A whole chapter of praise by the male voice for the loveliness of his beloved. In places it reads pretty hilarious to us because it’s not visual praise. It’s a much parodied part of the book.
If you visualise her neck a stone tower of David, covered with the shields of warriors, and her teeth looking like shorn sheep, it’s ridiculous.
But equally, when did you last hear a modern love song or more to the point watch a love song video that tried to find metaphors for the inherent qualities of a girl, such as her strength and power? We laugh because it’s so unfamiliar for male praise for desirable women not being all about the gaze. The joke’s on us, in a way.
Some cultures emphasise coquettish pursuit and resistance, and have trouble with romantic imagination moving beyond that, fun as it can be.
This chapter is very sexy in a totally exotic middle eastern way, all pomegranates and henna, lions and leopards, scents, and nature (oh my!). But it idealises a strong meeting of equals, both there by choice and equal desire.
There is something mutual about the objectification and ownership of each other here that is super erotic but doesn’t need to play with gender superiority or inferiority to get there.
Their desire for each other delights in their gender difference, but is also strongly about their shared and equal humanness. He keeps returning to the phrase ‘my sister, my bride’.
It takes me back to that first creation story, the female variant of mankind is 100% God’s image, and stands before God equal with the male. So many cultures still struggle with that, yet here it is back when the world was supposed to be less woke.
Taken as a whole the wisdom literature has many moments that extend this equality relationship ideal beyond the burning blaze of first love.
In Ecclesiastes there is the “two is better than one” section, and proverbs praises a partner who is a great organiser and manager. Psalm 68 has this:
The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng…
… Except perhaps inside most Anglican churches in my city, which ban women from preaching!
The girl’s voice comes in at the end in response to him at the point where he compares her many delights to a closed garden inside a wall. She says essentially, no wall to you babe, come on in!
She then asks the North and the South winds to blow like the holy spirit, to spread her scent out from her garden, everywhere.
May it be so!