Leonard Withington.

Solomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts online

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that cool season, when the weather would neither be
too hot nor too cold, he hears her distant voice in the
listening ear of affection : " Rise up, my love, <fec. For
lo ! the winter is past," <fec. Something like this might
be its first application.

But seasons of desertion come to the Christian, sea-
sons of decline to the Church, — a wintry state, when
iniquity abounds, and the love of many waxes cold.
A pious instinct almost would lead them to adopt this
language while watching and finding the first symp-
toms of returning life : " Rise up, my love, my fair
one," <fec.

11 P


CHAP. 11. 14-17.

O my Dove, let me hear thy voice, though in the recesses
of the rock, — though thou art up the deepest ledges ; let me
see thy form ; let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice,
and thy form is beautiful. Come, my love, let us go and take
the foxes ; the little foxes that spoil the vineyard, for our vine-
yard is yet in bloom. My beloved is mine and I am his, while
he feeds among the lilies, — i. e. stays in the country, acting
the shepherd in its beautiful scenes. From the cool of the
morning until the shadows are stretched upon the plain, stay,
my love, stay, and be like a hart or a roe on our secluded

Perhaps the most difficult passage in this chapter is
the 15th verse. What does it mean historically, and
what does it mean spiritually ? The knowing of the
one is needful to the knowing of the other. I under-
stand it historically as a beautiful picture of the sports
and employments of the care-worn king, when he re-
tired for relaxation to the rural world. The wisest
men in such hours are ever most like children. It is
said of "Webster that he was a perfect boy in his hours
of relaxation. I suppose it was so with Solomon.
Cicero tells us of the Roman heroes who loved to re-
tire to Cuma and gather shells on the shore. These
words, then, are an expression of these rural employ-
ments, by which the bride allures her husband to the
mountains and the vineyards. Its covered meaning is


seen on the veil. It signifies, first, that the spirit of
the higher type of religion is a free spirit ; love conse-
crates as well as lightens everything. Secondly, that it
is as devout in its recreations as its duties. " Whether
therefore ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to
the glory of Grod." (1 Cor. x. 31.) Thirdly, that every
condition of life offers it a sphere, a scope for culti-
vation, — the rural retirement as well as the populous
mart. As a flower bears its fragrance to whatever vase
the owner may remove it, so the perfected soul bears
its influence to every scene it occupies. And lastly,
that even its bounding recreations look towards utility,
either to fit the person for future toil, or to make
amusement itself conducive to some profitable end.
" Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the
vines.^^ The end is useful, though the employment is

If any one smiles, and says this last inference is wire-
drawn, let him consider the historical application of
the words and the analogy.

CHAP. III. 1-11.

On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves ;
I sought him, but I found him not. I will arise, I will go
round the city ; I will seek him whom I love in the squares
and in the streets. I sought him, but I did not find him. The
keepers of the city met me. Have you seen, said I, the One


whom my soul loveth ? I scarce passed them, when I found
him whom my soul loveth. I grasped him, I would not let
him go, until I brought him to my mother's house, into her
chamber who bore me; and I charge you, O daughters of
Jesusalem, by the roes and gazelles of the field, that you dis-
turb not his repose, nor call him back until he chooses.

Jil J^ Jfe lis, *te

^ 'gfp ^ T^ yff

Who is this that ascends from the wilderness like a column
of smoke, like the incense of myrrh and Lebanon, with all
the aromatics of the caravans. Behold the palanquin of Sol-
omon ; surrounded by sixty guardsmen, brave men of Israel,
all grasping the sword, all expert in war ; each one with his
sword on his thigh, on account of terrors of the night. King
Solomon made himself a palanquin ; wood of Lebanon, col-
umns of silver, a golden seat, a purple cushion, paved by a
Love better than that of the daughters of Jerusalem. Go,
ye nymphs of Sion, go and see your king, wearing the wreath
which his [new rural] mother wove for him, in the day of
his espousals [to her daughter] ; in the day of his gladness
of heart.

Several things are here to be noticed. First, the
rapid transitions ; the Song, like the bridegroom which
is its subject, goes so rapidly, leaping from hill to hill,
that it is almost impossible to preserve the train of
thought in a mere translation. We are to suppose the
espoused one to project herself into the city, into the
country, according to the varying tenor of her passion.
By night in the country she thinks of her absent one.
" When away from you," she seems to say, " on my


bed my thoughts were fixed upon you." She then
imagines herself in the city, and relates the incidents
in verses third and fourth. There is no need of sup-
posing it a dream, — it may be accounted for by the
vivacity of Eastern thought. The striking exclama-
tion in the sixth verse has been attributed to a cho-
rus. There is no need of introducing a chorus ; it
hardly comports with Eastern simplicity. The excla-
mation may be accounted for by the amazing power
of an excited mind to project itself into any pleasing
or painful situation. She is suddenly rapt into a con-
dition to behold the spectacle, and asks the question,
"Who is this coming from the wilderness?" &c. Sec-
ondly, we must consider the opposition between the
rustic bride and the polished daughters of Jerusalem ;
the rivalry is everywhere kept up, and the jealousy
between them is obvious, and an important item in
interpreting the book. Thirdly, I would remark that
no chorus is necessary ; all those passages may be ac-
counted for by the amazing activity of the Eastern
mind. Their very thoughts were dramatic. The ques-
tions which have been put into the mouth of a cho-
rus, I consider as the suppositions of an excited pas-
sion, — as the questions which an inflamed heart may
easily ask itself. " The mother of Sisera looked out
at a window and cried tlirough the lattice, Why is
his chariot so long in coming ? Why tarry the wheels
of his chariots ? Her wise ladies answered her, yea.


she returned answer to herself." (Judges v. 28, 29.)
Formal critics often go too far. Paul has something of
the dialogue in his didactic epistles, and Horace, also,
in his odes and satires ; but it has always appeared
to me better to regard these dialogues as mental rather
than real. In the famous one in Horace between
the poet and Lydia (Ode IX. Lib. III.), it was an
imaginary Lydia that spoke to him. Passion flies on
fiery wings, and scorns the formalities of place or per-
son. Then the Hebrews had hardly recovered from
the hieroglyphic state, and to a primitive people with
an infant language rapid transitions are almost neces-
sary. Fourthly, it is remarkable that the bride, though
earnestly seeking, does not find her mate by seeking;
it is always good luck. This I consider as an impor-
tant element in the higher application. Fifthly, let
the reader remark the great difficulty in supplying the
interstitial ideas. This is the Gordian knot in explain-
ing allegorical, and indeed all prophetic poetry. I am
not so sure I am right in each instance, as I am of
the rectitude of the general principle. And, lastly,
remark that Solomon was a peaceful king ; he uses
soldiers on account of the terrors of the night (i. e. to
keep safe from the Arabs of the wilderness). "Then
he said unto them. When I sent you with purse, and
scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything ? And they said.
Nothing. Then said he unto them. But now he that
hath a purse let him take it, and likewise his scrip ;


and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment
and buy one." (Luke xxii. 35, 36.)

Now the historical analogy will conduct us to the
spiritual meaning. First, that we all begin religion
as a duty in the way of conflict and self-denial. Every
young Christian has a host of unconquered lusts which
war against the soul. The conflict is a severe one, and
often discouraging ; he makes great efforts, and some-
times these efforts are unsuccessful, because ill-direct-
ed. But let him remember the better state. The
bride found her spouse not directly by seeking, though
the seeking was by no means in vain. She sought him,
but she found him not. She went round the city ; she
asked the watchmen, but she found him not. " But I
scarce passed them, — or, I had passed but a little way
from them, — when I found him. I grasped him ; I
would not let him go." Every Christian during the
period of conflict should be reminded of the second pe-
riod, the period of spontaneity. It comes rushing upon
us in an hour when we think not, just as, in a contrary
way, Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, when he had
long paltered with the evil principle. It is ours to toil
and pray and struggle, and prepare the heart for the
entrance of the celestial guest. Sooner or later this
period of spontaneity will come to most Christians.
We cannot bring it on directly ; it must come to us ;
we cannot go to it. But bearing the cross is our pre-
paratory discipline. Let us use an illustration. Sup-


pose a man to be watching for the morning ; he must
wake before daybreak ; he must unclose his shutters
and Hft his curtains ; and though he can do nothing to
hasten the sunrise, yet he must prepare his house to
receive the glorious beams when they come rushing
into his chamber. The free state, the victory, is the
happy goal to which all exertion tends.

There are other significations in this passage. But
we give only specimens.

CHAP. IV. Totum.

Behold, thou art fair, my love, behold, thou art very fair ;
thine eyes, as they peep behind thy veil, look the dove. Thine
hair is like that of the goats which hang over the clefts of
Mount Gilead. Thy teeth are white as the flock of newly-
sheared sheep, which go up from the washing ; each having
twins, — none of them barren. Thy lips are threads of scarlet,
thine accents beautiful ; thy cheek, half seen through thy veil,
is like a fragment of citron. Like the tower of David, built
for a magazine with a thousand shields suspended, — the buck-
lers of heroes, — such is thy neck. Thy two breasts are like
two hinds feeding in a field of lilies. When the day declines,
and the shadows are extended, I will go to these hills of
myrrh, — to those protuberances of frankincense. Thou art
all beautiful, my love, — there is not a spot in thee.

Up, up from Lebanon ; with me, with me, come from the
head of Amana, my spouse, from the head of Sliinar and Her-
mon, from the cottages of Araoth, from the hills of Nemairim.


O my sister, my spouse, — thou hast subdued my soul with one
glance of thine eye, — with one look at thy beaded neck. How
beautiful thy bosom, my sister, my spouse ! thy bosom is better
than wine, and thy savor sweeter than all other spices. Thy
lips ever distil, — honey and milk are under thy tongue, and
the smell of thy garments is hke a breeze from Lebanon. — Yet,
with all her attractions, my spouse is chaste ; she is a garden
enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

Thy fair form is a Paradise of citrons, with other celestial
fruit, the cypress, the frankincense, the nard, the crocus, the
reed, the cinnamon, with all the groves of Lebanon ; the myrrh,
the aloes, with all the best spices. Thou art a fountain en-
closed ; a spring of living water flowing from Lebanon. —
Wake, north wind ; come, thou south ; blow upon my garden,
that the spices may spring ; that my beloved may come into
his garden and enjoy his nobler fruits.

CHAP, v., 1st verse.

I come into my garden, my sister, my spouse ; I crop the
myrrh with spices. I eat the comb with the honey ; I drink
the wine with my milk. I call my friends to share the ban-
quet. Eat, O friends ! drink to satiety, my companions in
love !

The first thing noticeable here is, how the spiritual
meaning peeps througli the allegorical veil ; and this
seems to me a sufficient answer to Dr. Noyes and
others, who say there is no indication of an under-
meaning through the whole poem. But one of the


constant indications of the sublimer purpose is a train
of comparisons and hyperboles too strong for the lower
purpose to which they are first applied. Thus Solomon,
in the seventy-second Psalm, is said " to have dominion
from sea to sea, and his kingdom shall last as long as the
moon endure th." Now this is so false as to Solomon,
and so true as applied to Christ, that the conclusion is
inevitable ; we must so apply it, and vindicate the truth
of the Divine declaration. It is the very way in which
Peter reasons in his application of the sixteenth Psalm
in his important discourse in the second chapter of
Acts. Let us ask, then, who this nymph must be,
whose neck is like the tower of David, builded for an
armory whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all
the shields of mighty men. To apply all this finally
and entirely to a little Arab girl, would surpass all
bounds of Oriental extravagance. Certainly this mag-
nificent imagery was intended to lead the mind to a
meaning which would better justify it. And then it
seems inconsistent with the rural comparisons con-
nected with it. A simple girl could not be at once like
goats, like kids, like sheep, like a piece of citron, and
like a tower hung round with shields. We allow the
remoteness of Eastern comparisons ; they are not nice
and squared like those of Coleridge. But the human
mind in all ages is essentially consistent ; it always
seeks real similitudes, and is always governed by a
law. If we reflect that the Church is often a temple,


a fortress, a city, an edifice built for beauty and pro-
tection, we cannot wonder that Solomon himself, with
his future kingdom dimly gleaming through his con-
tested act, should slide from the incidental to the gen-
eral, from the low to the sublime ; and still less can
we wonder that the Holy Spirit should guide his lips
to its great design. We conclude, therefore, with some
confidence, that the variety and the excess of these com-
parisons were intended (certainly by the deeper author)
as indications of the allegorical meaning.

Our translation is in some cases disputable, and in
some cases free. A translator has two objects ; first,
to preserve the literal meaning as far as possible, and,
secondly, to preserve the poetic shading of the expres-
sion and thought ; and sometimes one must be sacri-
ficed to the other. Thus, when we say that " thine
hair is like that of the goats which hang over the clefts
of Mount Gilead," it is true hanging' over is not the
simplest rendering of the verb \^^^ ; but my object was
to get the parallel image, — the same picture which the
poet designed. I was thinking of Virgil's " pendere
procul de rupe." If I have lost the literal idea, I hope
I have kept the spirit. The banquet, too, literally speak-
ing, would be sickening ; it only becomes beautiful by
the allegory.

The spiritual instruction, admitting the allegory, lies
on the surface. The mixture of beauty and coercion is
found in the Gospel both objectively and subjectively


considered, and the strength of the coercion comes from
the beauty. As Plato says, ovre jap avTo<; jSta ttu-
o-^et, €L TL irao-^eu • /3/a jap Ep(DTO<i ov^ aTnerav *
ovje iroiwv Trocel • Tra? yap i/ccov Epcori irav VTrrjpeTel.^
It may be concluded, also, that the beauty of the Church
(i. e. regenerated hearts) is an imparted beauty. " I
clothed thee with broidered work, and shod thee with
badgers' skins, and I girded thee about with fine linen,
and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee with or-
naments, and I put bracelets upon thine hands, and a
chain upon thy neck. And I put a jewel upon thy fore-
head, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown
upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold
and silver ; and thy raiment was of fine linen and silk
and broidered work : thou didst eat fine flour and honey
and oil ; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and didst
prosper into a kingdom. And thy renown went forth
among the heathen for thy beauty : for it was perfect
through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saitli
the Lord." (Ezekiel xvi. 10-14.) Such, then, is the
beauty of the mystic bride, like that of a sheet of water,
reflecting from its glassy bosom the splendors of the sky.
Here it occurs to say one word on imputed righteous-
ness, — that everlasting trap for idle controversy, that
everlasting source of consolation to the simple Chris-
tian. Every one, before he raises a dispute in the
Church on this point, should ask himself what is the

* Plato's Symposium, CXIX. C.


real issue between those tliat affirm and those that
deny. Both parties agree that there is no literal trans-
fer of our sins to Christ, or Christ's obedience to us.
But all Christians pant after perfection, — a perfection
never found on earth. When Dr. Watts says, —

" And lest the shadow of a spot
Should on my soul be found,
He took the robe my Saviour wrought
And cast it all around, —

lie means, probably, these things : 1st, that salvation
is of grace, — all grace from its commencement to its
completion ; 2d, that our justification is as complete as
would be that of a perfect man ; 3d, that grace in the
heart tends to individual perfection ; and, lastly, that
all the deformities of our nature are lost in the subse-
quent beauty. This he chooses to express in complex
metaphor, because the language is addressed to the heart.
But how supremely silly to put this language into a cru-
cible, and analyze it until it has lost its meaning !

The meaning and application of the sixteenth verse
are so exceedingly obvious, that it hardly needs a com-
ment. It is one of those cases where the allegorical
meaning is more obvious than the literal one. An in-
visible power calls forth the odors and the fruits. What
is it ? " The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in
thy heart."

The first verse of the fifth chapter suggests the free-
ness of Christ's love for his people, and the rich pro-


visions of his grace. Here is a cup not intoxicating,
and we cannot drink too deep. The secret of persever-
ance in religion is to make our religion our dplight.
" Where your treasure is, your heart will be also." St.
Paul has the prose parallel to this verse : " He that
spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us
all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all
things ? " (Rom. viii. 32.)

CHAP. V. 2-8.


I was in a drowse, with a sleeping eye but a watchful heart.
I seemed to hear the voice of my beloved, saying to me, Open
to me, my sister, my Love, my dove, my spotless One ; for my
head is damp with the dew and my locks with the drops of
the night. I have put off my robe ; why should I put it on
again ? I have washed my feet ; why should I defile them ?

My beloved put his hand through the window ; my heart
fluttered for him. I rose to open to him ; my hands dropped
myiTh, and my fingers sweet-smelling myrrh, on the handle
of the bar. I opened to my Beloved, but my Beloved had
turned his back, — he was gone.

I sunk at the thought ; I sought him, but I could not find
him. I called, but he gave me no answer. Nay, the watch
of the city found me. They struck, they wounded me, they
tore off my mantle, even the sentinels at the gates. But I
adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you see my loved
One, teU him I still languish with love. Notwithstanding the
persecutions from his people, my heart is still fixed on him.


This scene, perhaps, is a sort of imagination of the
bride, by which she pictures to her fancy a call from
her spouse, which she neglects ; and, regretting that he
is gone when she awoke to seek him, she imagines
herself going to the city to find him. She had really
been there before, and had experienced the jealousy
and opposition of his people. She now reconstructs
the scene to her own mind. It is very manifest to
my mind, that there is a real history behind all this
poetic description. We know from the record, that
Solomon made affinity with some of these rural tribes.
It is very natural that such a marriage should excite
great attention at his own home, especially among the
daughters of Jerusalem. They sneer at her beauty,
and contend that, though a wife, she is not a legiti-
mate disciple ; she contends that in the ardor of her
love she does not yield to them. We are informed
that in the first preaching of the Gospel the chief
persecutions were stirred up by the Jews. (See Acts
xvii. 5-9, and other places.) Even the better Jews,
the converts to Christianity, were an exceedingly uncon-
formable people. They listened to Stephen until he
spake of going to the Gentiles, and then they drowned
his voice in their tumultuous cries ; and when Paul
addressed them (Acts xxiii.), and touched on the
same delicate point (ver. 21), " they then lifted up
their voices and said. Away with such a fellow from
the earth ; for it is not fit that he should live." We


see, then, in this picture, the beginnings of the same
spirit; and the bride, who bears all meekly for her
spouse, prefigures the superior love and purity which
was found at first in the Gentile Church.

I have heard the words in verses 2-6 beautifully
applied, and I think with as much correctness as
beauty, to the Christian, or the Church, losing for a
time a sense of a Saviour's presence, and not watching
his return with the vigilance which is required. I was
remiss, I slumbered ; I sought negligently, I prayed
feebly, and the sweet sense of my Saviour's presence
was gone from me. He waits to be gracious ; I was
unwilling ; he stood at the door of my heart until
his head was damp with the dew, and his locks filled
with the drops of the night. What an affecting pic-
ture ! and surely the whole round of poetry, ancient
or modern, does not present a more beautiful periph-
rasis than calling the dew the "drops of the night."
The proneness in a sluggish heart to idle excuses is
here delineated. "■ I have put off my robe," &c.

Perhaps it may be asked. What is meant by the ex-
pression in the fifth verse, "My hands dropped myrrh.''
&c. ? Is it a general expression of beauty and excel-
lence, or is it something more specific ? And how
is it appropriate to the author's design that such splen-
did imagery should adorn the act, that, when the
bride is represented as remiss and sleeping, her fingers
should drop incense at the very hour when she opens


the door in vain? There is danger of refinement here,
I allow. But the object seems to express the senti-
ment. Though sleeping, though negligent, though I
am conscious of much unworthiness and imperfection,
yet I have something left ; all is not gone ; and when
I awake to duty and prepare to receive my Lord, I
am still acceptable and accepted ; my hands dropped
myrrh, &c. on the latch of the lock I was unloosing,
— the savor of real piety remained.

CHAP. V. 9 - 16.
[SoLOMiTis seems to hear the daughters of Jerusalem speahT^

"What is thy Beloved more than others, that thou so chargest
us, thou beauty?

SoLOMiTis answers.

My beloved is white and ruddy ; he bears the banner over
all the host. His head is refined gold ; his locks are a palm-
bough, black as those of a raven ; his eyes are those of a
dove, perching by the canals of water, washed in milk. His
cheek is a bed of spices, a circle of aromatics; his lips are
lilies dropping myrrh and balm ; his hand is like the gold
of a ring, encircled with gems from Tarshish ; his breast is
ivory work broidered with sapphires. His legs are pillars of
marble, resting on polished stone ; Ms form is like Leba-
non, like the noblest of its cedars. His neck is delightful,
and his whole person formed for desire. Such is my Beloved,
Buch is my friend, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.

The change of persons is very rapid in Hebrew com-

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