Behold the
1 Mandrake, or belladonna, to which popular opinion ascribed secret
122 THE SONG OF SONGS.
house in which thy mother conceived thee, in which
she gave thee birth.
VIII, 6 Set me now as a seal upon thy heart, as a bracelet
about thy arm, for love is strong as death ; passion
inflexible as hell. 1 Its brands are the brands of fire
its arrows the fire of Jehovah. 2
7 Great waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot
extinguish it. If a man would seek to purchase love
at the sacrifice of his whole substance, he would only
8 We have a little sister who has no paps. What
shall we do with our sister, the day in which she
shall be sought after ?
9 If she be a wall, 3 let us make her towers of silver;
if she be a door, 4 let us make her panels of cedar.
10 I have been a wall ; my breasts have been my
towers ; 6 and this is why I have been allowed by
11 him 6 to depart in peace. Solomon had a vineyard
at Baal-Hamon; 7 he let it out to keepers, each of
1 Which never relaxes its prey.
2 That is to say, lightning.
3 An inaccessible virtue.
4 A less severe virtue.
5 That is to say, my virtue has been put to the severest test.
7 A locality in the north of Palestine.
THE SONG OF SONGS. 123
whom gave him a thousand pieces for his portion.
Behold, my vineyard, in front of me! A thousand
pieces for thee, Solomon, and two hundred pieces for
the keepers of the vineyard.
Thou fair one who dwellest in this garden, com-
panions 1 draw near and lend thine ears; make me
to understand thy voice.
Flee, my beloved, and be like unto a roe or to a
hind's fawn upon the mountains of spices.
1 The young men of the village, paranymphs of the lover.
INTO WHICH IS INTRODUCED THE DIVISIONS AND
THE SCENIC EXPLANATIONS.
THE SONG OF SONGS.
The scene is supposed to represent Solomon in the midst
of his seraglio.
A LADY OF THE HAREM.
Let him kiss me with a kiss of his mouth! . . .
THE LADIES OF THE HAREM, in cJlOTUS.
Thy caresses are sweeter than wine, when they are mingled
with the fragrance of thy exquisite odours ; thy name is as oil
poured out. Hence it is the young maidens love thee.
Led in by force, and addressing herself to an absent friend.
Draw me after thee : let us flee. The king has brought me
into his harem.
THE LADIES OF THE HAREM, to Solomon.
Our transports and our delights are for thee alone. Better
far are thy caresses than wine. Eight are they in loving thee.
128 THE SONG OF SONGS.
I am black, but I am comely, O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar, like the pavilions of Solomon ! Despise
me not because I am a little black ; because the sun hath
scorched me. My mother's sons held me in contempt : they
sent me into the fields to keep vineyards. But, alas, mine own
vineyard have I indeed badly kept. 1
Tell me, O thou whom my heart loveth, whither thou leadest
thy sheep, where thou makest them repose at noon, so. that I"
stray not, as one wandered, around the flocks of thy companions.
A WOMAN OF THE HAREM.
If thou knowest not this, O thou fairest of women, get thee
again to the footsteps of thy flock, and cause thy kids to pasture
beside the shepherds' tents.
1 have likened thee, O my love, to my young filly, when
she is yoked to the chariots sent me by Pharaoh. Thy cheeks
are adorned with rows of pearls, thy neck with strings of corals.
We will make thee necklaces of gold, pointed with silver.
THE SHULAMMITE, alone.
While the king is in his divan, the spikenard wherewith I
am scented sent forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me as a
bundle of myrrh : he shall repose betwixt my breasts. My
1 That is to say, my maiden modesty. She makes allusion to the sur-
prise of which she has been a victim. (See Act V., Scene II.)
THE SONG OF SONGS. 129
beloved /- to me as a cluster of caraphire, from the vineyards of
Yea, thou art fair, my love; yes, thou art fair. Thy eyes
are as doves' eyes.
THE SHULAMMITE, addressing herself to an absent friend.
Yea, thou art fair, my beloved; yes, thou art charming.
Our bed is a bed of green. 1
The beams of our palace are of cedar, our panels of cypress.
THE SHULAMMITE, singing.
I am the rose of Sharon,
The lily of the valleys 1 2 . . .
THE SHEPHERD, who enters abruptly on the scene.
As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens.
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my
beloved among the youths. I have longed to sit under his shadow
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
The two lovers are reunited.
He brought me into his wine house, and the banner he
1 She recalls the time when she was in the village.
2 The Shulammite sings this couplet, which, probably, was a part of a
popular song, in order to reassure her lover of her fidelity, and to reveal
to him her presence. (See above, Act II., Scene II.).
130 THE SONG OF SONGS.
raised over me was love. (To the chorus.) Stay me with grapes,
fortify me with fruits, for I am dying of love. . . .
She falls in a faint into the arms of her lover, and says,
in a low voice :
His left hand sustains my head, and his right embraces me.
THE SHEPHERD, with the choTUS.
I beseech you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles
and the hinds of the fields, awake not, awake not my beloved
until it pleases her.
THE SHULAMMITE, alone, and as if in a dream.
It is the voice of my beloved ; behold he coineth bounding
upon the mountains and skipping upon the hills. My beloved
is like to a roe or a hind's fawn. Behold him who standeth
behind the wall, who looketh forth of the window, who peepeth
through the lattice. He said unto me, '"Arise, my love, my fair
one, and come away. For behold the winter is ended, the rain
is past, it has gone. The flowers begin to appear on the earth.
The time of the singing [of birds] is at hand. The voice of the
turtle has been heard in our fields ; the tender shoots of the
fig tree begin to ripen ; the vine is in bloom, and exhales its
fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. My
dove, nestled in the clefts of the rock, concealed on the summit
of the high places, show me thy countenance, make me to hear
thv voice ; for thy voice is sweet, and thy countenance is lovely."
THE SONG OF SONGS. 131
Take us those foxes, those little foxes
That ravage the vines ;
For our vineyard is in blossom. 1
My beloved is mine, and I am his . . . my beloved,
who maketh his flock to feed among the lilies. . . . At
the hour when the day shall cool, and when the shadows
lengthen return, my beloved, and be thou like unto a roe or a
hind's fawn upon the clef ted mountains.
On my bed by night, I sought him whom my heart loveth ;
I sought him, and I found him not. ... I said to myself :
" I will arise ; make the circuit of the city ; pass through the
market places and the highways, and seek for him whom my
heart loveth." I sought for him and I found him not. The
watchmen who make the round of the city encountered me. I
said to them : " Hast thou seen him whom my heart loveth ? "
Hardly had I passed from them when I found him whom my
heart loveth. I laid hold of him, and would not let him go
until I had brought him into my mother's house, into the
chamber of her that had given me birth.
The two lovers are reunited ; the shepherdess swoons away
in the arms of her lover.
THE SHEPHERD, With the cJlOTUS.
I beseech you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and
the hinds of the fields, awake not, awake not my love until it
1 She sings a spring lyric, which her beloved must recognise. (Com-
pare Act I., Scene in., above).
1 32 THE SONG OF SONGS.
The scene takes place in the streets of Jerusalem.
CHORUS OF MEN, composed of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The cortege of Solomon begins to appear in the distance.
Who is this that ariseth out of the desert like a pillar of
smoke, giving forth the fragrance of myrrh, of frankincense,
and of all the powders of the perfumers ?
The cortege defiles past.
Behold the palanquin of Solomon. Threescore valiant men
from amongst the valiant of Israel surround it ; these all bear
swords, and are practised in war ; each hath his sword upon his
hip in order to dispel the terrors of the night.
King Solomon made for himself a couch of the wood of
Lebanon. The posts were of silver, the pilasters of gold, the
curtains of purple. In the centre sparkled a beauty chosen from
amongst the daughters of Jerusalem.
THE CHORUS OF MEN, addressing the women who are supposed
to be concealed in their
Go forth, O daughters of Sion, and behold King Solomon,
wearing the crown wherewith his mother crowned him on the
day of his espousals, the day of the gladness of his heart,
THE SONG OF SONGS. 133
The scene takes place in the harem.
Of a truth, thou art fair, my love : yea, thou art fair !
Thy eyes are as doves' eyes, under the folds of thy veil. Thy
hair is like a flock of goats, depending from the sides of Gilead.
Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep, newly shorn, which have
just been washed, each of which bears twins, and none is
barren. Thy lips are like a thread of purple, and thy mouth
is charming. Thy cheek is like the one side of a pomegranate
behind thy veil. Thy neck is like the tower of David, builded
to serve as an armoury, in which are suspended a thousand
breast-plates, and all the bucklers of the valiant. Thy two
breasts are like the two twins of a hind, which feed among the
lilies. When the day shall cool, and the shadows lengthen, I will
get me to the mountains of myrrh and to the hills of frankin-
Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no blemish in thee.
Supposed to be at the bottom of the seraglio.
Come with me, come with me, my spouse ! come with me
from Lebanon. 1 Look upon me from the top of Arnana, from
the summits of Shenir and Hermon, from the depths of the
lions' den, from the top of the mountains which the leopards
(She sees him.}
Thou has ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou
hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one of the
ringlets which encircle thy neck. How pleasant is thy love
1 Lebanon, and the imagery which follows, represent, in ambiguous;
terms, the inaccessible heights of the palace, and the dangers which
menace the chastity of his beloved.
134 THE SONG OF SONGS.
my sister, my spouse ! How sweet are thy embraces. They
are better than wine, and the odour of thy perfumes better
than all balsams. Thy lips, my spouse, distil honey ; honey
and milk are concealed under thy tongue, and the odour of thy
garments is as the odour of Lebanon. My espoused sister is
a garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed ; ] a
grove where the pomegranate blossoms together with the most
pleasant fruits ; camphire with spikenard, spikenard, saffron,
calamus, cinnamon, with all manner of fragrant trees ; myrrh
and aloes, with all manner of sweet-smelling plants ; a fountain
in a garden, a spring of living water, a stream which descends
from Lebanon. Awake, north winds, come south winds ; blow
upon my garden that its fragrance may be diffused.
Let my beloved enter his garden, and let him taste of its
She gives him a kiss.
I have entered my garden, my sister, my spouse. I have
gathered my myrrh and my balsam. I have eaten my sweet
and my honey. I have drunk my wine and my milk. (To the
Chorus.) Eat, O friends ; drink, drink abundantly, O beloved.
A SINGLE SCENE.
THE SHULAMMITE, alone.
I sleep, but my heart is awake. . . . It is the voice of
my well-beloved ! He knocketh, saying " Open to me, my
sister, my love, my dove, my undented, for my head is all
covered with dew, the locks of my hair are all dropping with
the night mists." " I have cast off my coat, wherefore wouldst
thou that I put it on again ? I have washed my feet ; where-
1 He is reassured of her fidelity.
THE SONG OF SONGS. 135
fore should I defile them ? " My beloved now put his hand
through the lattice, and my bosom quivered thereat. I arose
to open to my beloved ; my hands were found to be dropping
with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, which covered the
handle of the lock. 1 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved
had vanished ; he had fled. The sound of his voice had bereft
me of reason. I issued forth, I sought for him, and found him
not. I called after him, and he answered me not. The watch-
men who go about the city encountered me ; they smote me ;
they bruised me ; the keepers of the wall stripped me of my
veil. (To the chorus of women.} I beseech you, O daughters of
Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, tell him that I am dying of
THE CHORUS OF WOMEN.
In what is thy beloved better (than another), O thou fairest
of women ? In what is thy beloved better (than another),
that thou dost so charge us ?
My beloved is white and ruddy ; you would tell him
amongst a thousand. His head is as fine gold ; the locks of
his hair are as flexible as palm leaves, and as black as a raven.
His eyes are as doves' eyes, reflected in streams of running water,
like pigeons bathing themselves in milk, perched on the brim of
a full vase. His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, like unto a
bank of sweet-smelling plants ; his lips are as lilies gushing of
myrrh ; his hands are as rings of gold, enamelled with stones
of Tharsis ; his_ reins are as a masterpiece in ivory, overlaid
with sapphires ; his legs are as pillars of marble, set on
pedestals of gold ; his countenance is as Lebanon, beautiful as
the cedars. From his palate is diffused sweetness ; his person
is altogether lovely. Such is my beloved, such is my friend, O
daughters of Jerusalem.
Whither is thy beloved gone, fairest among women?
Whither has he turned aside that we may seek him with thee ?
(The two lovers find one another.)
1 The shepherd is sxipposed to respond by a frolic to the frolic of his
136 THE SONG OF SONGS.
My beloved has descended into his garden ; he has reached
the beds of balsam, that he may feed his flock in the gardens,
and gather lilies. I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine.
. . My beloved, who maketh his flock to feed among the
The scene takes place in the harem.
Thou art beautiful, my love, as Tirzah, 1 charming as
Jerusalem ; yet terrible as an army in battle. Turn thine
eyes away from me, for they distress me. Thy hair is as a
flock of goats, depending from the sides of Gilead. Thy teeth
are like unto a flock of sheep, which have just been washed ;
each of them bears twins, none of them is barren. Thy cheek
is as a piece of pomegranate under the folds of thy veil. . . .
THE SHEPHERD, from the outside.
There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines,
besides young maidens without number. But the jewel is
my dove, my undefiled ; she is the only one of her mother,
the chosen one of her who gave her birth. The young saw
her, and proclaimed her blessed ; the queens and the concu-
bines saw her and praised her.
1 The Shulammite, faithful to her lover, responds only to the caresses
of Solomon with defiant louks.
THE SONG OF SONGS. 137
Who is this whose countenance is as Aurora, fair as the
moon, clear as the sun, yet terrible as an army in battle ? ]
THE SHULAMMITB, aside, and turning her 'back on the ladies
of the harem.
1 descended into the garden of nuts, to see the herbs of the
valley, to see whether the vine had budded, whether the pome-
granates were in flower. O fatal step ! that this caprice should
plunge me into the midst of the chariots of a prince's train ! 2
THE WOMEN OF THE HAREM.
In mercy, in mercy, O Shulammite, in mercy turn thou, that
we may look on thee.
A DANSEUSE OF THE HAREM.
Why look at the Shulammite, in preference to a Mahanaiim
dance ? * 3
How beautiful are thy feet in thy sandals, O prince's
daughter. The curves of thy thighs are like that of a neck-
lace, the work of a skilled hand. Thy navel is as a round
goblet, full of aromatic wine ; thy belly is as a heap of wheat
encircled with lilies ; thy two breasts are as the two twins of
a gazelle ; thy neck is as a tower of ivory ; thy eyes are as the
fish pools of Heshbon, near the gate Fille de la foide ; thy nose
is erect and proud, like the tower of Lebanon, as seen from
the side of Damascus. Thy head is like Carmel ; thy looks are
like threads of purple ; a king is enchained to their bouctes.
. ' The chorus is astonished at the defiant looks of the peasant girl.
2 She tells of the manner in which she was surprised, during a morn-
ing walk by Solomon's servants.
3 The danseuse is jealous, because of the effect which the beauty of
the peasant girl has produced, and seeks to draw the attention of the
seraglio away from her.
13S THE SONG OF SONGS.
How fair and how pleasant art thou, O my love, in the
moments of embrace ! Thy stature is like unto a palm tree,
and thy breasts unto grapes. I said, I will go up to the palm
tree ; I will cluster its branches. Thy breasts are to me as
clusters of grapes ; thy breath as the odour of apples ; thy
mouth is like the most exquisite wine, which droppeth sweetly,
and moistens the lips of the eager lover!
THE SHULAMMITE, persisting in her isolation.
I am my beloved's, and he is mine, therefore it is that his
desire is towards me.
THE SHULAMMITE, running towards her lover.
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, let us sleep
in the village. Let us arise early to go to the vines ; let us see
whether the vine stocks have budded, whether the shoots have
opened, whether the pomegranates are in flower. There I will
give thee my caresses. The apple of love gave forth its per-
fume ; at our gate are heaped up the most beautiful fruits ; new
and old, I have guarded them for thee, O my beloved ! O I
that thou wert as my brother, who has sucked the breasts of
my mother, so that I could, when I should meet you without,
embrace thee, and not be despised therefor ! I would lead you,
bring you into my mother's house ; there thou wouldst instruct
me in everything, and I would cause thee to drink of spiced
wine, the juice of my pomegranates.
She swoons, and says in a low voice :
His left hand sustains my head, and his right embraces me.
THE SHEPHERD, With the
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, awake not, awake
not my beloved until it pleases her.
THE SONG OF SONGS. 139
The journey from Jerusalem to the village is supposed
to be effected.
THE CHORUS, at the sight of the Shulammite, being carried away
asleep by her lover.
Who is this that issues from the desert, leaning upon her
The lovers are supposed to have reached the village.
He disposes his beloved under the apple tree of her mother's
house, and awakens her.
I awoke thee under the apple tree. Behold the house in
which thy mother conceived thee, in which she gave thee birth.
Set me now as a seal upon thy heart, as a bracelet about
thy arm, for love is strong as death ; passion inflexible as hell.
Its brands are the brands of fire, its arrows the fire of Jehovah.
A SAGE, who appears to draw a moral from the poem.
Great waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot extinguish
it. If a man would seek to purchase love at the sacrifice of his
whole substance, he would only reap confusion.
140 THE SONG OF SONGS.
The scene takes place at Shnlam, in a pavilion at the
bottom of the garden.
ONE OF THE BROTHERS OF THE SHULAMMITE.
They do not know of her abduction and her return.
We have a little sister who has no paps. What shall we do
with our sister the day in which she shall be sought after ?
If she be a wall, let us make her towers of silver ; if she be
a loor, let us make her panels of cedar.
THE SHULAMMITE, intervening abruptly.
I have been a wall ; mv breasts have been my towers ; and
this is why I have been allowed by him l to depart in peace.
Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-Hamon ; he let it out to
keepers, each of whom gave him a thousand pieces for his
portion. Behold, my vineyard is in front of me. 2 A thousand
pieces for thee, Solomon, and two hundred pieces for the keepers
of the vineyard. 3
At the bottom of the pavilion, where he is waiting with his
Thou fair one who dwellest in this garden, companions draw
near, and lend thine ears ; make me to understand thy voice.
Flee, my beloved, and be like unto a roe or to a hind's fawn
upon the mountains of spices.
2 That is to say, I have known by myself how to guard my vineyard.
3 A piece of irony directed against Solomon and her brothers, who have
so badly guarded her.
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