By Frédéric Louis Godet
THE SONG OF SONGS.
Wisdom among the Israelites, developed herself, as we have before remarked, in quite another direction from the philosophy of the Greeks. She did not give herself up to speculations upon the origin and nature of things. One word, resplendent with light, lying at the foundation of all the Jewish conceptions, set their minds at rest upon these matters: In the beginning God created. Hence the greater minds among the Jews directed their thoughts to the problems of practical life. The result of these labours is given us in five books, which form, as it were, the code of the Hebrew wisdom. The subjects treated in them relate, not to the study of Being, but to the purely practical question of right living: they even exhaust it. These books are—Job, in which is revealed the art of suffering well; the Psalms, which give us a model of true prayer: Proverbs, in which is taught the art of acting rightly in all circumstances; Ecclesiastes, which treats of the right manner of enjoying the good things granted to man here below; and finally, in the Song of Songs, the wisdom of the Israelites rises to the contemplation of the supreme art—that of true and pure love. What would the -wisest of the Greeks have said,—he who had himself, in opposition to all the pretended wise men of his age, made the art of right living the object of his researches—could he but have meditated upon the contents of this five -fold volume? "Would he not have exclaimed, like one of his own countrymen, Eureka!
Among these five didactic books of the Old Testament, there are two connected with each other by profound affinities; the book of Job and the Song of Songs. Loving and suffering are emotions always closely allied. Is it not the very secret of suffering much to love much, and is it not by suffering more that love grows? It is not by accident that the series of the five books of the Hebrew wisdom opens with the book of Job and closes with the Song of Songs. Job is the personification of faith contending with the attacks of suffering; the Shulamite, of faith contending with the seductions of pleasure. One of these conflicts is the complement of the other. Love can only shew itself to be invincible when it has undergone and overcome both.
Would we contemplate them both in their full intensity? Let us then transport ourselves, following the footsteps of Jesus, first into the wilderness, and then to Gethsemane. For those are the two battlefields where the Christ was attacked by the illusions of pleasure, and overwhelmed by the terrors of pain. In the latter we recognise in Him the true Job, overcoming pain by resignation, even without comprehending the mystery of the sufferings to which He is subjected. In the former we shall see the perfect realisation of that ideal of faithful love which is presented by the Shulamite, the young Israelitish heroine.
Three principal systems of interpretation have hitherto been applied to the Song of Songs. The common feature of the two first is that they see in King Solomon and in the shepherd beloved of the Shulamite^ one and the same person. But the two systems differ in this, that, according to one of them—the only one generally admitted in the synagogue and in the Church —the love which unites the Shulamite to this personage is of a purely spiritual nature; whilst, according to the other, all that is said of the relation between these two is to be taken literally, and is a picture exclusively of earthly love. From the former point of view, the Canticle is an allegorical description of the anguish and the emotions attending the union of Jehovah either with Israel, or with the Church, or with each individual soul. According to the second interpretation, it is the picture of an earthly and sensual love, which would render the book unworthy of a place in the Canon; or at least that of a love, natural indeed but honourable and ideally pure, before marriage, up to ch. iii. 5; in marriage, after ch. iii. 6. Delitzsch is undoubtedly the writer who has best succeeded in interpreting the Song of Songs from this latter point of view1. According to him, the idea of the Canticle is none other than that of the essential oneness of the marriage bond,—the love as the moral basis of monogamy. It is the nnfolding of the meaning of that saying in Genesis: one man and one woman; and an anticipation of the teaching of Jesus, who made of these words the first article of the Christian code of family life. It is the condemnation of polygamy, which was allowed in the East, and even among the Jews from the time of the patriarchs. The whole meaning of the Canticle would be summed up in that form of address, my only one, in which the well-beloved salutes the Shulamite. And it is by going to the bottom of this idea, and not by following the false track of allegory, that exegesis should discover in the Canticle the depths of mystical love. For what the husband is to the wife as her head, that Christ is to the Church2.
We do not think that, either in the one shape or the other, the interpretation which makes of Solomon and the shepherd one and the same person can hold its ground against the objections which are urged against it. In order not too much to forestal the future stages of our argument, we shall quote only one passage, but one which seems to us conclusive, because being placed at the end of the drama, like the moral at the end of a fable, it ought better than any other to sum up the meaning of the whole. The Shulamite, leaning upon the arm of her beloved, exclaims:—
Can one fail to recognise in these words an allusion to the magnificent offers made by Solomon to the Shulamite in the course of the poem? Is not this evidently shewn to be the meaning, by the declaration which follows, in which she contrasts the trial she has herself just undergone, with that which is one day to come upon her younger sister?—
Who was this he of whom the Shulamite here speaks? The words which follow point him out:—
There had then really been a quarrel between the Shulamite and Solomon. The firmness of the young maiden had at last found favour with the king, and she was allowed to return in peace to her home. And now we see her as she comes forth from this formidable trial, celebrating the invincible power of true love; of that which is a flame, an inspiration of Jehovah5, and its victory over all those external means of seduction which a rich and powerful man can bring into play, to overcome attractions of a purer and nobler nature. Had we no other proof of the distinction between these two personages, this would be sufficient. The shepherd is the beloved; Solomon his rival; and the unconquerable faithfulness of the Shulamite represents the victory of pure love over every bond of union of which the spring is egoism.
We turn then now to the second principal class of interpretations—that which distinguishes and even contrasts Solomon and the beloved. The first author who opened the path to this exegesis was Jacobi (1771). It is the learned and ingenious Ewald who has since followed it out in the happiest and most consistent manner. Under his influence this method of exposition has acclimatised itself in France. M. Renan has completely adopted it in his work upon the Canticle (1860); M. Réville has also reproduced its essential features6. Unfortunately, M. Renan has introduced into the work of Ewald some alterations which have not improved it. He has, in some sort, materialised a series of pictures in which the German divine had had the good taste to see only simple dreams or visions of the Shulamite. According to the French writer, the shepherd appears often in the course of the story. Even in the very presence of Solomon, and in the midst of his seraglio, he makes the two lovers express their mutual love. From the tower of the harem the Shulamite addresses her beloved and sends kisses to him. Not withstanding her captivity in the palace, she has full liberty to convey herself and her friend to the garden where they for the first time swore each other eternal love, there to sport freely with him. Then the next moment she finds herself in her royal prison, sighing at her separation from him. How are we to explain dramatic monstrosities such as these? M. Renan is himself, it is true, shocked at them, but he entrenches himself behind the idea of the imperfect character of the scenic arrangements in use at that remote period. But we ask whether the ancient stage ever did violence to common sense? There are some primary laws which not even the commonest theatre could transgress without self-annihilation. To make of an oriental despot a calm spectator of caresses exchanged between his favourite and his rival, to transform a seraglio into a room open to all comers, to make the actors of the interior of the harem pass thence to the garden, called the vineyard,—such proceedings pass all licences which ancient art could ever have allowed itself, even among the Hebrews. The truth is, that M. Renan has followed an entirely wrong track. Ewald maintains with reason that the beloved does not appear once upon the scene during the whole course of the trial—any more than Jehovah does in the book of Job—until the moment preceding the conclusion. It is this absence which constitutes the very strength and reality of the trial of the young maiden. And it is not until this trial is happily at an end, when the Shulamite has won the victory by himself, that the beloved at length makes his appearance, at the moment in which the heroine comes forward leaning upon his arm7.
Starting from the false point of view which we have just set aside, M. Renan has represented the Canticle as a kind of libretto intended to be performed with action and music at family fetes, and especially at marriages. This opinion is akin to that of Bossuet, who looked upon it as a dramatic entertainment divided into seven parts, of which one was to be preformed on each of the seven days of the feast at the marriage of Solomon with Pharaoh's daughter. Only M. Renan thinks that the tendency of the book is hostile to this prince, and that this literary work was composed by a poet of the northern kingdom, after the schism which separated that state from the house of David, and with the object of stigmatising the licentious way of living inaugurated by Solomon in Judea. This poem would thus have served as a marriage entertainment in this kingdom up to the time of the ruin of the tribe of Ephraim. Jeremiah, he thinks, alludes to it in the words: "The voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride shall no more be heard." As if it were not in Jerusalem and in Judea that this prophet wrote, and that a century and a-half after the destruction of the kingdom of Ephraim! And as if these words were not perfectly intelligible without this hypothetical allusion! Besides, is it conceivable that the Jewish Rabbis, to whom we owe the formation of the Canon, should have admitted into this sacred collection, a poem written with such a purpose, supposing that they could have been ignorant of its true meaning after it had served during centuries as a popular entertainment in one whole section of the Jewish nation? "Would they then have been unfortunate enough to indicate in the title of the book as its author—" the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's"—the very personage whom it was intended to stigmatise? Habent sua fata libelli. "Literary fortune has her caprices," But that would have been the strangest trick she ever played to any author or work that ever existed.
From M. Renan we must then return to Ewald; for it is in his view that we find that mode of interpretation of which we are speaking applied in the most attractive way.
The Shulamite, a youthful maiden of Shunem, (or Shulem,) of perfect beauty, finds herself a captive in the house of Solomon. He met with her during an excursion which he made with his court, and had her taken to his palace. But she resists all his flatteries and all his promises,—even the offer of sharing his throne; and having exhausted upon her all the arts of seduction, and been unable to 'succeed in overcoming her noble resistance and her incorruptible faithfulness to the beloved one whom her heart has chosen, he at last sends her back fee to her own people. Such is the simple result drawn out by Ewald with great skill from the luxuriant pictures of our poem. This is the slender canvas which carries all this rich and gorgeous embroidery.
Starting from this idea, Ewald dissects admirably the dialogue, and then the scenes and acts of the potm; and he shews clearly the dramatic character of the work. Only, as we have before pointed out, in many of those pictures of which M. Ben an wrongly makes scenes of real life, Ewald sees only dreams and visions of the Shulamite, in conformity with a well-known usage in oriental poetry, attested by M. Renan himself, and which consists in identifying the vision of the beloved with his real self8. The Shulamite describes in appropriate terms these ecstasies, into which she falls many times, and it would seem periodically, in this remarkable expression9:—
And this expression is explained by this other, which forms, as it were, the burden of the poem, and which indicates the moment when the Shulamite falls, or throws herself again into these states of ecstasy10:—
In this way, all the dramatic improbabilities and all the moral incongruities which would result from M. Renan's realistic interpretation of certain scenes, disappear.
The position, then, according to Ewald, is this: On the one hand, a king in all the splendour of his glory, transported with admiration, overflowing with passion; on the other, the poor and simple shepherd to whom the Shulamite has plighted her faith; the former present, the latter absent; the maiden called to decide freely between these two rivals. Such is the conflict in all its moral grandeur. If it were not for the complete absence of the beloved, it would not be the ideal trial of faithfulness.
As to the external side of the picture, we have no objection to make—taking it, at least, as a whole—to Ewald's interpretation, and if we are unable to adopt it as it is, it is not that we deem it false in any essential particular, but only that it seems to us incomplete. It starts from the right point, but it does not lead to the end which has to be reached. It is like a still shapeless chrysalis, out of which is hereafter to come forth a brilliant butterfly.
I appeal, in the first place, to the last speech which the poet puts into the mouth of the Shulamite, at the moment in which she finds her friend once more under the shades of the maternal home, and when he invites her to sing11:—
What does the Shulamite answer?
Can that be the last word of a romance of love? "When separated from him the Shulamite said to him, Come! And now when they are re-united, the burden of her song is Flee12! And at the sound of this mysterious farewell, the form of the beloved disappears. ""What," we would ask in the language of the daughters of Jerusalem, "is thy beloved more than another beloved?" Such a conclusion must necessarily embarrass not Ewald only, but all other interpreters who refuse to see in the Canticle anything more than the praise of purely earthly love. M. Réville gets out of the difficulty with that ease which is peculiar to him. He translates simply, Come, instead of Flee. Probably he reasons thus,—to return is to go, to flee is to go; therefore, since two things both equal to a third, are equal to one another, to return is to flee. M. Renan turns the flank of the difficulty by throwing himself into sentimental comedy. This song, he says, is a piece of coquetry on the part of the Shulamite, a playful revenge for the malicious disappearance of the beloved on a former occasion. What a conclusion, not to say what a fall, after so serious a conflict, and one which has demanded of the Shulamite all the powers of her moral being! Ewald, pace the French theologian, here again carries off the palm of good taste. According to him, the Shulamite repeats with delicacy—in a modified form no doubt—the love- song in which she had lately invoked her beloved during the time of their separation: "turn my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart, upon the mountains of division13" she had said to him. This song she now repeats, only substituting "flee" for "return." But what is the object or meaning of this modification? we ask Ewald. Is it merely a piece of sauciness? Such a conclusion would be unworthy of the serious meaning which Ewald himself attributes to the whole poem.
In respect of these last words, our modem interpreters are like a defeated hunter. Like the roe or the young hart, the Canticle itself has escaped from them. They seek its track upon the ground, when it is already far above them, and out of their somewhat profane reach. Now when any one finds he does not understand the last word of a book, he ought to acknowledge that he has misunderstood the first.
The very power of the breath of inspiration which fills the pages of this book, so unique in its kind, might suffice to make it clear that its meaning could not be limited to the mere love-story which forms its plot. "We are far from wishing to deny the reality of the adventure so forcibly brought out by Ewald. We believe that this learned writer has, in so doing, rendered a permanent and decisive service to the right interpretation of the Canticle. But how can we fail to see that the splendour of an ideal of a higher nature, illumines all these figures, and crowns them with a heavenly glory? Hence the incomparable force of the poetic inspiration of the Canticle. The mystical interpretation has erred, no doubt, in giving no historical basis to its composition; but the grossly realistic explanations of the modem school err no less certainly in not recognising in the situation, and in the historical personages, symbols of the sublime theocratic ideas the contemplation of which inspires the mind of the author, and gives to his work that superior brilliancy which distinguishes it from all merely erotic productions. Here, as well as in the book of Job, the real drama with which the author's mind is filled, is that which is acted behind the curtain; it is left for the reader to guess it. Ewald has done much in pointing out in the Canticle a progressive action, a conflict which takes place and which leads up to a definite end. In our opinion we must go one step further; we must recognise in this history a parable; in this visible drama which unfolds itself before us, a riddle to which the reader is called upon to find the answer.
It is not without reason that I here use this word riddle. The Canticle is, indeed, if I am not mistaken, a riddle, not only on account of the difficulties it has presented in all times to those who have tried to interpret it, but also from its very nature, and the intention which has governed its composition.
There was a time when enigmatical works seem to have held the highest rank in literature. During the reign of David—the man of war and suffering—men wrote psalms; that which inspired poetry was prayer in time of distress, thanksgiving after deliverance. In the time of Solomon—the king of peace—when nothing disturbed the serenity of the heart or mind, men meditated, observed, contemplated, invented, at their leisure; free play was given to the working of the intellect, which was carried to the length even of works of sport and fancy. That is often the case in times when, after great crises which have stirred the depths of man's soul and spirit, society again resumes its repose, and the individual man his labours and his studies. Men then live less with God, more with one another; they pray less, they talk more.
When the Queen of Sbeba came to Jerusalem to see the magnificence of Solomon and to learn lessons from his wisdom, she pleased herself especially in "proving him with hard questions," (chidoth, which properly means enigmas), and Solomon, it is said, answered them all, "there was not anything hid from the king, which he told her not14."
What are the Proverbs themselves, those short sayings, of which, according to 1 Kings iv. 32, Solomon composed three thousand? The larger part of these sayings are intended to point out analogies between some fact in the physical world and a corresponding phenomenon in the moral world. The physical fact is placed first:—
The reader is to understand at once that this is an image of some analogous moral truth, which he is invited to find out. After this first verse we ought therefore to imagine a pause, which it right be well to indicate by a row of dots. The n after the curiosity of the reader has been in this way awakened, and the activity of his mind called into play, the solution is given in the following verse:—
In this manner we may explain a number of proverbs which take the form of distichs:—
This enigmatical form re-appears also in proverbs of quite a different sort:—
These were, properly speaking, riddles of which the solution was left for a moment to the penetration of the person addressed, even when it is given in the book immediately afterwards. Accordingly, the author of the hook of Proverbs opens this collection by inviting the reader16—
Solomon's special taste for this kind of composition, which prevailed no doubt for some time in his court, is declared positively by the historian Josephus. This author relates, on the testimony of Phenician narratives, that Solomon and Hiram, king of Tyre, two princes united to each other by a close bond of friendship, were in the habit of amusing themselves by sending one another riddles. A sum of money was the stake. 7or some time Solomon was always the conqueror, till Hiram discovered at Tyre a clever man named Abdemon, who used to solve all the problems which came from Jerusalem, and who, by the enigmas which he had the skill to compose himself, succeeded in defeating even the sagacity of Solomon17. The Song of Songs has to such a degree this enigmatical character peculiar to the time of Solomon, that it concludes with four enigmas in regular form.
There is, first, that of the apple-tree18; The Shulamite in the last scene says to her friend:—
M. Renan, with some other interpreters, thinks he must here correct the Masoretic text, in order to put these words into the mouth of the beloved, and make him address them to the Shulamite. But this arbitrary correction is contrary to all moral probability. The shepherd believes the Shulamite to be a prisoner; it is not he therefore who goes to seek her. It is the 8hulamite, when set free, who goes to seek him in the house of her mother, and finds him asleep under the apple-tree, beneath which he had first seen the light. But this matters little. The question is, What is the meaning of this mysterious passage, to which nothing leads up beforehand, and which connects itself with nothing afterwards? It is simply a riddle offered to the reader.
Then follows the dialogue relating to the little sister. Some persons not mentioned, probably brothers of the Shulamite, converse with her on the subject of their young sister:—
The divergence of opinion amongst interpreters of the modem school with reference to this conversation is great. According to M. Renan, these brothers are unnatural men, who, in veiled language, express their intention of selling their sister into a harem. According to M. Réville, as well as Ewald, they are honest villagers, "representatives of the sentiment of family honour, based upon reflection and reasoning." M. Renan thinks that the little sister is the Shulamite herself: M. Réville that it is her youngest sister; Ewald, that it is a sister of some one of the villagers. It is clear from all these different interpretations that we have before us here a real enigma.
But it is when we have passed from the enigma of the little sister to that of the two vineyards, that we enter, as M. Quinet would say, into the obscurities of Erebus. The Shulamite says:—
We do not think any one can deny that we have before us here a riddle in regular form, a riddle whose interpretation is involved in that of a similar saying at the beginning of the poem:—
What is this vineyard of Solomon? What, above all, is that of the Shulamite? What connection is there between the two? What is signified by these thousand pieces of silver paid to Solomon by his "keepers?" What is the similar sum which the Shulamite agrees to pay him thenceforth for her own vineyard, while reserving only two hundred pieces of silver for the keepers to whom she has entrusted it? There are as many explanations as interpreters. As to M. Réville, he tacitly gives up the point of solving it, not bringing this matter of detail into view at all.
We have already spoken of the fourth enigma, that of the flight of the beloved, and shewn to what a degree it has driven all the interpreters to despair.
Would it be surprising, if a poem which concludes with four riddles, should itself be nothing more than a riddle on a grand scale? Besides the three thousand enigmatical proverbs composed by Solomon, history attributes to him a thousand and five songs. May not our " Song of Songs/' be the most remarkable of all these lyrico-dramatic compositions which had their source either in the mind of the king himself, or in those of that circle of contemplative and poetical geniuses by which he was surrounded? If it be so, there would be nothing that need astonish us in the enigmatical turn which this composition has taken, in such a context of circumstances. And we shall have a clue ready to our hand for finding the answer to the riddle which we have to propose. Will this answer solve, together with the principal enigma, the four special ones at the end of the book? On the day on which such a solution is offered, the Sphinx -will have no alternative left but to throw herself into the sea.
Let us now pass on to the analytical study of the poem.
Ewald has divided it into acts and scenes. M. Renan has also published it in the form of a drama for the theatre. This view of the character of the Canticle appears at first sight to be opposed to the ancient idea which assigned it to the class of lyrics. The fact is that there is something both of the idyll and the drama in this poem. And this mixed character of the composition need not surprise us. Do not the choruses in the Greek tragedies and comedies still belong to the lyrical style of poetry in which the drama manifestly had its source? Lyric poetry personifies ideas22. From this personification, in some degree metaphorical, of the ideal, to the appearance as an actual person upon the stage on which the drama is acted, there is but one step, and this step is exactly that by which lyrical was developed into dramatic poetry. In the Canticle we catch, as it were, this process of metamorphosis in the very act. We have here still the ode and the song; we are already in presence of dialogue and action. The lyre is still sounding, but it is upon a stage. In it we see the vivacity of lyrical feeling raised into the power of dramatic creation. It is something like what was expressed by one of our critics thus: " The dramatic poet ought still to comprehend in himself the lyric poet, but in a state of subjection, and, as it were, gagged23." Melpomene and Thalia were the daughters of Euterpe, not her sisters.
It appears to us that the action, in the Canticle, unfolds itself in three acts, of which the first has for its scene Solomon's palace; the second, the open place in front of the palace, then the palace itself; and the third, the garden of the Shulamite's own dwelling. The subject of the two first is the double victory gained by the young maiden in the two trials to which her fidelity is exposed; that of the third is her triumph after her victory.
The first act comprehends the part of the poem which extends to ch. iii. 5.
It is composed of four scenes, of which the first takes place between the Shulamite and the young girls of the harem, and includes the seven first verses of the poem.
The Shulamite, a young peasant-girl,—which is evident from these words, "My mother's children were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards24,"—finds herself carried captive into Solomon's palace. The young girls of Jerusalem who are already there, form a kind of chorus, with whom the young maiden conyerses. This is a device for acquainting the reader with the situation. These young Israelites vie with each other in singing the delights of being the object of the attentions of such a prince as Solomon. In their enthusiasm they address him, although not yet present:—
The Shulamite interrupts this discourse. We perceive the change of speaker by the fact of the king being spoken of in the third person:—
The Shulamite awakes as out of a dream; she begins to perceive the critical position in which she is placed. The words of the young girls have but too clearly enlightened her mind on this point.
These latter, without noticing this exclamation, which is as it were an "aside" of the Shulamite, continue singing the loves of the master they serve, but addressing the Shulamite, as if it were their mission to persuade her to respond favorably to the advances of the monarch. Seeing herself the object of their attentions, and comparing her dark skin with the fresh faces of the young city maidens, the village girl is troubled, and exclaims:—
The expression "my mother's children," is somewhat strange. She thinks, at any rate, that they are bringing her rather rudely under the maternal roof. This circumstance may be compared with vii. 1, where she is called a prince's daughter. Her brothers have employed her in the rough work of dressing the vines. This to her is a kind of social degradation. And this first misfortune has been followed by a second. She possesses—no doubt as a heritage from her father—a vineyard, of which mention will be made again, later on, in one of the enigmas at the conclusion of the poem27. Of this inheritance she has not taken the care she ought. But what are these misfortunes, compared with that which she now sees falling upon her? She is separated from her beloved. Her heart seeks him in these magnificent apartments, but he is elsewhere; at this hour of noon he "makes his flock to rest" in some shady spot upon the mountains. In thought she beholds him under the cypresses and cedars which border the pastures, and in the simplicity of her love and the vividness of the impression made upon her mind, she addresses him as if he could hear her, and says:—
She fears that if she goes to seek him upon the mountain, and is driven to enquire from others the place where he is resting, she may be taken for an immodest woman.
The young girls are amused at this outburst of tenderness, this sweet dream, by the help of which the Shulamite escapes from the dreadful reality; and as if to keep up in her this play of the imagination, they invite her, if she is simple enough to prefer the condition of life of a shepherdess to that of mistress of the brilliant monarch, to lead her little flock of goats up the slopes of the mountain:—
A new scene here opens upon us. Solomon enters the apartment. He addresses the young maiden, and pays his tribute of admiration to her beauty; but his emphatic manner of speech is that of one of the great ones of the earth, who thinks it easy to dazzle a simple girl with a few gross compliments:—
To his flatteries he thinks it well to add some promises, but he risks no great expense for them:—
Listening to such words, which are repulsive to her, the Shulamite becomes reserved, and, speaking to herself, declares that at the very moment when the king is so addressing her from the divan on which he is sitting, she is caring but for one thing, the love of her beloved:—
The Shulamite, her spirit becoming more and more fired, addresses to him she loves, the echo of the praises which Solomon lavishes upon her:—
She imagines herself transported already to his side:—
This means clearly enough that she prefers the carpet of verdure and the shades of the forest to the gilded rooms in which she finds herself a prisoner. She is a flower of the field, and feels herself out of place in this magnificent palace. Solomon does not discourage her:—
The Shulamite, excited, answers him with an increasing vivacity:—
The vision of her beloved reaches here to its full intensity. Detaching herself entirely from the surrounding circumstances, she forgets her captivity; she fancies herself with him again in the places in which the young men and maidens used to make merry. Her heart gives way in this imagined bliss. The strong effort she has just made to resist the seductions to which she has been exposed, the fervour of her love, which has been intensified by this struggle with the passion of which she is the object, have exhausted her strength. She fancies herself falling into the arms of her beloved, in whose presence she imagines herself, and, closing her eyes, she entreats the maidens who are about her, in the name of every' thing that is lovely and tender in rural life, to respect the bliss into which her love has thrown her, and not to recal her to the sad reality, before she awakes of herself out of this sweet, unspeakable ecstasy:—
Here, then, we see the Shulamite wrapped in her blissful dream. This is the point at which, properly speaking, the first act should close. But the author reveals to us the Shulamite's visions during this state of trance. The curtain falls for a while upon the external world, but at the same moment it rises upon what is passing in her soul. The two scenes which are to follow, are two ecstasies of the young maiden, closely connected with each other, and which form the conclusion of this first act.
The first—the third scene of the poem—comprehends chap. ii. 8-17. It is a morning scene. The Shulamite is in her mother's house. She fancies she hears the voice of her beloved calling to her, and catches sight of him through the lattice:—
He is inviting her to a walk with him into the country, which is beginning to clothe itself in. its vernal beauties:—
But the Shulamite does not accept this invitation; she does not shew herself. The beloved likens her to a dove hiding in the clefts of the rocks. If she cannot follow him, at least he begs to see her face, to hear her voice; he asks her for a song:—
She replies by a song in which she reminds him of the commands of her brothers, which oblige her, as well as her younger sister perhaps, or other young girls, to guard the tender shoots of the vine against the depredations of the little foxes. Thus do we hear echoing on through the ecstasies of the Shulamite all the emotions, pleasing or painful, of her past state of watching:—
Hence she is obliged to defer until the evening the walk to which she is invited. But her heart is none the less united to her friend; and when evening comes, and she will have finished attending to her rough work, she expects to see him coming towards her with eager steps, that they may enjoy the last hour of the day together.
Did ever any poetry surpass the dazzling brilliancy of this picture?
The second trance of the Shulamite which forms the fourth and last scene of the first act, is described in iii. 1-5.
The evening has come; the beloved has not made his appearance. Night reigns around the Shulamite, and in her heart. We must remember that the scene which follows is entirely imaginary. That which would be shocking were the Shulamite speaking and acting in this way while in full possession of her faculties, will appear but natural, if we remember that it is an ecstasy or trance which the author is describing. It is important to notice here the use of the plural, the nights44, which many of our translators have wrongly changed into the singular. This use of the plural is an insuperable difficulty in the way of any interpretation coarsely realistic. Finally, in order to understand the picture which follows, we must remember the custom of the oriental shepherds, who whenever they fear any nocturnal danger, bring their flocks back into the shelter of the towns and pass the night with them in the public places. Hence we understand how it comes to pass that the Shulamite went in search of her shepherd in the solitary streets in the middle of the night:—
Poor Shulamite! The hard rules of law do not easily accommodate themselves to the impulsive movements of a lover's heart. She falls into the hands of the watch, but this time she escapes with only a fright; and soon finding the object of her search, she brings him into the house, into her mother's room;—a little feature in the narrative of exquisite delicacy, admirably leading the reader to contrast this scene with the picture which opened the drama,-^ that of the young Israelitish maidens left alone in the harem of the palace:—
Then the Shulamite feels herself lost once more in the ineffable bliss caused by the conscious presence of her beloved. And from the midst of this happiness, on which rest the eye and the blessing of her mother, she repeats the prayer which she has before addressed to the young maidens around her when she had felt herself falling into the trance, and once more adjures them to respect the sacred repose of love, and not to tear her violently from this blissful dream:—
Nothing can be more consistent, it seems to me, than the conception of this first act, so understood.
The second song of the poem, or the second act of the drama, extends from iii. 6 to viii. 4. It is the repetition of the trial to which the Shulamite's fidelity is exposed, but in an intenser form. The scenes correspond almost exactly with those of the first act The first represents her brought in, as it were, in triumph, upon the portable throne which Solomon has had made. She arrives at the gates of the palace, admired by the people of Jerusalem who surround the procession. She is received by the king, who introduces her into the palace. The dialogue between her and the king then begins. Solomon pours out his admiration and his passion. He hopes that even that very day the Shulamite will give herself to him. She shall be his only one in the midst of all the other queens, and all the beauties who fill his harem. She replies to all these grand offers as she had done, in the first act, to promises less magnificent. But in this violent contest between the passion of the king and her own true and sincere love, which the contact with this alien fire only kindles into greater intensity, she falls again into one of those fits of absence which are in her the introduction into the state of ecstasy; and it is with this condition of the Shulamite that this act continues and concludes. "We see, then, that the second act is a repetition of the first, in larger proportions. Let us go into the details.
The first scene, that of the coming in of the Shulamite on Solomon's throne, is described in iii. 6-11.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem express their surprise and admiration at the sight of the procession as it approaches:—
The first words might be perfectly rendered by the neuter: "What is that?" instead of "Who is this?" and be made to refer, not to the Shulamite herself seated on the palanquin, but to the portable throne, all enshrouded in the clouds of incense which they are burning around it. The only indication of the presence of the Shulamite is the address of Solomon48, at the moment when the procession arrives. Nevertheless, we have translated it in the feminine on account of the parallelism between this passage and the analogous question of viii. 5: " Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness? " where there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the Hebrew pronoun.
Many interpreters make the description of the bed of Solomon49 refer not to the portable throne of which mention has just been made50, but to the nuptial couch which he has had made in prospect of his marriage with a new queen. In this sense, this passage makes a fit introduction to the invitation addressed to each other by the young Jerusalem maidens, to come and see the grand ceremonial of the crowning of the youthfill king by his mother for the day of his espousals. We must on no account translate the words which we have thus rendered—"the midst thereof being paved with love," as M. Renan does: "in the midst shines forth a fair one, chosen from amongst the daughters of Jerusalem." We should have to do violence to the sense of the Hebrew to get this meaning out of it, which besides would have also to be set aside if only for this reason, that the Shulamite was not a daughter of Jerusalem.
"What had happened between this act and the preceding one? Had Solomon, on meeting with such determined opposition from the young maiden, sent her back to her mother? Is it there that he now, for the second time, sends this magnificent procession to fetch her, hoping that the royal splendour in which she is brought back will dazzle her, and prepare the way for the victory which he still makes sure of winning? This supposition seems to us more natural than that which makes the Shulamite remain in the palace after the preceding ecstasy;— ^how, in the latter case, are we to account for the procession which brings her?
"With chap. iv. 1 the second scene opens,—the dialogue between Solomon and the Shulamite.
"Behold, thou art fair, my love."
This is a repetition of i. 14. Then, up to ver. 6, the king enthusiastically describes her beauty. The Shulamite interrupts him as she had done before51. She hopes that when the evening is come she will be at liberty to climb the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense, where her beloved feeds his flock. Solomon replies with expressions more and more impassioned. Does he allude, in the words which follow, to the Shulamite sitting on his throne in the palace, from which she casts at him glances full of pride? or is he here imitating the language of the shepherd, who, in ii. 14, had compared her to a dove which hides itself in the clefts of the rocks?
His passion kindles more and more. It overflows from his lips like a torrent of fire. The heart of the Shulamite gives itself up to the same emotion, but it is for another than the monarch before her. And when Solomon, in the paroxysm of his love, cries:—
She answers at once, under the sway of her own passion:—
Solomon, in his excitement, takes courage and dares to apply to himself this outburst of love:—
And as if already confident of victory, he invites the young people around him to share his joy:—
But, oh wonder! She to whom this transport is addressed, lies before him as an almost lifeless body. Willie he was yet speaking, his captive had escaped from his power. She has fallen again into a trance like that which had ended the first struggle. She herself tells him so in these words:—
Here opens a scene of a kind analogous to the visions described in the two corresponding scenes of the first act, but even more extraordinary.
First, from ver. 2 to 7, we have a vision which combines in itself many features of the two which precede it. It is announced in the same manner:—
He comes to seek her as he had done in the first vision^ but this time it is in the night:—
The Shulamite replies with an exquisite modesty:—
She then relates how she had seen the hand of her beloved coming through the "hole of the door" and drawing near the latch.
Then she rose to open to him, and touching the handle of the latch she became conscious that it was dripping with myrrh—myrrh from the hand of her beloved. Then she opened the door, but he was gone—vanished. She continues:—
Here again we may notice a step in advance upon the corresponding ecstasy in the preceding act, where the watchmen had let her pass without molesting her.
And in this condition she addresses the Jerusalem maidens, not this time to adjure them to leave her to her happiness—for she is not now blessed with the presence of her beloved—but to entreat them, should they meet him, to tell him how she longs for him:—
Just as, in the first scene, the young maidens had made a sport of entering into the Shulamite's imaginative dreams, spurring on, in some sort, the travail of her soul, the chorus here interposes, and answers her in the same spirit:—
Thereupon the lips of the Shulamite open, and overflow. She pours forth enthusiastic praise of the beauty of him she loves, and finishes by saying:—
The young maidens carry on this singular conversation, as one might answer a child talking in its sleep; they amuse themselves in taking parts in this drama which is being played in the mind of the Shulamite. They ask her:—
If we were in the prose of actual life, the Shulamite would have to answer that she knows nothing about it, for her beloved had vanished suddenly without giving her time to see whither he was gone. But we are in the world of visions, where imagination quickly fills up all lacunæ:—
If the preceding apparition were not a mere vision, there would be no meaning in this answer. Shepherds do not pasture their flocks in the middle of the night,
Here53 opens the third scene, which extends to viii. 4, and in which, if we compare it with the corresponding scene of the first act (the fourth), we may notice again a gradation not less marked relatively to this last. Solomon re-appears. He is about to make a last effort. He renews rather emphatically his flatteries, comparing the Shulamite to the two fairest cities in his kingdom, Tirzah and Jerusalem. Then, in allusion to the proud demeanour of his prisoner contrasted with the tenderness of her invocations to her absent friend, he exclaims:—
We have already seen how, during the Shulamite's ecstasies, there returned upon her memory the impressions of her state of watching, and the outward circumstances which had produced them. She seems at this moment to be recalling some memory, and trying to picture to herself the events which have brought her to her present condition. She had gone down to her garden, which was in a retired valley, to enjoy the sight of the growth of the spring vegetation. And there, without knowing how it happened, she found herself in the midst of the chariots of a royal procession:—
Did this imprudence on the part of the Shulamite take place before her former captivity, or was it the cause of the triumphal but compulsory return which forms the subject of the opening of the second act? It is difficult to decide between these two alternatives, but the general sense of the words is evident; she reproaches herself for having allowed her curiosity to draw her too near the escort of the young king, who, with all his court, was on a party of pleasure in the neighbourhood of the place where she lived; and she acknowledges that it was thus she brought upon herself what has now happened. The memory of this moment becomes so vivid in her mind that she tries to fly now, as she ought to have done in. reality when the event occurred. Still in her state of trance, she rises and endeavours to escape. Only so, it seems to us, can we explain that invitation, so pressing and four times repeated, by the surrounding assembly:—
The Sholamite replies with a charming modesty:—
The assembly answers:—
This is one of the passages which have most perplexed the interpreters. Mahanaim means two armies. It is the name which the patriarch Jacob gave to the place where, on his return to Canaan, God welcomed him, in a manner, by the apparition of two hosts of angels54. M. Renan imagines here the introduction upon the scene of a common dancing girl, one of those "bayardères" employed in the idolatrous worship of the East, endeavouring to divert the looks of the assembly from the Shulamite, and to fix them upon herself. It is she, according to him, who says: "How can you notice the Shulamite in the presence of a dance of Mahanaim?" alluding to the dance in which she herself is about to perform. M. Renan supposes that Mahanaim was a town famous for this sort of entertainment. In this case it would have been a sort of ballet brought in as an interlude in the opera of which the Canticle was the libretto. But this episode would be but a by-play in the poem. It would needlessly divert the attention of the readers from the heroine who is the centre of the action of the play. And what meaning are we then to give to this command, four times repeated, and evidently addressed to the Shulamite: "Return!" Besides, it is quite impossible to translate: "before a dance;" the text says, "as a dance." Lastly, the greatest difficulty in M. Renan's way is, how to return to the Shulamite thus abandoned? It is to the "bayardère" that the enthusiastic description which follows would have to be applied55. And the Shulamite, to recall attention to herself, would take up the conversation again in ver. 10! Enough, and too much, of such improbabilities!
M. Réville, following M. E. Meier, suggests an explanation even less defensible. These two authors translate vi. 12 as follows: "I know not how my heart led me far from the horses (Meier, the troops) of my brave people;" that is to say, according to these two authors: "far from my valiant countrymen," the brave youths of Shunem, (or Shulem), who would have been well able to defend her against Solomon's people, if she had not gone so far from her home. According to this, it is the sigh of those young villagers after their lovely compatriot who had vanished from their dances, that we are to hear in this fourfold, "Return!" addressed to the Shulamite. M. Réville himself confesses that this sudden appearance on the scene of the men of Shulem, is an event "contrary to all probability." But to justify the author, he supposes that he intended to make this an echo-scene (the four "returns")! It is most forced, at any rate, to translate "far from the horses or chariots." M. Réville seems to wish by this forced translation to make up for the transformation of "flee" into "return," in the last verse of the poem.
From our point of view, the interpretation no longer presents any difficulty. In her trance, which is a kind of somnambulism, the Shulamite, who was on the point of taking flight, begins slightly to move, in presence of the company. The effect she produces upon all who see her in this mysterious state, is that of a being hovering between heaven and earth, a supernatural apparition; and it is to this that allusion is made in that strange expression, "like a dance of Mahanaim," that is to say, of a host of angels. The chorus then begins singing the praises of her grace and beauty56. This enthusiastic description has often been put into the mouth of the king, but the contrary is shewn by the expression in ver. 5:—
What proves undeniably that it is the sight of the measured march, or, if you will, the dance of the Shulamite which charms the spectators, is that the description begins with the walk and the shoes of the Shulamite, and ascends gradually to her hair:—
Does this title, princess daughter, refer only to the nobleness and dignity of the whole bearing of the young maiden, or does it not also contain an allusion to her high birth?
Excited to rapture by this sight, the young king gives vent without restraint to his passion:—
Suddenly the Shulamite interrupts him, as she had done before in the first act, and adopting his own expression, finishes by applying it to her lover:—
". . . . for my beloved."
And now, in her turn, abandoning herself to the intensity of her feeling, she opens her mouth to say things which in her waking state she would never have uttered. Her beloved is present; she is his. She invites him to an excursion into the country; then she will bring him again into her mother's house, and there she will serve him with the fruits new and old which she has been keeping for him. Oh! why is he not her brother? Then she could at any rate live with him, and shew him her love, without anybody having a right to blame her,—sit at his feet in her mother's house, and let him teach her all she does not know. ' Then she in her turn will offer him spiced wine and the juice of her pomegranates . . . . And at this delicious thought she feels herself again falling into a swoon, but she thinks it is in the arms of him whom she fancies close to her; and as she loses consciousness, in the ecstasy to which she resigns herself, she repeats the burthen of her song—the words which each time give notice of rest after the struggle:—
Thus has the faithfulness of the Shulamite triumphed in two terrible conflicts with the three great powers of which the apostle speaks; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. She has preferred the love of a man, poor but sincere, to the passion of one selfish, however magnificent. The love of him who gives nothing—but himself, has seemed to her better than the love of him who gives everything—except himself.
The third act is the triumph which follows victory. It comprehends the last chapter, from ver. 5, and is composed of four short scenes, in which all the personages connected with the Shulamite make their appearance, as in a kind of review, each one uttering, or else listening to, words which sum up the truth of her condition.
The first of these short scenes naturally refers to the relations between the Shulamite and her beloved. The chorus see in the distance two personages approaching;—a youth with a maiden who is leaning upon him in trustfulness and tenderness:—
This corresponds with the Shulamite's appearance in the preceding act59, when she was arriving at the palace in Solomon's palanquin, and surrounded by his guard. Now she has regained her liberty, and has hastened to seek her friend. She has found him asleep under an apple-tree, near the paternal house. As she comes upon the scene with him, she addresses to him these words:—
And now that she has found him, her sole wish is to remain indissolubly united to him:—
How could M. Renan bring himself to put these burning words into the mouth of a sage, of a pedant, who was to utter them on the stage like the moral of a fable? It is the Shulamite herself who is here celebrating the strength of the feeling which has made her victorious, of that true lore which is as a flame proceeding from Jehovah Himself, into which no selfish element can enter, and whose unconquerable vehemence is only equalled by the power of death, and the insatiableness of the grave.
If this poem were only a love-song, it would finish with this its highest burst of feeling. "We are not surprised, therefore, to find many interpreters who take this view of it, rejecting all that follows as added at a later date. But this is an arbitrary hypothesis, which finds no support from the manuscripts. We proceed, therefore, to the second scene: the Shula mite and her younger sister.
At her mother's house, the Shulamite finds herself confronted with her brothers who had educated her so sternly; and there she converses with them about a younger sister, whose age for the present protects her from a trial like that to which she has herself been just exposed. But for her, too, the hour of trial will soon come. We have already given the dialogue in which the decision arrived at in this family council is related61. The meaning of it is this: if the young maiden keeps firm she shall be crowned, but if she gives way, shame and servitude await her. In order to develope moral energy in her young sister, the Shulamite holds out her own example; did she not, like an impregnable citadel, at last force the besieger to make peace with her?
Who is this besieger? If the whole poem did not make it plain, the sequel would shew it clearly enough. The Shulamite settles her account with Solomon himself. She addresses him as if he were present62.
The king has (hajah, which properly means there has come to him) a large vineyard in a place called Baal Hamon. As to this place, of which the name means master of a multitude, it would be as useless to look for it in the map, as it would be to look for the mountain, from the top of which the Devil shewed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. This domain is let out to tenants, and it brings the king large revenues. For each of these tenants has engaged to pay him a thousand shekels. Well, the Shulamite also has a vineyard of her own. She has not, it is true, been able to keep possession of it63. She has lost it by her own fault, and given it to Solomon. Nevertheless, she will not take back the gift she has made. Let him also take his thousands from her vineyard, but let two hundred shekels be reserved for the "keepers " of this property. It is a sort of will. The Shulamite makes a bequest in Solomon's favour, but at the same time charges the property with a permanent rent for those whom she recognises as tenants of her vineyard in perpetuity.
Finally, the shepherd, who has just made his appearance for the first time, opens his mouth, and utters the only words attributed to him in the whole drama. He asks the Shulamite, as a favour to his friends who have come down with him from the spiced mountains, on which he has his dwelling, for a song. He addresses her as the inhabitant of the gardens. We must take care not to substitute here, as M. Renan does, the singular for the plural, and translate, "Fair one, who inhabitest this garden?" He is not speaking of any garden in particular, but of gardens in general. It is the Shulamite's kind of life, as opposed to his own, which the shepherd wishes thus to define. The gardens symbolise social life and its restraints; the pasture-lands complete liberty:—
Then it is that the Shulamite, complying with the wish of her beloved, sings to him those mysterious words, which seem to indicate a secret fear, inspired, perhaps, by the thought of the presence of the mighty Solomon:—
She gives up the thought of accompanying him herself. There is still a bond which holds her to these gardens—that lower domain of the monarch's kingdom. But there is nothing to keep him back. Let him spread his wings, and return to his natural sphere! Let him re-ascend to where he can breathe once more the pure air of perfect liberty.
And it is in face of this last verse that M. Renan has the courage, to say no more, to bring his analysis of the poem to an end with these words: "The Song concludes therefore(!) quite naturally with the peaceful re-union of the two lovers." After saying which, the critic lays down his pen, satisfied. We cannot say we envy him his satisfaction.
"We have now to try and discover the true meaning of this poem.
The ancient allegorical interpreters endeavoured to extract from these pictures a loftier sense than could have been intended by the author. It is not a task of that kind that we wish to undertake. For the reasons we have been setting forth, we cannot help suspecting that the poet himself has given to the strange scene we have just been analysing, and of which we have pointed out the connection, a higher sense; and it is just this idea of the author which we wish to seize, in order that we may comprehend, in all its beauty, this second masterpiece of Semitic poetry. If the allegorical meaning given by the ancients has the effect of a plant without roots, and suspended in the air; it seems to me that, on the other hand, the literal interpretation of our modem expositors is like a bud which has withered before it could bloom.
Göethe thus painted the character of ancient genius: "Formerly the imagination was preponderatingly and almost exclusively active. The other faculties of the soul were subject to it. Now the contrary is the case. She is the servant, and she has well-nigh succumhed to this bondage. The ages of antiquity held conceptions under the form of intuitions, and through the organ of the imagination; our age elaborates them into ideas. The great notions of life were, in the eyes of the ancients, living figures—became even gods; we make them into formulæ. They created; we analyse."
May we not make this aphorism, in which Goethe has so well formulated the birth of Greek mythology, give us also the key to the Song of Songs? Does not this poem offer us, in fact, under the form of living figures, the highest conceptions of the Hebrew genius? Not that we would for a moment dream of considering as merely imaginary the historical fact which forms the basis of the poem, and which Ewald has so well brought into light. The anecdote of the maiden carried off by Solomon's people, exposed in the palace to all the seductions of the king, but remaining faithful to the poor shepherd, who loves her with a pure love, this anecdote is, and will ever be in our eyes, a reality. Had it not been for this apparently insignificant fact, the Song would perhaps never have been conceived in the mind of him who composed it. But the author did not limit himself to this little adventure; it did but serve as a spur to his thought. It gave rise in his mind to new intuitions, and at last it set in vibration within him the deepest chords of the Israelitish consciousness. And giving himself up to the full play of his genius, he conceived and executed this picture in which he has given shape to the ideas which filled his soul. It was the same kind of service which the legend of Job rendered to the author of the book bearing that name.
1. First, let us endeavour to determine the significance of the principal personages.
The most transparent figure is that of the shepherd. This personage does not, as we have seen, make his appearance through the whole course of the drama, except in the trances of the Shulamite; and when in the last act he comes forward for one moment in company with her, it is only to ask her for a song, to hear her voice; then he vanishes. The dwelling-place of this mysterious being is no less aerial than himself. We must look for him amidst the gardens of balsam, the fields of lilies, and the spiced mountains. His character also is ideal as well as his dwelling-place. He has all the attributes which constitute perfection in the opinion of the Hebrews; perfect beauty64, boundless liberty65, absolute wisdom66. It is through these qualities that he eclipses in the eyes of the Shulamite even the magnificence of Solomon. So much so, that the instinct of truth has forced from M. Meier, a zealous disciple of the modem school, this remarkable confession: " The Shulamite loves in her shepherd the ideal and the prototype of her people67."
But if we recognise this ideal character of the shepherd, we are compelled to go one step further. The Israelite ideal is not a mere idea; it is a living, a divine being. It is Jehovah Himself, the Being whose Name signifies not only He who is, but He who shall be, Jehovah manifesting Himself in this lower world, in order to realise in it the absolute good; it is God emerging from His condition oftranscendence (as Elohim, or El-Shaddai), to draw near to the world, to unite Himself ever more closely with humanity, to make His appearance at last in person, in a human form, on the scene of history. This was the living ideal of the Israelitish consciousness, which it has pursued without intermission through all its trials, and which it can never give up without self-contradiction. This is the Shulamite’s beloved one. He it is who pastures His flock in the ethereal regions, above these gross realities of terrestrial existence in which His loved one is still living; He it is who descends from time to time from these heights, and in prophetic visions appears to her who has given Him her heart; taking her, as it were, by surprise; He it is who loves her with a holy and austere love, offering her nothing for the gratification of the senses, but giving Himself to her with the most entire devotion; He it is who in return for His infinite condescension, asks no more of her than the sound of her voice, the worship of the heart inspired by love.
It may be asked why the author has borrowed all the images he had need of from rural life? If, as we shall prove is the fact, the Canticle was composed in the age of Solomon, this question of form is easy to answer. When a nation has arrived at the summit of its civilisation, the ideal existence will present itself naturally under the image of a return to rural life. There is a longing to be freed, at least in imagination, from the yoke of conventionality. It is in the composition of Bucolics, that a generation, weary of its luxuries and comforts, indemnifies itself for the loss of the simple and natural form of life. It was in the age of the Ptolemies that Theocritus flourished; in the court of Augustus that Virgil sang; in the time of Louis XIV. and Louis XV, that Deshoulieres and Florian composed their pastorals. The literature of an age is as often its contrast as its portrait. Nothing, therefore, could be more natural than that, in the age of Solomon, the colours required for painting the ideal should be borrowed from pastoral life.
We are much disposed to see, with the ancient Hebrew men of learning, in these spiced mountains on which the shepherd feeds his flock, not only a symbol of the heavenly home, but even an allusion to the Temple at Jerusalem, which was its earthly figure. Led in this direction by the expressions, spices, balsam, incense, they thought of the perfume ascending day by day from the golden altar, in honour of Jehovah. Is there not in the very name Har-Mor, mountain of myrrh, an allusion to Moriah (Mor-jah)? and is there not a reference, in the meetings between the Shulamite and her beloved, morning and evening, to the offering of sacrifice and incense, and the assembly of the people in presence of Jehovah, every morning and evening?
Who would not be surprised in reading the Canticle to find no mention of the Person, or of the name of Jehovah, in the visions of a pious Israelite, such as the Shulamite? But this fact is at once explained, if we suppose the shepherd to be none other than Jehovah Himself. This Divine Lover, whom the father of Solomon had already called his shepherd68, is not mentioned in any single sentence of the Canticle, because the whole of it is full of Him; He is there as God is in the universe—everywhere, and not in any one part only.
The second, and in reality the principal personage in the poem, is the Shulamite. Are we to see in her only a young Israelitish maiden, accidentally brought upon the stage of history through the story we know, or is she not also an ideal figure, the significance of which we have to discover?
What does the name Shulamite mean? M. Renan, according to an hypothesis often accepted, derives it from Shunem, a town belonging to the tribe of Issachar. To give more probability to this derivation, this town is supposed to be the same as that to which Eusebius, in the fourth century B.C., gives the name of Shulem, Ewald has rejected this etymology, and prefers to confess his ignorance. Gesenius only accepts it for want of any other more satisfactory, and because of the article which precedes the name: the Shulamite, a reason which is far from decisive, as we shall presently see. But if there is one fact more glaring than another, is it not the connection between the name Shulamite and that of Solomon? Solomon means, the perfect, the prosperous, the peaceful. Shulamite is in some sort the feminine of this name; the perfect, the complete woman. These two names are both related to Schalom, which signifies the right condition of things, perfect prosperity. The translation peace, commonly given to this word, is only an application of this more general idea. In Hebrew, one may ask, "Is all schalom?" in war as well as in peace. The real meaning is, "is all well?" Now this word schalom is the very word used by the Shulamite when, celebrating her victory in the last act, she compares her conduct with that of Solomon. She makes of this word schalom the note of unity between her own name and that of the king. "Then," says she, "was I in his eyes as one that found sehalom;" in other words, "I, the prosperous one, was in his eyes (the eyes of Solomon the prosperous one) as one that found prosperity." If the name Shulamite is symbolical, the person must be so also; and this explains the use of the article before the name: the Shulamite, that is, the perfect one. As the shepherd represents the ideal towards which the Israelitish mind aspires, the Shulamite is the symbol of that aspiration itself. We should say she represented the Israelitish instinct in its perfect state. It is therefore the idealised self of each member of the nation, of the author himself, of Solomon, supposing him to be the author. It is the reaching forth of Israel towards Jehovah, considered in itself, and independently of the individuals in whom it was more or less perfectly realised; it is the love of the covenant God personified in a being, who becomes by that very fact the ideal Israel.
Accordingly, in the formula which forms the burthen of the poem, the Shulamite is called simply love: "Wake not love (ahavah), until be please." This word in the Hebrew is feminine, and adapts itself better than the French to the poetical image of this sentiment personified in a young maiden.
There remains the third personage, Solomon. It is not di65cult to discover what is meant by him. This grand figure, by the very splendour of his appearance in history, assumes quite naturally a representative character. Solomon is the personification of earthly kingship, as Samuel instituted it, against his own judgment, but not without the consent of the Almighty. Already, in that famous prophecy in which Nathan promises David69 that "God should build him an everlasting house, and stablish his throne for ever," mention is made of his son as the representative of the whole posterity of DaTid, in such a waj that one can scarcely tell whether certain expressions apply to Solomon personally, or to the king of Israel in the abstract. Nothing can be more natural than that the author of the Canticle should take Solomon as a type of the earthly kingship granted to Israel in opposition to Jehovah, the invisible sovereign of the chosen people.
Besides these three principal personages, there are some subordinate ones, the "daughters of Jerusalem," who form a kind of chorus in the drama, and the brothers of the Shulamite, or the "sons of her mother." The former represent the nation in the concrete, Israel after the flesh, fascinated by the splendour of Solomon; answering to and in contrast with the Shulamite, or Israel according to the spirit, the ideal nation. It is more difficult to explain what is meant by the brothers. We can only arrive at it by studying the action itself.
Such being the principal personages, what is the action which takes place amongst them, and forms the subject of the poem?
It appears to us (to give at the outset our own thoughts without reserve) that the true subject of the drama is the profound change wrought in the position of Israel in relation to Jehovah, by the institution of monarchy, and by the prospect of the serious dangers which in consequence of this change threatened the future of the nation.
In the dramatic representation, by the help of which the author treats this theme, we must distinguish three things: the antecedents, the trial, and the conclusion.
The antecedents are indicated by the Shulamite in slight, scarcely perceptible touches. Her brothers, being displeased with her, have thought good to employ her, a prince's daughter, to tend the vineyards70. And further, the vineyard that belonged to herself, her own inheritance, she has not kept71. Lastly, she has had the imprudence—and this fault is perhaps the cause of the two preceding misfortunes—to let herself be drawn by a whim of her own, into the midst of the chariots of the royal procession.72
Enigmatical as this last passage may appear, it is perhaps the one most easy of interpretation, and may put us on the right track for discovering the meaning of the other two. Does not the author, under this image, allude to the foolish caprice which impelled Israel—the free people, the first-born of Jehovah—to become subject, in imitation of the neighbouring nations, to an earthly king? The splendour of a brilliant court, the power that attaches to a single sovereign, have led them astray. They have yielded to this impulse of fallen nature; they have been mad enough to exchange their original nobleness and primitive independence for the state of servitude to which they find themselves soon reduced.
If this be the meaning of this image, we shall easily see what is intended by the vineyard, the property of the Shulamite, which she has not kept. Interpreters who have seen in it the emblem of her beauty (Ewald), or of her innocence (M. Renan), or of her well-beloved (M. Réville), are unable to account for the parallelism set up73 between this vineyard belonging to the Shulamite, for which she pays a thousand shekels to Solomon, and that of Solomon himself, which brings him a thousand shekels from each of his tenants. But from our point of view all this becomes at once clear; the Shulamite' s vineyard is simply the land of Canaan, which Israel had received as a heritage from the hand of his God and Father, and which he lost when he subjected himself and all belonging to him to an earthly sovereign. The land of Canaan is no longer the property of the people to whom God had given it, but that of the king to whom the people had surrendered themselves.
That is also the reason why the Shulamite has become the object of her brothers' indignation, and found herself called to the rough work of tending the vineyards of strangers. These brothers, who have not spared the people, are the native masters whom God gave them. First of all, Samuel,, who was moved to deep indignation by the wilfulness of Israel in choosing to have an earthly king. His opposition to these acts will be at once recalled to mind, and afterwards, when he was obliged to yield, his threats: "He will take your sons and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen. . . . and will set them to ear his ground and to reap his harvest. And he will take your daughters to be confectioners, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. . . . He will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your seed and of your vineyards. . . . He will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants74.". . . . This prophecy was speedily fulfilled in the reigns of Saul and David. It was at that moment, as says Duncker, "that the patriarchal state came to an end;. . . . and if the monarchy led the uation into new paths of civilisation and progress, they had also from that time to bear the burden of a court life, such as that which already existed in Egypt, Phoenicia, Babylonia and Assyria." A system of heavy taxes and even of compulsory labours was organised. The nation became subject to taxes and levies at the mercy of the sovereign. But one of the most marked features in this change was the transformation of Israel from a nomadic and agricultural into a conquering and military nation. "Every month," says Stahelin, "24,000 men were liable to serve in turn75." It was, in fact, no longer a question of defending the land of Canaan. All the neighbouring countries had been conquered and annexed to the Israelite empire. "David's prefects," says Duncker, "had taken the place of the ancient kings at Damascus, in Ammon, and in Edom." All these nations, now tributary, had to be kept in subjection. For that purpose garrisons had to be maintained, which demanded much military service from. the people of God, who had hitherto been exempt; from all such labour. What is said of David, "he put garrisons throughout all Edom76," applies to all the other conquered territories from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, and from Libanus to the Red Sea. Such was the system, quite new for the nation, which is indicated by these words, "My mother's children were angry with me, they made me keeper of the vineyards."
So not only did Israel lose her own land, but this noble nation was employed in guarding foreign territories. And in this changed condition it lost its original beauty. It is true that the mass of the people, who are represented by the daughters of Jerusalem, gave themselves up to devoted admiration of the power and luxury of the young king, who made gold as common in Jerusalem as the dust in the streets; but the true Israelitish consciousness was not thereby deceived; it had a sense of profound degradation.
Such are the antecedents. This is the moment when the trial, which is represented in the drama, begins, of which we have now to interpret the true meaning. It has, we may say, two gradations. Each time, it opens with a meeting between the Shulamite and Solomon, in which the latter exhausts all his arts of seduction; and it closes with a trance of the Shulamite, in which she seeks, or enjoys—but in the spirit only—the presence of her beloved.
The meetings between Solomon and the Shulamiterepresent the attraction exerted over the Israelitish mind by that ideal of earthly grandeur of which Solomon has been the most perfect historical representation, and of which he remains for ever the type. And while the chorus of the Jerusalem maidens in its absolute devotion to the wishes of the monarch, personifies the people fascinated by that ideal of outward glory which came before them in Solomon, the Shulamite by her undaunted resistence to the seductions of the monarch, and her steadfast fidelity to him to whom she has long since given her heart, stands as the symbol of that deep aspiration after Jehovah, that inextinguishable thirst for God, that divine instinct which is as indestructible in the Jewish nation as its divine origin and its Messianic destination. The honour of sharing a throne with a sovereign of the universe, with an earthly Solomon, with a representative of humanity glorified, is, in the eyes of an Israelitish consciousness, an opprobrium when compared with the holy destiny—of being the betrothed of Jehovah, and of appearing as His bride, without spot or wrinkle, at the time of His advent.
The Israelitish consciousness in its integrity had its most perfect and loftiest expression in prophecy. There is a very remarkable correspondence between the states, first of unconsciousness, then of ecstacy, which come upon the Shulamite at the close of each of her conflicts, and the manner in which Scripture pictures to us the raptures of prophecy, especially in the earliest periods of the sacred history. "I sleep," said the Shulamite, "but my heart wakes." This is just the expression of Balaam, speaking of the moment when the Spirit of God comes upon him: "He hath said which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open77." These words indicate a state of temporary insensibility to the external world, and at the same time of extraordinary clairvoyance with regard to the divine pictures presented by the Spirit to the inner sense of the prophet.
There is nothing in all this—even to the kind of somnambulist dance to which the Shulamite gives herself up—which has not its parallel in the condition of prophetic inspiration under its most ancient form. One example will suffice: " And Saul, it is said, went to Naioth in Ramah, where were Samuel and David, and the Spirit of God was upon him also... and he stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets78?"
To the theophanies, or visible appearances by means of which Jehovah manifested Himself to the patriarchs, succeeded the internal and purely spiritual revelations by which He communicated with the prophets; and these ended in that grand and supreme manifestation which it was their mission to prepare, the Messianic Revelation of God, which to the externality of the theophanies adds the spirituality of the visions. For,like the former, it took place on the stage of history; and, like the latter, it should become in each believer a direct perception through the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
This, then, is what the poet would bring to the consciousness of the nation by the sight of the trialto which the Shulamite is exposed. Israel, since the setting up of the kingdom, is in a critical condition. It finds itself, like the maiden who typifies it, placed between two opposite attractions. On the one side, the regal splendour which dazzles the eyes and flatters the senses; on the other, the holy love of a God, Who, in His sublime austerity, scorns to use any sensual means for attaching His people to Himself.There, a Solomon crowned with glory and honour; here, an invisible shepherd, who appears only in visions, and in the guise of the greatest simplicity, his head wet with the dews of night. On the one side is the ideal after which the natural man aspire —the nation made glorious in the person of the king who represents it; on the other, Jehovah, deprived of all His outward splendour, retaining no attractions but those exerted by His Love, preparing for His manifestation, as Isaiah beheld Him, as the Man of Sorrows79. These are the two lovers, to the power of whom Israel is subjected. Upon the willing submission of the nation to one or the other, its fate will depend. The person of the Shulamite was invented in order to pourtray to it the grave view of this state of things, and to bring it, if possible, to the choice which would be its salvation and true glory. The history of Israel—is it in its essence anything but one long struggle between the true and the false ideal of glory? And will not that great catastrophe, which will put an end for a time to its national existence, be the result solely of the false preference into which it allowed itself to be drawn? There was One who said, "I am come in My Father's Name, and ye receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. . . for ye seek not the honour that cometh from God only80" Until the end, and even at this very day, the position is still the same; Solomon on the one side, Jehovah on the other; Israel between the two, called upon to make its choice.
If we are not mistaken, such is the meaning of the trial. The conclusion to which the whole leads is the arrival upon the scene of the Shulamite and her beloved, now re-united, and the solution given in a few words by the young heroine, of all the problems which have arisen out of the different relations into which Israel has entered. But these solutions are offered, in conformity with, the whole character of the poem, under the form of riddles.
This shepherd, whom the Shulamite has seen in visions during her ecstasies, is now actually present. She has possession of him, and nothing not even his disappearance once more out of her bodily sight—can any longer separate her from him. If the appearances of the beloved in the dreams of the Shulamite stand in any relation to the prophetic visions, this final arrival upon the scene can only represent the actual appearance of Jehovah upon the stage of history, His Messianic advent, the long-expected consummation of the whole series of past revelations.
But to what cause is this Messianic appearance of Jehovah due? This we learn from the first riddle,—that of the shepherd awakened under the apple-tree. The beloved was sleeping in the orchard of his mother’s house, whilst the Shulamite was fighting his battles in the gilded apartments of Solomon. And it was thither, as soon as she regained her liberty, that she fled. She found him under the apple-tree where his mother had given him birth, and by her calls has awakened him.
At the period of the Wisdom of the Jews they loved to refer everything back to the cradle of the history of mankind. Wisdom herself is compared in the book of Proverbs to the tree of life81. To the Almighty she is a beloved being whom He possessed as His companion, and with whom He conversed: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. . . . Then was I by Him as one brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight." It is through her that He has done all His works82. She herself found her delight from the beginning in the children of men83. Every word in this description rests upon the narrative of Genesis i. If, while reading, we bear in mind that the apple-tree is, in the oriental mythologies, the ordinary emblem of Paradise, we shall soon reach the meaning of all these images.
It was in Paradise and in sorrow that the Messiah, the betrothed of Israel, was conceived. Was it not under the tree of the Fall, in the midst of the agonies of a deserved chastisement, that the promise was uttered, which from that time hovered like a cloud of mystic blessing over the whole history of mankind: "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." That word was the beginning of the Incarnation. For a long time was He asleep beneath the tree under which He had been conceived,—the Saviour of mankind. Even after He had chosen for Himself an earthly bride in the person of the Jewish Church, He seemed during long ages not to be caring for her,—delivering up the Shulamite into slavery under the yoke of Solomon. He only appeared to her in moments of adoration and worship, in hours of prophetic ecstasy and vision. But she called upon Him: “Oh, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down84,” was her constant cry through the mouth of her psalmists and prophets. This cry, “ Come ! is it not that of every uncorrupted Israelitish consciousness, the soul of that nation’s life as it is to this day the soul of the life of the Church ? Hid not Jehovah Himself say to the watchmen who kept watch over Israel on His behalf, Give yourselves no rest; give Me no rest85. . . The Shulamite is the personification of this waiting of Israel, as the Bride in the Apocalypse is that of the longing of the Church stretching out her arms towards the Christ on His return. The coming down of Jehovah, which name means, "I am, and I come86," is the answer of this cry of Israel according to the spirit. In possession of her beloved, the Shulamite now sings of the strength of the bond which unites them to each other—Love in all its sublimity. Love is not a feeling having its origin in man; it cannot, therefore, he purchased at any price. It is a flame of Jah (Jehovah), kindled by Him, and of which the supreme object should be Himself. The passion of the rich man who offers everything without giving himself, will be treated with contempt, while the true love of the God who brings no present, but who gives Himself, has in it a power which can measure itself victoriously even against that of death and of the grave.
After having thus explained the mystery of the coming of the beloved, and done homage to the perfection of the bond which unites her to him, the Shulamite turns to her brothers who had treated her roughly; not to complain of a severity, of the justice and good effects of which she is not unconscious, but to converse with them about a young sister whom she sees on the maternal threshold. She easily comes to an understanding with them as to the principles which should govern the training and the fate of this young girl, who is soon to follow her into the battle of life. If she is firm as a wall, she shall be crowned with battlements of silver,—glory is secured to her for a recompense. If she shews any weakness in the hour of temptation—like a door which yields to a slight pressure—she shall be "enclosed with boards of cedar,"—servitude, privation, and shame, shall be her lot. In order to add strength to this warning, the Shulamite holds herself up as an example to her young sister.
If the Shulamite represents Israel—the typical Israel—her sister not yet grown up can only represent that part of mankind which is not yet fitted to undergo the trial to which this nation was the first to be submitted,—heathen mankind therefore. The reader will perhaps ask himself whether the eyes of the ancient poet could pierce so far into the future. But does not Solomon himself, when he is inaugurating the temple, and dedicating that building to Jehovah as His dwelling-place in Israel, expressly set apart a place for the Gentiles in this house? Does he not ask that their prayers also may be heard?—
Did not Solomon at the summit of his glory, see a representative of this Gentile world, a foreign queen, arrive at Jerusalem, attracted not by the fame of his name only, but also by that of the Name of Jehovah88, whose appearance may well have contributed to awaken in the poet's mind the idea of this personification of pagan humanity in the young sister of the Shulamite? The Gentiles will one day have to decide on their destiny, as Israel is now called to decide on its own. They, too, will have to choose between the visions of a false glory, and the happiness enjoyed in the love of God; between the Messiah crowned with gold, and the Messiah whose hair is wet with the dews of night, or even whose head is crowned with thorns!
These family arrangements being concluded, the Shulamite turns to Solomon. For she has an account to settle with him. He is not, it is true, present, but her words will none the less surely reach him.
By its own fault the nation now has him for its king. It cannot undo what was done in a moment of forgetfulness. For it is with the faults of nations as with those of individuals, or of all mankind. "When by a decisive act, either good or bad, a free being has admitted into his life a principle, this principle becomes a power, and it can no longer be suppressed by a simple act of the will. It has acquired the right to live, and it will not perish, if it does perish, till it has developed all that was latent in it. Man must "eat of the labour of his hands89." So must it be with the institution of monarchy in Israel. The Shulamite recognises this Law of the Divine justice, and it is just her determination to submit herself to it, to which she gives expression in the riddle of the vine. What, in fact, does she say in that difficult passage, viii. 11, 12?
Solomon possesses vast conquered territories. It is this which the Shulamite calls the vineyard at Baal-hamon90. For the meaning of this latter name is, master of a multitude, and designates Solomon therefore as the master not of Israel only, but of a whole multitude of nations; the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Syrians, the Philistines. Their lands belong to the sovereign personally, and not at all to the nation. It is he who receives all the revenues of this vast domain. In order to do so, he has established officers whose business it is to collect the tribute imposed upon each nation. This tribute is represented by the thousand shekels which the tenants of the vineyard pay the proprietor. These tenants (or keepers) represent the royal tax-gatherers in each country. We know the admirable system organised by Solomon for collecting money from the nations he had conquered. Each of them was obliged to pay annually a certain sum either in money, or in kind, according to the productions of the country. Thus the king of Moab, Mesha, was taxed at 100,000 lambs, and 100,000 rams, with their wool91; and other nations in like manner.
The question now is, how will Israel act in this respect with regard to its sovereign? The land of Canaan is its patrimony. Is it to pay a rent to Solomon upon the revenue of the country which belongs to it? That would be to place itself on a level with the conquered nations. On the other hand, Israel has itself demanded a king; it was an act of folly, but it has been committed, and now it cannot free itself from the consequences of the position in which this hasty step has placed it. Here, then, is the solution which the Israelitish consciousness, personified in the Shulamite, gives to this delicate question: "my vineyard which is mine (she distinguishes by this expression between the land of Canaan which God had given her, and the conquered territories which are the private domain of the king) is before me,"—that is to say, under my eyes and not at a distance, like Solomon's vineyard in Baal-Hamon. " I have then the right to claim exemption from taxes for this country in which I live. Nevertheless I will submit to the same conditions as the other nations: I will pay the thousand." We must notice here the use of the article (haéleph) the thousand, that is to say, the same tribute which is paid by all the other nations. Only in taking upon itself this engagement, which is the consequence of the fault into which it fell in not keeping its vineyard, Israel makes one condition; it demands that from this tribute paid to the king, there shall be deducted annually one-fifth, that is two hundred shekels; and that this sum shall be applied to the maintenance of the "keepers," to whose care the vineyard of Israel is from time to time confided.
Who are these keepers? After what has been already said, we cannot long be in doubt; they are the priests and Levites. The priests had, up to that time, been maintained upon the tithe paid them by Israel; but now that the nation has to pay a contribution to the king's treasury, there is a danger of the priests not receiving their dues, and falling into destitution. This is why the Shulamite, while accepting the burden of the royal impost, is careful to charge upon it the maintenance, partial or entire, of the priesthood. It is well known that, at the time of the construction of the temple, the order of Priests and Levites was definitively organised. And it must have been at the same time that the question of their maintenance was also settled. And without going so far as to say with M. Duncker that a thirteenth tribe—that of the Levites—was then added to the twelve of which the nation was composed, we accept without hesitation the following words from this learned writer: " The priesthood did not receive an independent position; they were left to the assistance of the sovereign who had built the temple for them, and had much raised their position and fame." Certainly it was not in order to favour our interpretation of the Canticle that the eminent historian wrote these lines; so much the stronger is the support they give to it.
M. Grsetz, in the book he has just published on the Canticle92, understands by the vineyard of Solomon his seraglio, and by that of the Shulamite her innocence, which she had been able to preserve. We say nothing of the profound disgust which must be inspired by all the images made use of if the enigma is so interpreted; we only ask what meaning it is possible, from this point of view, to give to the two hundred shekels reserved by the Shulamite for the keepers of her vineyard. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's:"—these dues of Caesar are the thousand which Israel freely undertakes by the mouth of the Shulamite to pay its kings. "To God the things that are God's:"—God's share is the two hundred which are to be assigned to the maintenance of the priesthood—to say nothing of the devoted love which the whole Canticle preaches. Thus spoke the Israelitish consciousness at the time of the institution of the monarchy and of the foundation of the temple. Thus at a future day will it speak by the mouth of Him who will be no longer only its poetical personification but its living and true incarnation93.
"When once we look at it from this point of view, there is no longer any difficulty in interpreting the last riddle,—that of the flight of the beloved.
The shepherd, in the only word which the poet puts into his mouth in the whole course of this drama so entirely occupied with him, asks of his beloved, one thing only,—a song from her lips. And, moreover, he asks this favour rather for his friends who surround him, and. who have come down with him from the spiced mountains, than for himself. What is the meaning of this request? That on earth which rejoices the heart of Jehovah is the song which comes from the heart of His people, it is the adoration of Love. But if it is His "Will that the accents of this adoration should make themselves heard, it is not for Himself, who has no need of these outward manifestations; it is for the heavenly spirits who surround Him, to whom these praises which ascend from the earth are JSis glory. It is men whom the angels call upon to give glory to God, even in the Highest.
"What does the Shulamite answer? We know already. She sings, but it is to call upon her beloved to flee with all possible speed, to return to the mountains whence he has come down. His habitation is not to be among the gardens. He most hasten to leave the plain, even though she cannot yet follow him to the mountains where he pastures his flock amongst the lilies.
From the time of Solomon, and during his reign, Israel may indeed have belonged in heart to Jehovah; but none the less was it externally subject to another master. The Messianic union between God and His people could not then be perfectly consummated. For that purpose it was necessary that the throne of the earthly sovereign which had wrongly interposed itself between them, should disappear. Besides, what had Jehovah already said to the Messiah by the mouth of David? "Sit thou on my right hand94." David then himself contemplated in spirit the Messiah leaving this earth to re-ascend to God, and leaving for a time this heritage which had been given to Him in the hand of His adversaries, not to return again until, from His throne on high, He shall have brought all His rivals here below to complete obedience. The realisation of the final union between God and His people by the Messianic kingdom presupposes the complete liberation of the country over which the visible monarch is now reigning. This, if we are not mistaken, is the explanation of this flight of the beloved, in which is expressed, in the most complete and profound manner, the main idea of the Canticle: immoveable fidelity to the invisible Jehovah.
The Advent of the Messiah, the trial of the Gentiles succeeding to that of the Jews, the subjection of Israel to Solomon with a reservation of the rights of God, the departure of the Messiah from this earthly scene soon after His appearance on it, these are the subjects treated in these four riddles, and they exhaust all the essential conditions of the life of Israel.
How are we to account for the origin of such a work?
Two very different opinions offer themselves among the modern critics who agree in rejecting the authorship of Solomon affirmed in the title; that of M. Renan, who refers this writing to the first years of the kingdom of the ten tribes, from 975 to 923 B.C.—the time when Tirzah was the capital of this kingdom95; and that of M. Grætz, who in the recent work which we have just quoted, places the composition of the Canticle long after the Captivity, in the time of the Grecian dominion in Palestine. He rests this date upon certain usages and certain expressions of the poem, which appear to be of Greek origin. This kind of argument is, as M. Renan shews with regard to some of these expressions supposed to be derived from the Greek, very precarious96. Long before the time of Alexander, communications between the East and West were on such a scale that it is inconceivable that the customs and languages of the different nations should have been preserved free from all intermixture. It is safer to have recourse to criteria more directly certain. That alleged on his side by M. Renan has not, if examined closely, any conclusive force. No doubt, as this learned writer says, Tirzah could not have been mentioned as it is after the period indicated, since from that time it disappears altogether from history; but it might easily have been so before that time. For why should not a town be mentioned for its beauty, although not yet possessing the rank of a capital ? And does not its very elevation to this dignity lead us naturally to imagine that it was already distinguished from others by some special advantages? So that when the early sovereigns of the Northern kingdom chose Tirzah for the capital of the new state, a dignity which it retained till the time of Omri, when it gave place to Samaria, it is probable that the reason of its selection was its superiority to all other towns in the territories of the ten tribes. That is enough to justify the words of the Canticle, which makes it, in respect of beauty, the rival of Jerusalem.
The title of the Canticle, by ascribing this work to Solomon, gives evidence of its having been composed in the time of that king. And this date seems to us confirmed by several indications that may be drawn from the book itself.
The first is that noticed by Delitzsch in these words: "The author of the Canticle moves among the circumstances of the time of Solomon with a sureness of insight which could belong only to a poet of that age. . . . The description of Solomon's palanquin and bed97, that of the tower of David98, the images borrowed from the tower of ivory and from that of Lebanon99,—all reveal a writer who saw with his own eyes the life of the great king."
If our interpretation, I do not say of the details of the Canticle, but of the poem taken as a whole, has any truth in it—and it seems to me that the explanation of the riddle of the two vineyards100 hardly admits doubt on that point—the date of this work is fixed by this very fact. It is a monument of the tumult excited in the Israelitish consciousness by the establishment of the monarchy, and by the subjection of the nation and of its country to this new power. The work of Samuel, Saul, and David is evidently recent. It had at first been hailed with rapture; but after the first moments were over, men began to ponder the consequences of such a revolution, and to seek the solution of the grave problems it raised with regard to the future of the nation.
A great lyrical work, whether epic or dramatic, is always the echo of some great moral shock, the fruit of thoughts which were seriously occupying the mind of the age. The author speaks for his age, and his age speaks through him.
Besides, could it be without strong reason that the ancient Jewish writers, men of learning, not given, especially on questions relating to the canonical Scriptures, to acting hastily, ascribed the Canticle to Solomon himself? "The Song of Songs which is Solomon's:" this title is all the more remarkable because it seems given in defiance of the contents of the poem—especially if either Ewald's interpretation or our own is the true one. Nevertheless the fact is, that if there was one Israelitish author whose circumstances fitt4rd him to bring the great king upon the stage in the light in which he appears in this drama, it could only be this king himself. The idea of a comic or satirical play, composed in the Northern kingdom with the object of putting Solomon and his dissolute life to shame, falls to the ground, if our interpretation of the enigma of the two vineyards and of the Canticle as a whole has any truth at all in it. Certainly no citizen of the kingdom of Judah would have allowed himself to make the king play the humiliating part of an unsuccessful rival. The prophets, notwithstanding their freedom of speech, enshroud the grand figure of Solomon in a reverential silence. There remains then only one supposition. Solomon, contemplating himself at the apogee of his splendour, with a glance of that high wisdom with which he had been endowed, perceived the snare which a monarchy, such as his, would offer to the Israelitish consciousness; and taking up a position outside of and above himself, with that objectivity which is characteristic of men of the highest order of genius, he wished to set before Israel, in this enigmatical form, a picture on the one hand of their normal relations with Jehovah their invisible King, and on the other of the perilous relation in which they would thenceforth stand to the visible monarchy realised so magnificently in his own person. The form he adopts is playful, and fits the turn of mind which we have observed in this king. The material was offered him in the position of Israel at this decisive moment. The suggestion was doubtless given to his thought by the romantic adventure, of which the eye of a sagacious critic has discovered the thread, almost hidden from view amidst the rich foliage of the poem.
We know two things about Solomon's youth: one, that "the Lord loved him," and that the prophet Nathan gave him the name of Jedidiah (from Jadid, beloved, and Jah an abridged form of Jehovah101); the other, that "Solomon loved the Lord102." These two expressions are quite exceptional in the Old Testament; the person to whom they were applied knew also unhappily, in a no less exceptional manner, the power of the earthly passions. No one in Israel, consequently, was more fitted than he to describe both the ardour of religious fueling, and the flames of earthly love.
It is also remarkable that Solomon twice received direct communications from Jehovah in a vision, just as it was in her ecstatic sleep that the Shulamite twice realised the presence of her beloved.
The expressions by which Solomon in the Canticle invites his friends to share in the happiness which he promises himself: "Eat, Mends; drink, yea drink abundantly, beloved," stand in a singular relation to the account of the state of the people of Israel under the reign of Solomon in the historical books: "Judah and Israel were many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry103." Let us, finally, call to mind a very just observation of Delitzsch:—There is no writer of the Old Testament who manifests such subtle observation and such complete knowledge as our poet does, of all the objects of nature, whether they be minerals, plants, or animals. The comparisons he borrows from these different fields of knowledge are remarkable for accuracy, as well as variety and abundance, to an extraordinary degree. This kind of excellence was always rare in Israel. But that was precisely, and in the highest degree, the distinctive characteristic of that king of whom it is said in 1 Kings iv. 33:—
Such are some of the very strong reasons which may have led the ancient Jewish writers to give the Canticle the title they have given it.
But, besides, is it quite certain that the title does come from them, and was not a part of the original writing itself? Is it not the custom of the Jewish and Arabian poets to put their name at the head of their works?
There is one fact which seems to me to prove at any rate the existence and the authority of the Canticle in the time of Isaiah. It is the passage in Isa. v. 1, and following verses. This passage opens with these words: "How will I sing to my well-beloved a song, of my beloved touching his vineyard." This "vineyard," in the prophet, is Canaan, as it is in the Canticle. The well-beloved of the prophet is Jehovah, as in the poem. He is even called by the altogether exceptional name of Dodi, as He is in the Canticle. The other expression used for my beloved is Jedidi, the very word which enters into the composition of Jedidiah, Solomon's surname. Lastly, the name schir (song) is another point of likeness, all the more remarkable because we find it made use of in an unusual manner in the midst of a collection of prophecies. Do not these points of connection, which cannot be accidental, corroborate the ancient date which we attribute to the Canticle?
If this poem is the work of Solomon, what is the period of his life in which he may have composed it P It cannot have been in his early youth, for allusion is made in the Canticle to his magnificence, his luxury, his works of art, and even his seraglio. Neither can this book belong to his old age. For in that case its tone would have been that of penitence, the cry of Psalm li., "Have mercy upon me, O God!" It was rather that time of his life when there still lived in him, in aU their freshness, the ineffable impressions of his youth, when his burning love for Jehovah was answered by a like love to him in Jehovah Himself, and when this Divine Friend appeared to him in visions full of sweetness and of tenderness. But already he was beginning to give himself up to earthly pleasures, even while still retaining the memory of the pure joys he had at that time tasted in communion with God. And exactly in that state in which his heart was wavering between these counter attractions, he could, better than any one, appreciate the intensity of the struggle to which Israel was about to find itself exposed, and to represent it under the vivid and dramatic form which we find in the Canticle.
It will be objected that such profound views on Israel's future, and on the Person and reign of the Messiah, were impossible in the time of Solomon. But had not David in the Psalms already opened to the Israelitish consciousness similar prospects? And, besides, no one becomes the most celebrated person of the world without possessing some exceptional gifts.
It appears to me that amongst the Scripture writers there are two who bear the clearest mark of pure Semitic blood,—with hearts on fire, full of passion, given up completely to the object of their love,—with minds altogether intuitive, equally ready to rise from the particular fact to its principle, as to concentrate the absolute into an image in which they incarnate it,—poet-philosophers, and philosopher-poets. These are Solomon and John, two kingly souls, two kindred spirits, two privileged sons of "Wisdom, who, like the shepherd in the Canticle, leave an odour of myrrh upon all that their hand has touched. Gifted with such a nature, they could write the hymn to "Wisdom104, or the epic poem of the Word105—compose a Song of Songs, or an Apocalypse.
We have now only to give a brief answer to these two questions: What are we to think of the admission of the Canticle into the sacred Canon? And what use can the Church now make of this book?
If the idea of the poem is really that which we have extracted from it, it is evident that this book occupies an important and legitimate place among the records of Divine revelation. An echo of one of the profoundest of the theocratic revolutions,—a revolution in which both the sin of man and the will of God had taken part,—this book sets forth its two opposing factors; it marks out the true lines of the new situation; it warns Israel of the dangers to which that situation exposes it; it prepares it for its future. How should a poem of this kind not have a right to take its place among the writings which are the depositaries of the thought of God especting His work on earth!
The central idea of the Canticle having once been seized, nothing is easier than to make its application permanently available for the Christian Church. Like the Shulamite, a captive in Solomon’s palace, the faithful soul, so long as she is shut up in the prison-house of the body, finds herself exposed to all the seductions of the world. But there dwells within her a sublime aspiration, an inextinguishable thirst for that God whose love she has felt, that vargin-instinct of which S. Martin speaks, which is ever urging her towards that unseen loved one from whom she is still separated by the walls of her prison. She seeks Him; she calls to Him; she knows that while all earthly creatures love her only for themselves, it is for her own sake,—purely—that He loves her. This is the lightning of Jah which has transfixed her. In the night-time she seeks Him upon her bed. During the day she exerts herself to please Him. Sometimes He comes down and manifests Himself to the eyes of her faith. She sees Him as in a dream; she delights herself spiritually with His presence;—then suddenly He vanishes. And then once more she is alone, carrying on the contest with Solomon, who draws near in all his pomp and tries to cast his spell upon her. How severe is the struggle, even at times violent! But at the very moment when the king is in his divan, the precious ointment of the Shulamite, the invisible presence of her beloved, gives forth its odour and strengthens her. She remains faithful to Him who is invisible; she sees the moment approaching in which, the true love of her God having won the victory in her heart over all the arts of the seducer, she will be fetched away by Him, and—more fortunate in this respect than the Shulamite herself—will be able to follow Him to those spiced mountains where He pastures His flock amongst the lilies.
Thus the Canticle is true even now of every place where a breath of Divine life, shut up in the earthly prison of the body and of the world, aspires after freedom, and seeks in communion with Jehovah, as manifest in Christ, its perfect satisfaction. To make this application of the Canticle is not to allegorise it arbitrarily, or to insert into the text that which is not to be found in it; it is only to let down the bucket to the bottom of the well, and bring up to the light the living water which springs in it.
Göethe has called the Bible the book of popular education, per excellence. It is, indeed, like a case into which have been gathered all the master-pieces of literature in the smallest possible compass,—all those which appeal most strongly to the regenerate powers of man; models of each kind.
In the historical books we And a narrative, simple, naive, impartial, objective and at the same time dramatic, living, picturesque, with which the historic writing of no nation, ancient or modem, can compare.
The prophets are samples of an eloquence at once the richest and the most chastened, the tenderest and the most austere. These master-pieces of rhetorical art have never been surpassed in the oratory of any nation, or in the pulpit-eloquence of any Church.
Lyrical art has never produced anything comparable to the Psalms. Purifying every joy, sanctifying every grief, reaching higher than ourselves when at our greatest height, deeper than ourselves when we feel plunged into the depths of the abyss, they alone fit all human conditions, and seem always to have been composed precisely with a view to the circumstances in which we find ourselves placed. Hence their everlasting freshness. Other collections of poetry pass away and give place to new ones; the Psalms live on for ever.
The book of Ruth gives us the most graceful and pure of idylls.
In the Lamentations of Jeremiah we see elegy reach an elevation from which it could thencefoward only decline.
If we look for the most popular of books of practical wisdom, we shall find it in the Proverbs.
If philosophic meditation combined with satire attract us, Ecclesiastes is at hand to give us more food for thought than any other book of similar kind.
In the book of Job is unfolded before our eyes the great epic, of which the hero is humanity itself personified in Job, and called to decide whether the victory is that of God over Satan, or of Satan over God.
The drama only was wanting. This important place seemed to remain vacant in this literary, as well as religious, code of humanity. The Canticle supplies this want. After the study we have made of this poem, may we not consider it as in many respects the very bouquet of the dramatic art, and looking at the noble character of its contents, the richness, freshness, and power of its form, ratify the name of Song of Songs, by which a place has been assigned it above all other lyrico-dramatic works—like that which poetry itself holds above prose?
So is it that God has in the Bible wedded beauty to truth, and preluded, by the existence of this book, the period when in each soul glory shall crown the sacred work of grace. "Beauty and power," it is said, "are in His sanctuary."
1) Das hohe Lied, 1851.
2) 1 Cor. xi 8.
3) viii. 7.
4) ver. 10.
5) ver. 6.
6) Revue de théol., vol. xiv.
7) viii. 1.
8) M. Renan, speaking of ver. 2, says, "The vision of the beloved is in all that follows identified with the beloved himself, according to a figure, well-known to the Arabian poets, called Thaif al Khaëal. See Journal Asiatique, April, 1838, No. 378, and those which follow."
9) v. 2.
10) ii. 7.
11) viii. 13.
12) [See French Bible; TR.]
13) ii. 17.
14) 1 Kings x. 1-3.
15) No translation brings out better than that of Perret Gentil the effect to be produced in this respect by a proverb.
16) Prov. i. 6.
17) Josephus, Archeology, viii 6. 8.
18) viii. 6.
19) viii. 8, 9.
20) viii 11, 12.
21) i. 6.
22) Let any one call to mind the Messênienne, where the poet brings upon the lyric stage which he has improvised, as three sisters,—and makes them speak as if they were three living persons,—the three battles of Areola, the Pyramids, and Waterloo.
23) M. Emile Montégut, Revue des deux mondes,
24) i. 6.
25) i. 2-4.
26) i. 5, 6
27) viii. 11, 12.
28) i. 7.
29) i. 8,
30) i. 9, 10.
31) ver. 11.
32) vv. 12-14.
33) ver. 15.
34) ver. 16.
35) i. 16, 17; ii. 1.
36) ii 2.
37) ver. 8.
38) ii. 4—7.
39) ii. 8, 9.
40) vv. 10-13.
41) vv. 13, 14.
42) ii. 15.
43) vv. 16, 17.
44) iii. 1.
45) vv. 1, 2.
46) iii 2-4.
47) ver. 5.
48) iv. 1.
49) vv. 9, 10. In our English version it is "chariot" TR.
50) ver. 7.
51) i. 12 and 16.
52) Solomon's throne was surrounded with massive golden lions. 1 Kings x. 19, 20.
53) vi. 4.
54) Gen. xxxii. 3.
55) vii. 1-9.
56) vii. 1-5.
57) Eng. version, "held in the galleries." TR.
58) vii. 6-9.
59) iii. 6.
60) The ancients used to hang their seals to the neck, or to the wrist, by a chain.
61) p. 258; viii. 8-10.
62) viii. 11, 12.
63) i. 6.
64) v. 10-16.
65) ii. 9, 17; v. 4-6.
67) History of the Poetical Literature of the Hebrews, p. 241
68) Ps. xxiii 1.
69) 2 Sam. vii. 16.
70) vii. 1; i. 6.
71) i. 6; viii. 12.
72) vi. 11, 12; Eng. version, "chariots of Ammi-nadib."
73) viii. 12.
74) 1 Sam. viii. 11-18.
75) Leben Davids, p. 46.
76) 2 Sam. viii. 14.
77) Numb. xxiv. 4. Evidence has been brought of the perfect knowledge possessed by the ancients of magnetic phenomena, and of the use which the priests made of them in Egypt and elsewhere.
78) 1 Sam. xix. 23, 24.
79) Isa. liii.
80) John v. 43, 44.
81) Prov. iii. 18.
82) Prov. viii. 22, 80; Gen. i. 26, "Let us make man."
83) Prov. viii. 31; Gen. i. 26, 27.
84) Isa. lxiv. 1.
85) Ibid, lxii 6, 7
86) Rev. i. 4; xxii 17, 20.
87) 1 Kings viii. 41-13.
88) Ibid. x. 1, (leschem Jehovah.)
89) Ps. cxxviii. 2.
90) See p. 289.
91) 2 Kings iii. 4.
92) Das Salomonische Hohelied.
93) Matt. xvii. 26: "Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? . . . of strangers? Then are the children free. Notwithstanding . . . . that take, and give onto them for me and thee."
94) Ps. cx. 1; compare Matt. xxii. 43.
95) Cant, vi 4, where Tirzah is mentioned as corresponding to Jerusalem.
96) pp. 109—111.
97) iii. 7-10.
98) iv. 4.
99) vii 4.
100) viii. 11, 12.
101) 2 Sam. xii 25.
102) 1 Kings iii.8.
103) Comp. Cant. v. 1 with 1 Kings iv. 20.
104) Prov. viii
105) St. John i.