Song of Solomon 4

CHAPTER IV

The bridegroom's description of his bride, her person, her

accomplishments, her chastity, and her general excellence,

1-16.

NOTES ON CHAP. IV

Verse 1. Thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks] Perhaps this

refers rather to a sort of veil worn by many of the Eastern women,

but especially in Egypt. It is a species of black cloth made of

the hair of some animal, probably the black goat; is suspended

from the head by silken cords, one of which comes from the crown

of the head, down the forehead, to the upper part of the nose,

just under the eyes, at which place the veil begins; for the

forehead and the eyes are uncovered, except the cord above

mentioned, which is ornamented with gold, silver, and precious

stones, according to the circumstances of the wearer. This partial

veil not only covers all the face, the eyes and forehead excepted,

but the neck also, and hangs loosely down over the bosom. One of

them, lately brought from Egypt, now lies before me.

But the clause, within thy locks, mibbaad

letsammathech, is not well translated, either by ourselves or by

the versions. Jerome's translation is an indication of the

meaning: Absque eo quod intrinsecus latet; without that, or

independently of that, which lies hidden within. The Septuagint,

Syriac, and Arabic have, besides thy silence. Calmet contends

that none of these gives the true meaning, and that the word

tsemath has not the meaning of hair or locks wherever it occurs,

and has quite a different meaning in Isa 47:2. St. Jerome on this

place expresses himself thus: Nolentibus qui interpretati sunt

transferre nomen quod in Sancta Scriptura sonat turpitudinem.-Ergo

tsammathech, quod Aquila posuit, verenda mulieris

appellanatur cujus etymologia apud eos sonat sitiens tuus.

Calmet translates: Vous etes toute belle, won amie; vous etes

toute belle: vos yeux sont des yeux de colombe; sans ce que la

pudeur et la modestie tiennent cache. I leave the translation of

these to the learned reader. See another description under

So 4:7.

As a flock of goats] Because it was black and sleek, as the hair

of the goats of Arabia and Palestine is known to be; which, with

its fine undulation, is supposed to bear some resemblance to the

curls or plaits of a woman's tresses. The mountains of Gilead

were beyond Jordan, on the frontiers of Arabia Deserta.

Verse 2. Thy teeth are like a flock] This comparison appears to

be founded on the evenness, neatness, and whiteness of the newly

shorn and newly washed sheep.

Verse 3. Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet] Both lips and

cheeks were ruddy; sicut fragmen mali punici.-VULGATE. Like the

section of a pomegranate, that side cut off on which is the finest

blush. This is a good and apt metaphor. But the inside may be

referred to, as it is finely streaked with red and white melting

into each other. She had beautiful hair, beautiful eyes, beautiful

cheeks and lips, and a most pleasing and dulcet voice.

Within thy locks.] See on So 4:1, and on So 4:7.

Verse 4. Thy neck is like the tower of David] It is certain that

bucklers were frequently hung about towers, both for their

ornaments, and to have them at hand when their use was required;

see Eze 27:10. But the allusion here may be to those

pillars which are often seen in armouries on which weapons of

various kinds are hung, formed into a great variety of shapes and

very splendid. Whoever has seen the armoury in the tower of

London, or such like places, has most probably seen something very

similar to that of which the poet speaks.

Verse 5. Thy two breasts are like two young roes] I have met

with many attempts to support this similitude, or rather to show

that there is a similitude; but I judge them unworthy of citation.

The poet speaks the language of nature; and in a case of this

kind, where the impassioned lover attempts to describe the

different perfections of his bride, language often fails him, and

his comparisons and similitudes are often without strict

correctness. In love songs we have heard ladies' necks compared to

that of the swan, not only for its whiteness, but also for its

length! The description here shows more of nature than of art,

which I consider a high recommendation.

Feed among the lilies.] It may be the nipples especially, which

the poet compares to the two young roes; and the lilies may refer

to the whiteness of the breasts themselves.

Verse 6. Until the day break] Until the morning breeze. See

So 2:17.

The shadows flee away] Till the sun sets.

Mountain of myrrh] Probably the same as the mountains of Bether,

So 2:17. Mountains where the trees grew from which

myrrh and incense were extracted.

Verse 7. Thou art all fair-there is no spot in thee.] "My

beloved, every part of thee is beautiful; thou hast not a single

defect."

The description given of the beauties of Daphne, by OVID, Metam.

lib. i. ver. 497, has some similarity to the above verses:-

Spectat inornatos collo pendere capillos.

Et, quid si comantur? ait. Videt igne micantes

Sideribus similes oculos; videt oscula, quae non

Est vidisse satis. Laudat digitosque, manusque,

Brachiaque, et nudos media plus parte lacertos.

Si qua latent meliora putat.

Her well-turn'd neck he view'd, (her neck was bare,)

And on her shoulders her disheveled hair.

O, were it comb'd, said he, with what a grace

Would every waving curl become her face!

He view'd her eyes, like heavenly lamps that shone,

He view'd her lips, too sweet to view alone;

Her taper fingers, and her panting breast.

He praises all he sees; and, for the rest,

Believes the beauties yet unseen the best.

DRYDEN.

Jayadeva describes the beauty of Radha in nearly the same

imagery: "Thy lips, O thou most beautiful among women, are a

bandhujiva flower; the lustre of the madhuca beams upon thy

cheek; thine eye outshines the blue lotos; thy nose is a bud

of the tila; the cunda blossom yields to thy teeth. Surely thou

descendedst from heaven, O slender damsel! attended by a company

of youthful goddesses; and all their beauties are collected in

thee." See these poems, and the short notes at the end.

The same poet has a parallel thought to that in So 4:5, "Thy

two breasts," &c. The companions of Radha thus address her: "Ask

those two round hillocks which receive pure dew drops from the

garland playing on thy neck, and the buds on whose tops start

aloft with the thought of thy beloved."

Verse 8. My spouse.] The callah which we translate spouse,

seems to have a peculiar meaning. Mr. Harmer thinks the Jewish

princess is intended by it; and this seems to receive confirmation

from the bridegroom calling her sister, So 4:9, that is, one of

the same stock and country; and thus different from the Egyptian

bride.

Mr. Harmer's opinion is very probable, that TWO queens are

mentioned in this song: one Pharaoh's daughter, the other a

Jewess. See his outlines. But I contend for no system relative to

this song.

Look from the top of Amana, &c.] Solomon, says Calmet, by an

admirable poetic fiction, represents his beloved as a mountain

nymph, wholly occupied in hunting the lion and the leopard on the

mountains of Lebanon, Amana, Shenir, and Hermon. As a bold and

undisciplined virgin, who is unwilling to leave her wild and rural

retreats, he invites her to come from those hills; and promises to

deck her with a crown and to make her his bride. Thus the poets

represent their goddess Diana, and even Venus herself:-

Per juga, per sylvas, dumosaque saxa vagatur

Nuda genu, vestem ritu succincta Dianae;

Hortaturque canes; tutaeque animalia praedae,

Aut pronos lepores, aut celsum in cornua cervum,

Aut agitat damas: at fortibus abstinet apris.

MET. lib. x., ver. 535.

Now buskin'd like the virgin huntress goes

Through woods, and pathless wilds, and mountain snows.

With her own tuneful voice she joys to cheer

The panting hounds that chase the flying deer.

She runs the labyrinth of the fearful hares,

But fearless beasts and dangerous prey forbears.

Mount Libanus separates Phoenicia from Syria. Amanus is between

Syria and Silicia. Shenir and Hermon are beyond Jordan, to the

south of Damascus and Mount Libanus, and northward of the

mountains of Gilead. Hermon and Shenir are but different parts of

the same chain of mountains which separates Trachonitis, or the

country of Manasses, from Arabia Deserta. For these places, see

2Ki 5:12, and De 3:9, where they are probably meant.

Verse 9. Thou hast ravished my heart] libbabtini, "Thou

hast hearted me," i.e., taken away my heart; as we say, "He has

barked the tree," i.e., he has stripped it of its bark; "He has

fleeced the flock," i.e., deprived them of their wool.

With one of thine eyes] beachad meeynayich. This

has been thought a harsh expression, and various emendations have

been sought. The Masoretes have put beachath, "at once," in

the margin; and this is confirmed by twenty of Kennicott's MSS.

but De Rossi does not notice it. It is scarcely necessary; the

sense to me is clear and good without it. "Even one of thine eyes,

or one glance of thine eyes, has been sufficient to deprive me of

all power; it has completely overcome me;" for glance may be

understood, and such forms of speech are common in all languages,

when speaking on such subjects. If even taken literally, the sense

is good; for the poet may refer to a side glance, shot in passing

by or turning away, where only one eye could be seen. I think

this a better sense than that which is obtained from the Masoretic

emendation.

With one chain of thy neck] Probably referring to the play of

the cervical muscles, rather than to necklaces, or ringlets of

hair.

Verse 10. How much better is thy love] dodayich; Hebrew.

μαστοισου; Septuagint. Ubera tua; Vulgate. "Thy breasts." And

so all the versions, except the Chaldee.

Smell of thine ointments] Perfumes.

Verse 11. Thy lips-drop as the honey-comb] Thy words are as

delicious to my heart as the first droppings of the honey-comb are

to the palate.

Honey and milk are under thy tongue] Eloquence and persuasive

speech were compared among the ancients to honey and milk.

Thus Homer, Iliad, lib. i., ver. 247:-

τοισιδενεστωρ

ηδυεπηςανορουσελιγυςπυλιωναγορητης

τουκαιαπογλωσσηςμελιτοςγλυκιωνρεεναυδη

Experienced Nestor, in persuasion skill'd,

Words sweet as honey from his lips distill'd.

But the figure is common to all writers and languages. A similar

expression will be seen in the Gitagovinda.

Verse 12. A garden enclosed-a spring shut up, a fountain

sealed.] Different expressions to point out the fidelity of the

bride, or of the Jewish queen. See the outlines. She is unsullied,

a chaste, pure virgin. None has ever entered into this garden;

none has yet tasted of this spring; the seal of this fountain

has never been broken. Among the Athenians, the interior part of

the house, called the women's apartment, was not only locked but

sealed; so Aristophan., Thesmoph. ver. 422:-

ειταδιατουτονταιςγυναικωνιτισιν

σφραγιδαςεμβαλλουσινηδηκαιμοχλους

And on this account, to the women's apartment

They place seals as well as bolts.

And seal, as applicable to chaste conduct, is a phrase well known

to the Greeks. AEschylus, in the Agamemnon, praises a woman,

σημαντηριονουδενδιαφθειρασαν, who had not violated her seal

of conjugal faith. But Nonnus, lib. ii., uses the form of speech

exactly as Solomon does with reference to a pure virgin; he says,

αψαυστονεηςσφρηγιδακορειης; "She had preserved the seal of

her virginity untouched." All this is plain; but how many will

make metaphors out of metaphors!

Verse 13. Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates] This seems

to refer to the fecundity of the bride or Jewish queen; to the

former it would be a prediction; to the latter, a statement of

what had already taken place. The word pardes, which we

translate an orchard, is the same which has given birth to our

paradise, a garden of pleasure. The other expressions, in this

and the following verse, seem to refer wholly to matters of a

connubial nature.

Verse 15. A fountain of gardens] Perhaps gannim,

"gardens," was originally chaiyim, "lives," a living

fountain, a continual spring. See Houbigant. But this is

expressed afterwards; though there would be nothing improper in

saying, "a living fountain, a well of living waters, and streams

from Mount Lebanon." A fountain of gardens may mean one so

abundant as to be sufficient to supply many gardens, to water many

plots of ground, an exuberant fountain. This is the allusion; the

reference is plain enough.

Verse 16. Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south] It is

granted that the south wind in Palestine, in the summer, is

extremely hot and troublesome; therefore, another interpretation

of this passage has been proposed by Mr. Harmer; who thinks

boi, which we render come, signifies enter into thy

repositories; and, therefore, supposes the true interpretation

of the words to be as follows: "Arise, thou north wind, (and

retire, thou south,) blow upon my garden; let the spices thereof

flow forth, that my beloved may come into his garden, invited by

the coolness and fragrancy of the air, and may eat his pleasant

fruits; for, if the south wind blow, the excessive heat will

forbid his taking the air, and oblige him to shut close the doors

and windows of his apartments." Others think that he wishes the

winds from all directions to carry throughout the land the fume

of his spices, virtue, and perfections.

Let my beloved come into his garden] This is the invitation of

the bride: and if we look not for far-fetched meanings, the sense

is sufficiently evident. But commentators on this song sometimes

take a literal sense where the metaphor is evident; at other times

they build an allegory upon a metaphor. The Gitagovinda has an

elegant passage similar to this. See the place, Part VII.,

beginning with Enter, sweet Radha.

The whole of this chapter is considered to be unconnected with

any particular time of the marriage ceremonies.

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