The Song of Songs, sometimes called the Song of Solomon, is an ancient love song found in the Christian’s Old Testament, or the Jewish Tanakh. In the Jewish tradition “Song” referred to a joyful piece of literature that was read or sung to musical accompaniments. In order to best understand this lyrical piece, one must be informed that the constant change in point of view. According to biblical scholars, “the movement from third to second person may seem odd to modern readers, but such a switch of pronouns is recognized as a poetical device in Hebrew” (ESV 1216).
There are also a variety of legitimate interpretations which vary greatly from one another. While some believe this lyrical piece to refer to Solomon, others believe the song is about a shepherd and shepherdess, and that the true interpretation of the title should read “Song of Songs”. It is important to understand these differing views when reading this lyrical work.
Song of Solomon Chapter 1 Analysis
Chapter 1 of the song begins with the title “She” over the first stanza, to indicate that the initial lines are spoken by the woman in this relationship. The song begins with the female speaker expressing her longing for a passionate kiss from the one she loves. She claims that his love is better than wine, probably because it is equally intoxicating. She then speaks of the sexual relationship by saying her love’s “anointing oils are fragrant”.
“Your name is oil poured out” suggests that his name is so reputable, it’s like an expensive fragrance. It is simultaneously sexual innuendo as the Hebrew word for oil is “shemen”, and is likely an expression of her waiting eagerly for the consummation of the marriage.
She describes her desire to run with him wherever he may go in verse 4, and when she says, “the king has brought me into his chambers”, she is again eagerly awaiting the wedding consummation. Some have speculated that the term “king” refers to King Solomon himself, while others believe that later verses describe the object of her affection as a shepherd, which would suggest that calling him “king” was merely a term of endearment to show her high regard for him (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version).
At this point, the “others” are brought into the poem. This is the speaker’s way of revealing that their love is praised and honored by others and that others rejoice with them. This is revealed when the others say, “we will extol your love more than wine”.
The chorus of others in this lyrical piece also suggests that the love of these two people is above reproach, and therefore celebrated by others. This is implied when the others proclaim, “Rightly do they love” (verse 4).
With the start of verse five, there is a shift from the others as the speakers back to the female lover as she again resumes the position of the speaker.
She begins to describe herself as “very dark but lovely”. Later verses reveal that she was a shepherd girl, so unlike other girls of higher social status, she did not remain indoors as did many of the royal women in her day (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version).
She asks her lover and the others present not to gaze at her because she is dark. In her time, light skin was seen as a mark of wealth and beauty (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version). She knows she may not be considered beautiful by some because of her skin, but she has confidence that she possesses a beauty of her own. This is revealed when she compares herself to the “curtains of Solomon” which did doubt beautiful, though probably dark in color.
Verses five through seven reveal that she is not only confident in her own appearance but also that she is a hard worker. The reference to making the flock “lie down at noon” indicates that noon marked the time in the day to rest. This idea of a short break in the middle of the day also reveals that the female speaker had a strong work ethic, breaking only in the heat of the day to rest the animals. Thus, the readers begin to form an idea of the female speaker as not only beautiful but also diligent.
The woman speaker ends verse seven by asking her lover where she might find him.
Verse eight marks the shift from female to the male speaker.
He answers her question, telling her to follow the tracks of his flock. This is why some have concluded that the man in this lyrical piece is not actually Solomon, but rather a simple Shepherd. Both interpretations are supported by textual evidence and neither can be completely ruled out.
The male speaker then praises her beauty, calling her “most beautiful among women” and compares her to “a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots”. One of Pharaoh’s horses would have been the very best of its kind and the most beautiful of all the horses.
The speaker then praises her jewelry and the way it enhances her beauty.
With verse eleven, there is another shift so that the chorus of others again speaks. They respond to the male speaker’s compliment by claiming that they would make “ornaments of gold” for her. This reaffirms that the love between this man and woman is highly esteemed and supported by all of the people around them. Having the love and support from others allows this man and woman to enjoy their love to the fullest.
With the start of verse twelve, the speaker is once again, the woman. She reveals that she is ready to enjoy her betrothed in a sexual way when she says that her “nard gave forth its fragrance” (verse 12). According to biblical scholars, a “nard was a plant from which a fragrance was extracted and considered to have an erotic effect” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version).
She continues to praise him, calling him her beloved and comparing him to a “satchet of myrrh” and a “cluster of henna blossoms” both of which produce pleasant aromas.
Verse fifteen marks a shift in which the male is the speaker and he continues to praise her beauty, comparing her eyes to “doves”. In verses sixteen and seventeen, the female speaks again, and she responds to his compliments by calling him “beautiful” and “truly delightful”.
Thus far, the theme of the first chapter seems to be the two lovers’ infatuation with one another and their eagerly awaiting the consummation of their union. The final verse in this chapter coincides.
When she says that their “couch is green” and “the beams of [their] house are cedar” and that “the rafters are pine,” it suggests that the two are enjoying the outdoors together, looking forward to the day when they would be under the same roof in the commitment of marriage.