Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.V.
(1) I am come into my garden.—This continues the same figure, and under it describes once more the complete union of the wedded pair. The only difficulty lies in the invitation, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved” (Marg., and be drunken with loves). Some suppose an invitation to an actual marriage feast; and if sung as an epithalamium, the song might have this double intention. But the margin, “be drunken with loves,” suggests the right interpretation. The poet, it has been already said (Note, Song of Solomon 2:7), loves to invoke the sympathy of others with his joys, and the following lines of Shelley reproduce the very feeling of this passage. Here, as throughout the poem, it is the “new strong wine of love,” and not the fruit of the grape, which is desired and drunk.
“Thou art the wine, whose drunkenness is all
We can desire, O Love! and happy souls,
Ere from thy vine the leaves of autumn fall,
Catch thee and feed, from thine o’erflowing bowls,
Thousands who thirst for thy ambrosial dew.”
I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.(2) I sleep.—This begins the old story under an image already employed (Song of Solomon 3:1). Here it is greatly amplified and elaborated. The poet pictures his lady dreaming of him, and when he seems to visit her, anxious to admit him. But, as is so common in dreams, at first she cannot. The realities which had hindered their union reappear in the fancies of sleep. Then, when the seeming hindrance is withdrawn, she finds him gone, and, as before, searches for him in vain. This gives opportunity to introduce the description of the charms of the lost lover, and so the end of the piece, the union of the pair, is delayed to Song of Solomon 6:3.
My head is filled with dew.—Anacreon, iii. 10 is often compared to this.
“‘ Fear not,’ said he, with piteous din,
‘Pray ope the door and let me in.
A poor unshelter’d boy am I,
For help who knows not where to fly:
Lost in the dark, and with the dews,
All cold and wet, that midnight brews.’”
(Comp. also Propert. i. 16-23; Ovid, Amor. Ii. 19-21.)
I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?(3) Coat.—Heb. cutoneth=cetoneth; Gr. χίτων, tunic.
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.(4) By the hole—i.e., through (Heb. min), as in Song of Solomon 2:9. The hole is the aperture made in the door above the lock for the insertion of the hand with the key. The ancient lock was probably like the one in use in Palestine now. It consists of a hollow bolt or bar, which passes through a staple fixed to the door and into the door-post. In the staple are a number of movable pins, which drop into corresponding holes in the bolt when it is pushed home, and the door is then locked. To unlock it, the key is slid into the hollow bolt, and the movable pins pushed back by other pins in it, corresponding in size and form, which fill up the holes, and so enable the bolt to be withdrawn. It is said that, in lieu of a proper key, the arm can be inserted into the hollow bolt and the pins be pushed up by the hand, if provided with some soft material, as lard or wax, to fill up the holes, and keep the pins from falling back again till the bolt is withdrawn. This offers one explanation of Song of Solomon 5:5. Coming to the door and having no key, the lover is supposed to make use of some myrrh, brought as a present, in trying to open the door, and, not succeeding, to go away. The sweet smelling (Marg., passing, or running about) is the myrrh that drops from the tree naturally, before any incision is made in the bark, and is considered specially fine. Others explain Song of Solomon 5:5 by comparison with the heathen custom alluded to in Lucretius iv. 1173:—
“At lacrimans exclusus amator limina sæpe
Floribus et sertis operit posteisque superbos
Unguet amaricino, et foribus miser oscula figit.”
(Comp. Tibullus, 1:2-14.) Perhaps Proverbs 7:17 makes the comparison allowable, but the first explanation is preferable.
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.(6) When he spake.—We can suppose an ejaculation of disappointment uttered by the lover as he goes away, which catches the ear of the heroine as she wakes.
The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.(7) The watchmen.—See Note on Song of Solomon 3:3.
What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? what is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?(9) What is thy beloved?—This question, introducing the description of the bridegroom’s person, raises almost into certainty the conjecture that the poem was actually sung, or presented as an epithalamium, by alternate choirs (or single voices) of maidens and young men, as in the Carmen Nuptiale of Catullus, vying the one in praise of the bridegroom, the other of the bride. Mere love-poems contain descriptions of the charms of the fair one to whom they are addressed, but not of the poet himself.
My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.(10) Chiefest.—Marg., a standard bearer; Heb. dagûl, participle of a word occurring in Psalm 20:5, where the Authorised Version gives “we will set up our banners.”
His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.(11) Bushy.—Marg., curled; Heb., taltallîm=flowing in curls, or heaped up, i.e., thick, bushy, according as we derive from talah or tel. The LXX. (followed by the Vulg.) take taltallîm for another form of zalzallîm (Isaiah 18:5, sprigs of the vine), and render palm-leaves.
His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.(12) Fitly set.—Literally, sitting in fulness, which the Margin explains, according to one received method of interpretation, as beautifully set, like a precious stone in the foil of a ring. If the comparison were to the eyes of the dove, this would be a sufficient interpretation, the image being perfect, owing to the ring of bright red skin round the eye of the turtle-dove. But there is no necessity to have recourse to the figure comparatio compendiana here, since doves delight in bathing; and though there is a certain delicious haze of indistinctness in the image, the soft iridescence of the bird floating and glancing on the face of the stream might not too extravagantly suggest the quick loving glances of the eye. Keats has a somewhat similar figure:—
“To see such lovely eyes in swimming search
After some warm delight, that seems to perch
Dove-like in the dim cell lying beyond
Their upper lids;”
and Dr. Ginsburg aptly quotes from the Gitagovinda: “The glances of her eyes played like a pair of water-birds of azure plumage, that sport near a full-grown lotus in a pool in the season of dew.” The words washed in milk refer to the white of the eye, which swells round the pupil like the fulness of water, i.e., the swelling wave round the dove. The parallelism is like that of Song of Solomon 1:5.
His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.(13) His cheeks are as a bed of spices—Probably with allusion to the beard perfumed (Marg., towers of perfumes), as in Psalm 133:2.
Lilies.—Comp. “He pressed the blossom of his lips to mine “(Tennyson, (Enone).
His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.(14) His hands . . .—Galil, translated ring, is more probably a cylinder (from galal, to roll), referring to the rounded arm, ending in a well-shaped hand with beautiful nails.
Beryl.—Heb. tarshish; LXX. θαρσις. Possibly “stones of Tarshish,” and if so, either chrysolite or topaz, both said to have been first found in Tartessus, an ancient city of Spain, between the two mouths of the Bœtis (Guadalquiver). Mentioned as one of the precious stones in the breastplate of the High Priest (Exodus 28:20; Exodus 39:13). The LXX. adopt the various renderings χρυσολίθο =ς, ἄνθραξ, λίθος ἄνθρακος, or, as here, keep the original word.
Bright ivory.—Literally, a work of ivory, i.e., a chef-d’œuvre in ivory.
Sapphires.—It is doubtful whether the sapphire of Scripture is the stone so called now, or the lapis-lazuli. The former best suits Exodus 28:18 and Job 28:6, because lapis-lazuli is too soft for engraving. The comparison in the text either alludes to the blue veins showing through the white skin or to the colour of some portion of dress.
His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.(15) Marble.—Heb. shesh. Here and in Esther 1:6.
His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.(16) His mouth is most sweet.—Literally, his palate (see Margin) sweetnesses, i.e., his voice is exquisitely sweet. The features have already been described, and chek, palate, is used of the organ of speech and speech itself (Job 6:30; Proverbs 5:3).