Few would disagree that the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) is one of the most sensual books of the Bible. It has been variously celebrated as a lyric poem about the love between a woman and a man, the love of God for Israel, the love of Christ for the Church, and the love of Christ for the human soul. Whatever its intent (and intent, after all, ultimately resides with the perceiver), the poem teems with images of beauty and sensual pleasure.
And it happens that it was one of Sophie’s very favorite books of the Bible.
In the chapter of the novel entitled “Bridegroom” at the end of Part 2, Sophie is making her first vows in Paris on November 21, 1800. As Joseph Varin conducts the service, her mind begins to wander, and, almost subconsciously, she begins imagining lines from the opening book of Song of Songs. It seems a logical mental digression for a young woman in the process of wedding herself to the heart of Jesus. The entire first book is represented below.
1 The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
3 Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.
4 Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
5 I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
7 Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
8 If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.
9 I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
11 We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
12 While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
13 A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
14 My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.
15 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.
16 Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.
17 The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.
Toward the end of Part 4, in the chapter called “Summons,” Sophie and Philippine spend the last moments of their day singing a musical rendering of part of the Song of Songs that one of the community at Grenoble has set to music, and “Sophie knows she is home.”
The chapter “A Garden Enclosed” (Part 6) takes its title from the Song of Songs. As Sophie, Philippine Duchesne and Thérèse Maillucheau sit under the acacia trees at Ste. Marie d’en Haute, Sophie reads the line “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” (Verse 12 of Book 4)
The entire passage is below:
1 Behold, you are fair, my love; behold, you are fair; you have doves’ eyes behind your veil: your hair is like a flock of goats, going down from mount Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; every one of which bears twins, and none is barren among them.
3 Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely: your temples are like a piece of pomegranate behind your veil.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David built for an armory, on which there hang a thousand shields, all shields of mighty men.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies.
6 Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away, I will go up to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
7 You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
9 You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is your love than wine! and the fragrance of your perfume than all spices!
11 Your lips, O my spouse, drop like the honeycomb: honey and milk are under your tongue; and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
12 A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; henna, with spikenard,
14 Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:
15 A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind; and come, you south; blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat its pleasant fruits.
Side Note: One of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s most famous paintings, entitled The Beloved, he intended to be a depiction of the bride in the Song of Songs; on the frame two verses of the poem are painted: My Beloved is mine and I am his (2:16) and Let him kiss me with the kisses of the mouth: for thy love is better than wine (1:2).
Musical Note: A lovely musical rendering of Song of Songs by Latvian composer Indra Rise can be heard and seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJq1s8grUUk