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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Poetics, Forms, Imagery.

1.

As noted at SONG A.2, the Song is composed of monologues (or soliloquies), dialogues, and choruses. These are sometimes combined into composite poems ( 5:2–6:2; and see Falk 1982 ). A special poetic genre is the wasf (from Arabic: description). In this type of song the lover's body, be it a male's ( 5:10–16 ) or a female's ( 4:1–7 with a partial parallel in 6:3–7; 7:1–7 MT), is referred to by means of a series of delightful and sensuous images and in a certain order: from head to toe in chs. 4 and 5 , and from toe to head in ch. 7 . Pope (1977 ) cites many examples of wasf-type parallels from Arab and other sources.

2.

The imagery of the Song draws on many areas of human experience: natural phenomena, zoology, botany, agriculture, art, trade, precious materials, architecture, and much more. It appeals to all senses, even floods them. A recurrent, deceptively simple simile/metaphor, ‘your eyes are doves’ ( 1:15; 4:1 ) invokes a synesthetic response of sight, sound, and emotive content—as does the more explicit elaboration of this metaphor in 5:12 , ‘His eyes are like doves’. Or the praise, ‘your breasts are like young twin gazelles’ ( 4:5; 7:4 ), that signifies colour, movement, size, texture, shape, perhaps smell—all of these, or at least several. Translations of the Song that attempt to convey this sensuous imagery, together with the rhythm and spirit of its poetry, are no simple tasks. Two such recent translations, by Falk (1982 ) and by Bloch and Bloch (1995 ), are recommended for their poetic quality.

3.

Perhaps the most astounding and complex are metaphors relating to nature, especially as it reawakens in springtime. The image of the orchard, or garden, will serve as an example. On the first level, much of the action in the Song—lovers meeting, lovers departing, lovers talking—happens outdoors. The garden or orchard, then, is the natural backdrop, and represents realism as well as an optimistic setting for love meetings. On the second level, gardens and orchards—especially in spring—symbolize an option of love's flowering and growth. On the indexical level, their flowering and fruitfulness are akin to sexuality in the human world. Ultimately, then, the garden/orchard are metaphorized into human sexuality (fourth level). And finally, by way of specification, the garden/orchard stand for female sexuality, especially female erogenous zones: in other words, on the fifth level of meaning (or signification) female sexuality is metaphorized into a garden/orchard. This symbol/image/indexical notion/metaphor is sensuously rich: it appeals to sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. The richness is especially apparent when a perfume garden is invoked, as in the central seduction scene of 4:9–5:1 . There, by naming plants and gardens and foodstuff and aromatics, a male lover manages to talk his female lover into having sexual relations—without ever speaking directly. ‘They’ are in a physical garden (outside), they are a garden, love is a garden, the woman is a garden, her anatomy is a perfumed garden. And when the male lover receives the woman's permission to enter ‘his garden’ and eat its fruit ( 4:16 ; cf., more articulately, 7:13–14 ), it is quite obvious what transpires through the use of garden/orchard/aromatics imagery.

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