The Song of Songs is no simple case. It’s a case of cases. The Song gives a few different cases in a row, seven 7️⃣ by my reckoning, and last time I walked you through Case #3, at Song 3:1–5. That’s a short one (5 verses), and it gives a good clear sense of some of the language games that are in play. These are not your five-and-dime puns and metaphors. They work aspects of the verbal system, play with perspective, and turn on syntax stretching over a whole bunch of clauses.
Now we’ll cover Case #2, at Song 2:8–17, which is only a little longer (10 verses). Just like in #3, so too in #2 the speaker portrays what is happening to her now. Along the way, we realize from what she says that what the text gives us is not the two lovers talking to each other. It gives us just one speaker, the woman, and in her speech she quotes what her beloved is saying to her now. It gives us his words in her voice, as he is saying them. 🗣 She talks as he talks, and it is her talking that the text gives us. The clue that the text is set up like that is in the perfective verbs she uses when she says that he is talking (line 6). How that works we’ll get into in a bit. What it means that she talks as he talks and we hear her — what kind of a situation that could be — we’ll come back to that after we’ve been through a few more cases in the Song.
Like in other cases, I took out the traditional “verse” divisions. Sleuths all know that these were added to the text centuries after it was composed, and they can be misleading. I divided the text into lines and numbered them, in a way that I think makes the case easier to talk about. Hey, I’m the first to admit, I can’t figure out the prosody and reconstruct a consistent pattern of lines and line-lengths in the Song, so I went with my gut on a combination of “rhythm” and “sense-units.” Look, it’s hard to get anywhere and close any cases if you’re going to be reverent about everything. 🤷🏼♂️ Lots of sleuths draw redlines. Some angles they’re afraid to look at and some conclusions they refuse to reach. Me? I gotta be able to look at everything. 🧐 It’s all gotta be open to inqu👁ry and experimentation. Instead of drawing redlines I redraw lines.
One more thing. As I work my way through the case, I repeat a lot of the lines so you don’t have to scroll up and back. This could make the post seem long.
1 A sound! (קוֹל) My beloved! There (הִנֵּה) he is, coming!
קוֹל דּוֹדִי הִנֵּה־זֶה בָּא
2 Bounding on the mountains, leaping on the hills
מְדַלֵּג עַל־הֶהָרִים מְקַפֵּץ עַל־הַגְּבָעוֹת
3 My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn
דּוֹמֶה דוֹדִי לִצְבִי אוֹ לְעֹפֶר הָאַיָּלִים
4 There (הִנֵּה) he is, standing! Behind our wall!
הִנֵּה־זֶה עוֹמֵד אַחַר כָּתְלֵנוּ
5 Watching through the windows, looking through the cracks
מַשְׁגִּיחַ מִן־הַחֲלֹּנוֹת מֵצִיץ מִן־הַחֲרַכִּים
6 My beloved coos and croons to me,
עָנָה דוֹדִי וְאָמַר לִי
7 Come on, my love, my beautiful, and come out!
קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי־לָךְ
8 For, look! (הִנֵּה) The winter is past,
כִּי־הִנֵּה הַסְּתָיו עָבָר
9 The rain is gone, went off
הַגֶּשֶׁם חָלַף הָלַךְ לוֹ
10 Blossoms are visible in the earth (בָּאָרֶץ)
הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ
11 The time of cutting is arrived
עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ
12 And the trill (קוֹל) of the turtledove is audible in our land (בְּאַרְצֵנוּ)
וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ
13 The fig-tree ripens its fruit
הַתְּאֵנָה חָנְטָה פַגֶּיהָ
14 And the grape-clusters abloom give off their scent
וְהַגְּפָנִים סְמָדַר נָתְנוּ רֵיחַ
15 Come on, my love, my beautiful, and come out!
קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי־לָךְ
16 My dove in slab crevices, in rocky recesses
יוֹנָתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע בְּסֵתֶר הַמַּדְרֵגָה
17 Show me a sight of you, sound me your voice
הַרְאִינִי אֶת־מַרְאַיִךְ הַשְׁמִיעִינִי אֶת־קוֹלֵךְ
18 Because your voice is sweet and the sight of you is beautiful!
כִּי־קוֹלֵךְ עָרֵב וּמַרְאֵיךְ נָאוֶה
19 Catch us foxes,
20 Little foxes bruising vineyards,
שׁוּעָלִים קְטַנִּים מְחַבְּלִים כְּרָמִים
21 And our vineyard is abloom!
22 My beloved is mine and I am his who grazes in the lilies.
דּוֹדִי לִי וַאֲנִי לוֹ הָרֹעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים
23 Before the day blusters in and the shadows flee,
עַד שֶׁיָּפוּחַ הַיּוֹם וְנָסוּ הַצְּלָלִים
24 Get to it! Be you, my beloved, like a gazelle or a fawn
סֹב דְּמֵה־לְךָ דוֹדִי לִצְבִי אוֹ לְעֹפֶר הָאַיָּלִים
25 On the cleft mounds!
Let’s do this one thing at a time. You can’t crack a case or close one by clumping everything up in a big jumble. Sorting the clues is key. First, we’ll tackle the sectioning here, how sections are formed and what happens in each one. After that, we’ll get into forms of ambiguity. Then, we’ll do forms of repetition.
There are 3️⃣ sections: lines 1–6, lines 7–18, and lines 19–25. Each one has a different way of working and each one does something distinct.
In section ☝️, the speaker says that she hears and sees her beloved. She starts by expressing her awareness of a sound; she hears something that gets her attention (קוֹל “A sound!”). Then she explains what it means: her beloved approaches (דּוֹדִי הִנֵּה־זֶה בָּא “My beloved! There he comes!”). The section is made of two series of four clauses each (lines 1–3, lines 4–6), with some elegant repetition:
Clause 1 Pointing out followed by a participle
line 1: “There he is, coming” (הִנֵּה־זֶה בָּא)
line 4: “There he is, standing” (הִנֵּה־זֶה עוֹמֵד)
Clauses 2 & 3 Participles followed by the same preposition
line 2: “bounding on…leaping on” (מְדַלֵּג עַל־…מְקַפֵּץ עַל־)
line 5: “watching through…looking through” (מַשְׁגִּיחַ מִן־…מֵצִיץ מִן־)
Clause 4 Repeats the topic “My beloved” that began the whole sequence (“A sound! My beloved!”) but does something different with it, which creates variation
line 3: participle “is like, resembles” + topic “my beloved” (דּוֹמֶה דוֹדִי)
line 6: two perfective verbs “say, speak” + topic “my beloved” (עָנָה דוֹדִי וְאָמַר)
In both instances, clause 4 makes a transition. In line 3, the speaker summarizes what she has seen: the beloved bounding and leaping to her (line 2) 🤸♂️ is like a gazelle and a fawn (line 3). 🦌 In making a summary statement, she no longer describes the beloved in action. Rather, she reflects on the action and comments on it: her beloved’s movement calls certain quick and graceful animals to mind. This pause in describing action to reflect and comment upon action gives a beat for the beloved to take up a new position — watching for her 🔭 — which is what she describes next (lines 4–5).
In line 6, she does not pause to summarize being sought, what it is like or how it feels. Rather, she describes the next thing her beloved does. From his position watching for her, he calls out to her, “coos and croons.” 📢 The Hebrew verbs are perfective (עָנָה…וְאָמַר), which can look like past tense, which is what you may find in your translated bibles. But she is not describing something that occurred earlier, in the past, something she suddenly remembers. Rather, she continues describing what is happening as it happens: he comes to her, he watches for her, now he calls to her. This makes a transition to the next section, in which she quotes in direct speech what he is saying to her.
In section✌️, lines 7–18, the speaker says what the beloved is saying. And what he says is a list of reasons she should come out. The list has two parts. In the first part, he makes his basic request that she come out (line 7 “Come on, my love, my beautiful, and come out!” קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי־לָךְ), then, explaining, he gives nature’s signs that it’s the time for love; winter is past and nature, abloom, explodes with sights, sounds, and scents (lines 8–14). In the second part, the beloved repeats his basic request that she come out (15), then, explaining, he highlights her affect on him, that he longs for the sight and sound of her (lines 16–18). This last sentiment makes a transition to the next section, in which she ceases quoting him (presumably he is done) and she returns to speak in her own voice.
In section 🤟, lines 19–25, the speaker uses a few different forms of address. First, she talks to a plural “you” about a plural “we” (ok: “our”), which suggests she is actually talking to her beloved about herself. This kind of thing, using plural for singular, happens a few times in the Song. Next, she talks to no one in particular about herself and her beloved, like she’s musing.🤔💬 Last, she addresses her beloved directly again, now in the singular.
What happens in these different sub-sections? In the first (lines 19–21), she picks up on his imagery of things blooming with scent and urges him to get some little foxes 🦊🦊 to fiddle and nibble at “our” vineyard — which is all abloom right now — and release its juices. 🍇 A sleuth sees a lot of strange behavior and I’ve had more than my share, you can be sure of that, but I would call it non-sensical if the speaker excitedly describes the beloved coming to her, watching for her, and coaxing her out with loving language, then describes sending him off on a meaningless and damaging errand. I would swear this has to be coded language for giving her body some attention.🙈
What, you don’t get it? Look, what she says to herself in the next subsection makes it perfectly clear (line 22). She describes her beloved as one who grazes in the lilies, just like the little foxes. He is the little foxes, or they are him — grazing, nibbling, drawing juice and releasing scent. OK? OK.
But we’re not out of the woods yet on this. Because in the last subsection (lines 23–25), when she urges him directly again to get busy before day blusters in and busts up their time together, she compares him to animals again, or tells him to be like another kind, the gazelle and the fawn (from line 3), with their light stimulating touch, upon the cleft mounds.
One of the important things you see in all this is that although her changing address (pl. “you, our” —> “I, him” —> sg. “you”) creates three subsections, her imagery and sentiment repeat across them and bind them together as one speech moment. It’s all her speech, and it’s all about her beloved and her body.
Another important thing you see is that there is more than one transition from section ✌️ to section 🤟. One, which we talked about, is up front. The beloved said he wants to hear his lover’s voice, and so she speaks to him. The other transition lurks in the background. The beloved talked about all nature being in bloom, and the lover says her vineyard is all abloom. Apparently, all his talk about signs of desire and about desiring her got her good and ready. His cooing and crooning was effective.🎸
This Case has a couple of lines and clauses that are ambiguous and confusing. You can’t tell if they finish the sentence that came before or start a new sentence that finishes in what comes next. Now don’t go jumping to conclusions.🪂 This isn’t sloppy work. It’s a whole series of examples of the pivot-pun I told you about last time, where the syntax of a clause, line, set of clauses, or set of lines can cut two ways.✂️⚔️ As you read, first you think it continues the previous sentence and ends it, then you realize it can be a new sentence that continues into the line that follows it. Then you realize, there’s no way to decide! This is hell for a sleuth if ever there was one. Clues that by design fit into more than one story. We’re all about getting our ducks in a row, 🦆🦆🦆 and these just refuse to get into line and stay there. 🤯
In section ☝️, the use of so many participles in a row does this, because participles can be main clauses or subordinate ones. Line 2 can conclude the sentence begun at line 1 or it can begin a new sentence that ends in line 3.
There he is, coming, bounding on the mountains, leaping on the hills!
Like a gazelle or a fawn is my beloved.
There he is, coming!
Bounding on the mountains, leaping on the hills, like a gazelle or a fawn is my beloved.
In section 🤟, it’s a prepositional clause in line 23 that can belong to the main clause before it in line 22 or the one after it in lines 24–25. And in this case, the preposition (עַד שֶׁ־) would have a different meaning, depending on which sentence it belongs to.
My beloved is mine and I am his, who grazes in the lilies, until (עַד שֶׁ־) the day blusters in and the shadows flee.
Get to it! Be you, O my beloved, like a gazelle or a fawn on the cleft mounds!
My beloved is mine and I am his, who grazes in the lilies.
Before (עַד שֶׁ־) the day blusters in and the shadows flee, get to it! Be you, O my beloved, like a gazelle or a fawn on the cleft mounds!
In the first reading, she describes how long he is hers and she is his and he is grazing in the lilies: she is lounging, luxuriating. In the second reading, she tells him how soon and how quickly to get busy: she is urgent, pressing.
Actually, there is another ambiguity, in the very last line itself (line 25). When the speaker tells her beloved to be like a gazelle and a fawn on the cleft mounds, do the cleft mounds belong to the image of the gazelle and fawn or not: be like gazelle and fawn when they are on cleft mounds, or on cleft mounds (hers) he should be like the gazelle and fawn? In this case, it is not that a later clause turns up a second option. The ambiguity is there as soon as we get to “on the cleft mounds.” We can’t tell if it connects with “gazelle and fawn,” which come immediately before it, or with “be like,” which is further back, so it’s not a pivot pun.
You already saw that each of the sections makes good use of repetition and patterning, but very different kinds. Section☝️had a repeating sequence of phrases and forms (“There he” + participle + 2 participles + “my beloved”), and the effect draws the beloved close in stages. Section✌️ has a repetition of the beloved’s call (“Come on, my love, my beautiful, and come out!”), and the effect creates its two subsections about why the lover should “come out.” And section 🤟 repeats images of active animals (= the beloved) on the landscape (= the lover) across its three subsections.
Another repetition you might have spotted is at the beginning and the end of the case. At the beginning, the speaker says that her beloved is like a gazelle or a fawn for the way he bounds over the landscape (line 3). At the end she urges him to be like a gazelle and a fawn on the landscape — her body (lines 23–25). On the one hand, repeating the beginning at the end gives the feeling of closure. On the other hand, there is mild variation, because she urges him to the next action. This implies there is still more to come, which gives the closure an open-ended feel.
The last repetition to mention is across cases within the Song of Songs. I’m sure you remember, Case #3 (Song 3:1–5) ends with the speaker teasingly exclaiming to her friends, they dare not enjoy such fulfilling pleasure. Case #1 ends exactly the same way (Song 2:7). In between them, our case, Case #2, shares some features that few sleuths have seen. The teasing exclamation has an urgent tone in direct address (“Swear to me…If you dare…!”), a vocative (“O sisters in Jerusalem”), the “gazelle” and the “fawn” and their outdoor space (“of the field”). So too Case #2 ends with urgent direct address (“Get to it! Be you like…”), vocative (“(O) my beloved”), the “gazelle” and the “fawn” and their outdoor space (“on the cleft mounds”).
Song 2:7; 3:5
“Swear to me, O sisters in Jerusalem, by the gazelles and the fawns of the field,
if you dare rouse and arouse loving to the point that it desires…!”
הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם בִּצְבָאוֹת אוֹ בְּאַיְלוֹת הַשָּׂדֶה
אִם־תָּעִירוּ וְאִם־תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת־הָאַהֲבָה עַד שֶׁתֶּחְפָּץ
Get to it! Be you, O my beloved, like a gazelle or a fawn on the cleft mounds!
סֹב דְּמֵה־לְךָ דוֹדִי לִצְבִי אוֹ לְעֹפֶר הָאַיָּלִים עַל־הָרֵי בָתֶר
So far, then, three Cases in a row in the Song of Songs have a similar ending. Something bigger than you, me, or any one of these cases alone is afoot.🦶🏼 More gumshoeing ahead. 👞 Stay tuned. 📻
Some of you are looking at that translation you picked up at your local stand, sidewalk book-spread, or the Library of Congress, and some of you are looking at your Hebrew Bible, and you are wondering about my version. Here are some of my case notes; maybe they’ll help, maybe they won’t. Take it or leave it, but don’t say I don’t share.
Line 1: קוֹל דּוֹדִי הִנֵּה־זֶה בָּא “A sound! (קוֹל) My beloved! There (הִנֵּה) he is, coming!”
Clearly, it can’t be the “sound of my beloved” that she says “comes, bounding…leaping…” Rather, first she conveys that she hears something. It could be “A sound! My beloved!” or “The sound of my beloved!” Either way, it has to be an exclamation, and a new sentence starts with הִנֵּה־זֶה בָּא “There he is, coming!” (“he” not “it”).
הִנֵּה does not mean “hither, here.” And in the situation the beloved is far off. She notes that she hears him (“A sound!”) and she notes that she spots him (“There!”). It’s more about registering that she sees something than pointing out where exactly it is.
Lines 7, 15 קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי־לָךְ “Come on, my love, my beautiful, and come out!”
The root ק-ו-ם and especially the imperative קוּם/קוּמִי are often used not for the physical action of getting up, which in so many contexts would be totally inappropriate, but for resolving to do something, for turning one’s attention or setting one’s mind.
The unfamiliar use of לָךְ artificially translated as “for you, for yourself” is idiomatic to Hebrew and best left untranslated altogether. Including at Gen 12:1; yes, really. 😑 In our case, the effect of all those liquid “ell”-sounds when referring to the lover is that the beloved sounds like he can’t stop focusing on her and referring to her. He keeps interjecting references to her and they roll into each other. In between the two לָךְ’s are more references to her, descriptors, “my love, my beautiful.” So every clause in the line has a reference to her: קוּמִי לָךְ / רַעְיָתִי / יָפָתִי / וּלְכִי־לָךְ.
The series רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי (“apposition”) you really could translate “my beautiful love,” but I like representing the Hebrew rhythm of four separate references.
The root ה-ל-ך “to go, to come,” is not limited to one particular direction or perspective: go there vs. come here. For that matter, neither is ב-ו-א “to go, to come.” Only the context determines which is meant. In our case, וּלְכִי־לָךְ, the beloved is not telling the lover to go somewhere. He is telling her to come out to him.
Lines 17–18 in Hebrew have an elegant form. They are difficult to capture in English, mainly because the word מַרְאָיִך “appearance, image, how something looks” does not have a good equivalent. I did what I could.
Line 24 סֹב “Get to it!”
My sense is that the root ס-ב-ב here is used like ק-ו-ם above (lines 7, 15) for focusing, resolving, not for a physical action (turning).