This book is 100% love poetry seemingly designed for performance with a male and female couple, and a chorus of ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ and/or family and friends. There is a lot of the female voice, perhaps the highest percentage-wise of any book in the bible: she’s either speaking or being spoken of.
It’s famous for not having a clear narrative structure. But there are themes that run through, and patterns.
It’s bracketed beginning and end with a sense of a young girl contemplating love. Perhaps it’s all the memory of a girl who’s been though it, provided as advice or learning about love. About being determined to love on your own terms, without shame, deeply, wonderfully and satisfyingly.
When this theme returns in the last chapter it’s stronger: a great song of praise to the burning power of love …and a proto-feminist determination not to be exploited by it.
The chapters between are about an affair: love found & lost, found & lost; then found and kept. The old one two three, each cycle more intense.
There is a metaphor of the girl as a vineyard, that becomes a shared garden of love; then a village, a kingdom in spring. Then back to taking about a vineyard again in the last chapter.
Spring is announced with urgency. They go regularly to check the budding of blossoms. The boy invites her several times to run away to it. Nature is used as an escape, to evoke being wild and free and uninhibited, and then at turns the nurture of mother and family.
The contrast of the tended, walled garden, having it scents fanned out by the wind, escaping to nature; runs through.
Food, scents, ripe fruit, spices.. it’s heavy with this imagery. It’s a rich and heady feast of love!
God isn’t mentioned once. But the love is too perfect for this world. It’s embraced enthusiastically as part of the created order. The cycle of growing and maturing, leaving your parents and joining to another, and the gender equality of it all took me back to Eden, the male and female both being imprints of God’s image.
And by extension to all that is revealed about the love of God from fall to reconcilation. The way that lovers’ obsession becomes a little beautiful universe of their own, is a little picture of God’s obsession with us in the actual universe.
I’m at a tired time of life. This goaded me, almost against my will, to look afresh at the two most important relationships in my life, my God and my own beloved Kelly. It left me dreaming of running away to the spice laden mountains.