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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

REPOST: from 2011 Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon, Sir William Russell-Flint, 1909

It is not generally realised how much the Old Testament's Song of Solomon pervades modern culture. It contains some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written:
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is an ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love you.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee: we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me: they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard have I not kept.
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, wherefeedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon; for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock and feedthy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.
I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard (1) sendeth forth the small thereof.
A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire (2) in the vineyards of Engedi.
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes.
Behold; thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our bed is green.
The beams of our house are cedar and our rafters of fir.
 (1)  Spikenard is an aromatic herb and a member of the ginseng family.
(      (2)  Camphire is an archaic name for henna.
It is important to know that this is just the first chapter and that the 'voice' of the poem switches from person to person. Biblical scholars argue whether or not this was written by Solomon or for him. Here are just a few of the references that have been made:
  •  Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy's 1985 song Kiss Me quotes directly from the Song of Solomon.
  • ·      Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon was instrumental in her winning a Nobel Prize.
  • ·         Chapter 2, verse 15 (not reproduced here) provided the title for Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play Little Foxes.
  • ·         Also the opening line of Chapter 2 provides the name 'Rose of Sharon' used by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • ·         Countless number of (mostly obscure) rock groups have taken their names and song titles from Song of Solomon.
  • ·         One of Kate Bush's songs from The Red Shoes  is Song of Solomon
  • ·         In his poem When I Hear You Sing, Leonard Cohen refers to the Song of Solomon.
  • ·         Many writers and composers through history have taken inspiration from this work. They include Geoffrey Chaucer, JS Bach and up to Steeleye Span and Neil Diamond (in Holly Holy).

I find it amazing how these ancient lines reach out across the millennia and still have resonance today. Be inspired by this poetry and remember that love is better than hate!


Hels said...

I think Sir William Russell-Flint's Song of Solomon 1909 must have been at least influenced by Alma Tadema's The Finding of Moses 1904. I am sighing happily.

Parnassus said...

I will make a completely off-the-wall comment to note how often spikenard has crossed my path. Even when I was studying not-very-advanced Latin, I came across "to nard" as a verb, meaning to anoint with spikenard. I have also found the plant American spikenard in the woods; I believe it is unrelated but its root is supposed to be aromatic; however, I would not consider digging up this rarely encountered plant. It's funny how perfumes and aromatic oils are cited in literature as the epitome of romantic and sensory delight, when in real life they give me a headache, and I often go out of my way to avoid them!

David said...

Hi bazza,
There is also a reference to The Song of Solomon in the Coen brothers' movie, "Miller's Crossing", which is a gangster yarn along the lines of Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest" and "The Glass Key". It comes in the form of some lines spoken by the main character, Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne, who, when his girlfriend starts to get a bit mushy, simply says, "if I'd known we were gonna cast our feelings into words, I'd have memorised The Song of Solomon". I love the movie and particularly such dialogue, which to my ear veritably crackles with the poetry of hard boiled cynicism.
Best Wishes bazza,

bazza said...

Hels: I think Alma-Tadema is back in fashion at last having been seen as largely irrelevant for some time. I always enjoy his work; I like the photographic look (even though it is so much more than that) - slightly less so Russell-Flint's work.

bazza said...

Jim: Interesting! I only know of Spikenard through this poem. I just checked out 'nard' online. It's cited as 'Latin, from Greek, possibly from Sanskrit'. Fascinating.....

bazza said...

David: Millers Crossing was a very early Coen Brothers film. I am a massive fan of their work. If you haven't seen it, I recommend Suburbicon (2017) featuring Matt Damon playing against type, directed by George Clooney from a discarded Coen Brothers script. It has their hallmark!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Back in the Dark Ages, our teacher assigned us the task of writing a poem in the style of the Song of Solomon. It resulted in some very lovely poetry. Mine was even published in a literary magazine.

About twenty years ago... maybe more... who's counting?... our pastor asked me what was my favorite book in the Bible. I think he was momentarily horrified when I said the Song of Solomon, but after we talked about it a bit, he understood.

bazza said...

Susan: I feel that, although it pervades popular culture, the Song of Solomon is relatively under-appreciated. I'm impressed that you were able to produce something in a similar vein!

Sherry Ellis said...

Song of Solomon is a lovely piece of poetry. Hard to believe it was written so long ago!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I'm very ignorant here ... but now enlightened - at least to be more aware and to be ready to learn some new things ... amazing - thanks for reposting - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Sherry: It does seem to be modern in style and attitude. Really amazing!

bazza said...

Hilary: You are always ready to embrace new things Hilary; it's to your credit!