Study Guide

Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) Natural and Pastoral Imagery

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Natural and Pastoral Imagery

Have you ever heard people talk about Song of Songs as describing a wedding? That's definitely one way of looking at it. See, back in the day, there were elaborate wedding festivals where stuff like this would go on. But that doesn't mean that it's an exact recap:

It is not necessary, however, to suppose that the author has merely reproduced the songs of the rustic celebrations of his time; rather, a poet of high ability here sings of married love, following the lines of the festive customs, but giving free play to his imagination: such charm of style as the book shows is not to be looked for in rustic songs. (Source)

One thing's for sure. Whatever's going on here, it's happening in the spring and it's happening outside. All of the best stuff happens with natural, pastoral images:

Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the fields,
and lodge in the villages;
let us go out early to the vineyards,
and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.

Field-frolicking, vineyards, and implied sex? Sounds like a pretty nice romantic getaway. And in case you weren't sure about the pastoral setting, the Biblical writers have you covered. Whenever someone ventures out into the urban jungle (i.e., the sentinel interlude or in 8:12), it's either dangerous or undervalued. So yeah, stick to the fields, Shmoopers.

And no wedding is complete without flowers, right? Well, Song of Songs has flowers galore:

I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.

Back in the day, they couldn't really compare their love to Chuck and Blair, so they stuck with natural imagery. And it kind of works. Even if we don't know what brambles are.

The landscape of Song of Songs is also marked by signs of spring that emphasize rebirth and reproduction. In 2:13, the bride proclaims, "The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance." This outpouring of fruit, love, and new life on the landscape is so tangible that you can practically touch it. And touch it, they may, because we're pretty sure those figs and vines represent somethin' sexy. 

Love really does something for nature because it seems to come to life when love rears it's lovely head. The groom declares, "Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense" (4:6)...but does a day really breathe or a shadow flee? Of course not. But these personified images evoke feelings of a natural landscape alive and empowered by the fleeting spark of love. And we're along for the ride.

Things get really intimate when the groom starts describing the bride's body with natural images: "your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies" (7:2); "your neck is like an ivory tower" (7:4); "You are as stately as a palm tree […] I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches" (7:7-8). 

We'll never be able to look at a palm tree the same way again.

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