John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 1

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 1

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Eastern Poetry

Solomon’s Song of Solomon 6-8

In the sixth and seventh chapters of the Song of Songs, we have chiefly a morning scene in the garden. Shelomoh goes down into his garden early in the morning, and there unexpectedly sees Shulamith, and a very animated conversation ensues between them, enriched with many allusions to, and images drawn from, the agreeable objects around.

In the course of this, in the seventh chapter, occurs the noted description of Shulamith by Shelomoh, by which some of the considerations offered yesterday were in part suggested; and we wish now to show how much the color of that description, as indeed of the poem generally, however strong and peculiar it may appear to our subdued impressions, is in harmony with that which belongs to oriental poetry of the same class, and which is received with admiration and delight.

Here, first, from the Persian, is a description of the patriarch Joseph, which offers many points of comparison with that which Shulamith has given of Shelomoh—

“A beauteous youth, who eclipses the charms and graces of the houris of paradise.

“His form, polished as the box-tree, erect as the cypress.

“His locks, falling in ringlets, sealing the mouth of wisdom, and arresting the feet of discretion.

“His forehead shining with immortal beams, surpassing both the sun and the moon.

“His eyebrows arched, and his eyelashes shading his sleepy eyes.

“His eyes beaming mildness, his eyelashes darting arrows.

“His lips smiling and shedding sweets, his lips dropping honey.

“His pearly teeth between his ruby lips, like the lightning playing upon a western sky.

“Laughing, he eclipses the pleiades; smiles and jests dance upon his lips.

“Pearly drops hang upon his double chin; upon his rosy countenance a mole, as the dark ash in the midst of a garden.

“His arms like silver, and well proportioned (rich); but the waist, for want of silver, slender (poor).”

Major Scott Waring, to whom we owe this, says, “I have interpreted these two couplets literally as a specimen of Persian conceits. Solomon’s Song, either in a simple or mystic sense, is full of similar metaphors, some of which have been esteemed inimitably beautiful.”

For the description of a lady by her lover, we cannot do better than turn to the numerous songs of Antar, in praise of his beloved Ibla, which occur in the old Arabian romance that bears his name. From these we cull the following passages—

“The lovely virgin has struck my heart with the arrow of a glance, for which there is no cure. Sometimes she wishes for a feast in the sand-hills, like a gazelle; whose eyes are full of magic. She moves—I should say it was the branch of the tamarisk, that waves its branches to the southern breeze. She approaches—I should say it was a frightened gazelle, when a calamity alarms it in the waste. She walks away—I should say her face was truly the sun, when its lustre dazzles the beholders. She gazes—I should say it was the full moon of night, when Orion girds it with stars. She smiles—and the pearls of her teeth sparkle.

“The sun, as it sets, turns towards her, and says—“Darkness obscures the land; do thou rise in my absence.’ And the brilliant moon calls unto her—‘Come forth, for thy face is like me when I am at the full, and in all my glory.’ The tamarisk-trees complain of her in the morning and in the evening, and cry—‘Away, thou waving beauty, thou form of the laurel.’ She turns away abashed, and throws aside her veil, and roses are scattered from her soft fresh cheek. She draws her sword from the glances of her eyelashes, sharp as the sword of her forefathers; and with it, though sheathed, her eyes do slay. Graceful is every limb, slender her waist. Love-bearing are her glances, waving is her form. The damsel passes the night with musk under her veil, which draws inward fragrance from the fresher essence of her breath. The lustre of day sparkles from her brow, and by the dark shade of her curling ringlets night itself is driven away. When she smiles, between her teeth is a moisture composed of wine, of rain, and of honey. Her throat complains of the darkness of her necklaces (of pearl).”

“Musk spreads a delicious fragrance from her, and her breath exceeds the oil of roses. In her I grasped the branch of the tamarisk steeped in clouds of beauty from the distilling rain. When she stirs, her graceful movements resemble the branch waving with its green leaves.”

But even India supplies no less striking illustrations of this style of poetry. The Gitagovinda; or the Songs of Jayadeva, translated by Sir W. Jones in the Asiatic Researches (vol. iii.), supply copious analogies, from which we can but present a few examples. It is only necessary to add, that these songs are avowedly mystical, expressing spiritual emotions under far stronger images of human passion than can be found in the Song of Songs.

“Her face is like a water-lily, veiled in the dew of tears, and her eyes appear as moons eclipsed, which let fall their gathered meteors, through pain caused by the look of the furious dragon. Note: Alluding, we suppose, to the dragon attempting to swallow the moon, as accounting for its eclipses.

“She fixes white blossoms on her dark locks, where they gleam like flashes of lightning among the curled clouds. On her breasts, like two firmaments, she places a string of gems, like a radiant constellation. She binds her arms, graceful as the stalks of the water-lily, and adorned with bands glowing like the petal of its flower, a bracelet of sapphires, which resemble a cluster of bees.

“Abandon thy wrath, but abandon not a lover, who surpasses in beauty the sons of men, and who kneels before thee, O thou most beautiful among women. Thy lips are a Bandhujiva-flower; the lustre of the Madhuca beams on thy cheeks; thine eye outshines the blue lotus; thy nose is a bud of the Tila; the Cunda blossom yields to thy teeth.

“Place a circlet of music on this breast, which resembles a vase of sacred water crowned with fresh leaves, and fixed near a vernal bower. Place the glossy powder, which would make the blackest bee envious, upon this eye, whose glances are keener than arrows. Fix the two gems, which form part of love’s chain, in these ears, whence the antelopes of thine eyes may run and sport at pleasure. Place now a fresh circle of musk, black as the lunar spots, on the moon of my forehead, and mix gay flowers on my tresses with a peacock’s feathers, in graceful order, that they may wave like the banners of Cama.”

In some of these passages the dress is distinctly referred to as the subject of the metaphorical allusion, thus confirming the impression that several parts of the descriptions in this song, and especially in the seventh chapter, where Shulamith is described by her lover or husband, which have been supposed to refer to the person, really apply to its vestures and ornaments.

Finally, towards the close, the brothers of Shulamith appear upon the scene, consulting, as it seems, respecting the disposal of their sister (Son_8:8-9), now that she is addressed by Shelomoh, pretending that she is yet too young to receive such addresses. She replies to them indignantly, and then follows the concluding dialogue between her and Shelomoh.

To common view, the Song of Songs seems to close abruptly in the verse—“Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe, or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.” But the allegorical interpretation, which is the only possible one, gives to it great emphasis and beauty, and renders it a most fitting termination of this high discourse. It is an aspiration on the part of the church, or of the individual soul, that the Lord will come soon, and make good all the things that have been represented in these raptures of heavenly love. It closes, in fact, like the last book of the New Testament: “He that testifieth of these things, saith, Surely, I come quickly; Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”