Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.VII.
(1) How beautiful . . .—Literally, How beautiful are thy feet (or thy steps) in the sandals. This description of the beauty of the bride—
“From the delicate Arab arch of her feet
To the grace that, bright and light as the crest
Of a peacock, sits on her shining head”—
is plainly connected with the dance mentioned in the last verse, and possibly proceeds in this order, instead of from the head downwards, because the feet of a dancer would first attract attention. See end of Excursus III.
O prince’s daughter!—Heb. Bath-nadib (the LXX. keep Ναδαβ)—evidently again suggested by Amminadib, in Song of Solomon 6:12. But as the allusion there cannot be recovered, nothing relating to the rank of the heroine can be deduced from the recurrence of nadib (= noble) here. The reference may be to character rather than descent, just as in the opposite expression, “daughter of Belial” (1Samuel 1:16).
Joints.—Heb. chamûk, from chamah—went away, probably refers to the rapid movements in dancing, and the image is suggested by the graceful curves formed by a chain or pendulous ornament when in motion. Or the reference may be to the contour of the person.
Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.(2) Heap of wheat set about with lilies.—Wetstein (quoted by Delitzsch in his Appendix) remarks that in Syria the colour of wheat is regarded as the most beautiful colour the human body can have; and after remarking on the custom of decorating the heaps of winnowed corn with flowers in token of the joy of harvest, says:—“The appearance of such heaps of wheat, which one may see in long parallel rows on the threshing-floors of a village, is very pleasing to a peasant; and the comparison of the Song (Song of Solomon 7:5) every Arabian will regard as beautiful.”
Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.(4) Fishpools in Heshbon.—Literally, pools. The Authorised Version follows the Vulg. piscinœ, for which there is no authority. For Heshbon, see Note on Numbers 21:26. The ruins still remain, with the same name Hesban, in the Wady of that name (Robinson, p. 278). “There are many cisterns among the ruins; and towards the south, a few yards from the base of the hill, is a large ancient reservoir, which calls to mind the passage in Song of Solomon 7:4” (Smith’s Bib. Dict.). Captain Warren took a photograph of “the spring-head of the waters of Hesban,” published by the Palestine Exploration Fund. In regard to the image, comp.—
“Adspicies oculos tremulo fulgore micantes
Ut sol a liquida sœpe refulget aqua.”
Ovid. Art. Am., ii. 722.
Comp. also Keats:—
“Those eyes, those passions, those supreme pearl springs.
The gate of Bath-rabbim.—Doubtless the name of an actual gate, so called from the crowds of people streaming through it: daughter of multitudes.
Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.(5) Carmel.—Marg., crimson, from reading charmîl, which preserves the parallelism with the next clause better. But the whole passage deals in the author’s favourite figures from localities; and certainly the comparison of a finely-set head to a mountain is at least as apt as that in the preceding verse, of the nose to a “tower in Lebanon.” Besides, there may be a play on words, which in turn may have suggested the allusion to purple in the next clause, or possibly the vicinity of Carmel to Tyre may have led to the thought of its famous dyes.
Hair.—Heb. dallath, most probably = flowing tresses. For comparison—
“Carmine purpurea est Nisi coma.”
“Et pro purpureo dat pœnas Scylla capillo.
(Comp. πορφύρεος πλόκαμος in Lucian., and πορφυρᾶι χᾶιται in Anacreon.) So Collins:—
“The youths whose locks divinely spreading,
Like vernal hyacinths in sullen hue.”
Ode to Liberty.
The king is held (Marg., bound) in the galleries.—For galleries, see Note on Song of Solomon 1:17. Translate “A king caught and bound by thy tresses,” i.e., they are so beautiful that a monarch would be caught by them.
“When I lie tangled in her hair
And fettered in her eye.”)
This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.(7) This thy stature.—Comp. Ecclesiasticus 24:14. Not only was the tall and graceful palm a common figure for female beauty, but its name, tamar, was common as a woman’s name (Genesis 38:6; 2Samuel 13:1, &c).
Clusters of grapes.—The italics were probably added by the English Version to bring the verse into agreement with “clusters of the vine” in the next verse; but no doubt the rich clusters of dates are at the moment in the poet’s thought.
I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;(8) Boughs.—Heb. sansan; only here. Probably a form derived from the sound, like salsal, zalzal, &c, denoting the waving of the long feathery branches of the palm.
Smell of thy nose—i.e., “fragrance of thy breath,” ap = nose being used apparently because of the resemblance of its root, anap = breathe, with that of tappuach = apple.
And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.(9) Causing the lips.—The text in this verse has evidently undergone some change. The LXX., in stead of siphtheî yesheynîm, lips of sleepers, read sephathaîm veshinnayîm, χέιλεσί μου καὶ ὸδοῦσι. The Marg., instead of yesheynîm, sleepers, reads yeshanîm, the ancient, which Luther adopts, translating “of the previous year.” Ledôdî, for my beloved, is evidently either an accidental insertion of the copyist, the eye having caught dôdî in the next verse, or more probably is wrongly vowelled. The verse is untranslatable as it stands; but by reading ledôdaî, “to my caresses” (comp. Song of Solomon 1:2; Song of Solomon 4:10; Song of Solomon 7:12), we get a sense entirely harmonious with the context, and this is a change less violent than to reject ledôdî altogether. It is the old figure, comparing kisses to wine (comp. Song of Solomon 1:2; Song of Solomon 2:4; Song of Solomon 5:1). “The roof of the mouth” (comp. Song of Solomon 5:16), or palate, is put by metonymy for the mouth generally. Dôbeb is either from the root dôb, cognate with zôb = flow gently, and means suffusing, in which case we translate “Thy mouth pours out an exquisite wine, which runs sweetly down in answer to my caresses, and suffuses (LXX. ἱκανούμενος, accommodating itself to) our lips as we fall asleep”—or, according to the Rabbinical interpretation, followed by the Authorised Version (which connects dôbeb with dabab, a Talmudic word = speaking), there may be in it the idea of a dream making the lips move as in speech. In this case the lines of Shelley suggest the meaning:—
“Like lips murmuring in their sleep
Of the sweet kisses which had lulled them there.”
I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.(10) I am my beloved’s.—This verse ends a section, not, as in the Authorised Version, begins one.
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.(11) Forth into the field.—Comp. Song of Solomon 2:10; Song of Solomon 6:11. The same reminiscence of the sweet courtship in the happy “woodland places.” It has been conjectured that this verse suggested to Milton the passage beginning, “To-morrow, ere fresh morning streak the East,” &c. (P. L. 4:623, &c)
Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.(12) Tender grape appear.—Literally, vine blossome open. (See Note on Song of Solomon 2:13.)
My loves—i.e., caresses. LXX., as before, read “breasts.”
The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.(13) Mandrakes.—Heb. dûdaîm = love-apples. Suggested probably by the word loves immediately preceding, as well as the qualities ascribed to the plant, for which see Note, Genesis 30:14.