Masculinity and Femininity

Your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you. (NRSV 1:3)

Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. (KJV 1:3)

Pretty straight forward: all the ladies dig her guy. Guess he's one heck of a man.

I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me. My mother's sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept! (NRSV 1:5-6)

I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. 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. (KJV 1:5-6)

Here, the bride says she doesn't conform to the beauty standards of the day (she's too dark-skinned from working in the vineyards). She also reveals that her brothers have tried to punish her, but that she has a few surprises up her sleeves for them.

O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! (NRSV 2:6)

His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. (KJV 2:6)

A man putting his big, strong arms around his lady? Sounds like a recipe for a hot and heavy makeout sesh.

Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. (NRSV 2:8-9)

The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. (KJV 2:8-9)

This guy is pretty manly—he's like a young, robust animal leaping around the countryside… and peering through lattice windows?

Groom: A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed. Bride: Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. (NRSV 4:12, 16) 

Groom: A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Bride: Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits. (KJV 4:12, 16)

Shmoopers, we're not in Eden anymore. The bride plays the role of the coy virgin with the closed lady garden. Though within a few verses, she's thrown open the gates and let the groom come inside. Yup. That means just what you think it does.

My beloved is all radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. (NRSV 5:10-11)

My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven. (KJV 5:10-11)

These pretty basic descriptions construct an image of country masculinity that fits perfectly with the pastoral setting of the poems.

How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. (NRSV 7:1-2)

How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. (KJV 7:1-2)

Talk about feminine images. Based on these descriptions, what do you think this woman looks like? Does she embody the same standards for beauty we have today?

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