Once again, take warning all who read this post. The language that follows is somewhat explicit. If discussions of sex offend you, then you might want to skip this blog post. Of course, you might also want to make a point of avoiding ever reading the Song of Songs in your Bible.
How beautiful your sandaled feet,
O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
the work of a craftsman’s hands.
Your navel is a rounded goblet
that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat
encircled by lilies.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
Your hair is like royal tapestry;
the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are
and how pleasing,
O love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.
May the wine go straight to my lover,
flowing gently over lips and teeth. (7:1-9)
The bulk of this segment of the erotic poem that is the Song of Songs details the delights of the beloved woman’s body: her legs come into view here. Her breasts are described as a cluster of fruit, and she is described as being like a palm tree. Immediately after that, the man says that he will climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit. So that should certainly clear enough, even to the densest of readers, one would think.
There are some Near Eastern-centric statements that seem odd to us: descriptions that just don’t do much for the average 21st century Americans. For instance, the description of her nose as being like the tower of Lebanon just sounds very funny. Funny, of course, was not the intent of the poem’s author. But ideals of beauty, and the ways of describing such beauty, undergo shifts from place to place, people to people, times to times.
Not that sex and humor are mutually exclusive things. Sex is fun, and the concept of joking about it is certainly common throughout human history–and laughter is often a common language between lovers. But here, in this particular section of the poem, laughter would break the mood.
The woman responds at the end, following the description of her mouth being like the best wine. She responds that she wants it to flow right into his mouth, gently “over teeth and gums.” I doubt that the French really invented what we call the French kiss.
I belong to my lover,
and his desire is for me.
Come, my lover,
let us go to the countryside,
let us spend the night in the villages.
Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
and if the pomegranates are in bloom–
there I will give you my love.
The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my lover. (7:10-13)
The woman announces at the start of this segment her confidence in the relationship. It perhaps illustrates something mentioned in the New Testament, that perfect love drives out fear; and of course in 1 Corinthians 13, the nature of love is that it always hopes. So, her statement illustrates how strong her love really is.
Moving on, the man turns his attention to talking about them making love: vines, vineyards, countryside–he is expressing his interest in spending time with her body. As regards the mandrakes: they were considered an aphrodisiac, on the principle that if a plant looks like the thing that you’re having trouble with, then it will help that body part. So, think of mandrakes as a kind of ancient version of Viagra; certainly, given the importance of psychology and mood in something like sex, just the thought that it would help probably did make it help in a lot of cases.
As an example of the aphrodisiac use of mandrakes in the Bible, consider this story from Genesis 30:14-16, which is the only other place in the Bible that mandrakes are mentioned:
During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah.
Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.