Song of Solomon is one of the shortest and most thrilling books of The Old Testament. Believed by many to have been written by King Solomon himself around 900 BCE, this beautiful poem portrays the relationship between a woman and a man, from courtship to consummation. Filled with surprisingly sensual, even erotic language, the ancient song has often been interpreted as a parable to the relationship between God...
Song of Solomon is one of the shortest and most thrilling books of The Old Testament. Believed by many to have been written by King Solomon himself around 900 BCE, this beautiful poem portrays the relationship between a woman and a man, from courtship to consummation. Filled with surprisingly sensual, even erotic language, the ancient song has often been interpreted as a parable to the relationship between God and Israel, or between Christ and the Church, for Christians.
4:16 Awake, north wind; and come, you south!
Blow on my garden, that its spices may flow out.
Let my beloved come into his garden,
and taste his precious fruits.
5:1 I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride.
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice;
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey;
I have drunk my wine with my milk.
The song is one of the most overtly mystical books of the Kabbalah, and many Jewish scholars have interpreted the sexual language to be a metaphor for spirituality. It has also been suggested that the song is a messianic text, the lover being interpreted as the Messiah. Historically, Christian mystagogues insisted the sexual language in the song was an allegory to the soul and Christ, believing it should be reserved for only the spiritually mature and that studying it may be harmful for the novice. More recently in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI referred to Song of Solomon in terms of its apparent literal meaning, stating that erotic love and self-donating love is shown therein as two halves of true love, both giving and receiving.
The passion apparent in the two lovers’ dialogue is as alive today as it must have been centuries ago. My goal, as an illustrator, is to uncover the authentic desire within our human hearts that make such poetry valid for all of us.
7:9 Your mouth like the best wine,
that goes down smoothly for my beloved,
gliding through the lips of those who are asleep.
7:10 I am my beloved’s.
His desire is toward me.
7:11 Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the field.
Let us lodge in the villages.
7:12 Let’s go early up to the vineyards.
Let’s see whether the vine has budded,
its blossom is open,
and the pomegranates are in flower.
There I will give you my love.
The beauty of the poetry and rapturous character of the dialogue is undeniable. A stunning change of pace within the larger biblical narrative, the luscious imagery drips with charisma and begs to be enjoyed on its own terms. As an artist, I allowed the poetry itself to speak to me and encourage visual form. Some passages all but scream for visual illustration, for example:
5:10 My beloved is white and ruddy.
The best among ten thousand.
5:11 His head is like the purest gold.
His hair is bushy, black as a raven.
5:12 His eyes are like doves beside the water brooks,
washed with milk, mounted like jewels.
5:13 His cheeks are like a bed of spices
with towers of perfumes.
His lips are like lilies, dropping liquid myrrh.
The song is also filled with flora and fauna imagery, celebrating the glorious circle of life, which is of course the ultimate purpose of the act for which all urgent lovers yearn. Is it difficult to find divinity in a fragile, shivering newborn fawn, or blush at the inherent sexuality in the fleshiness of fat, juicy grapes and the flowing of milk and honey?
7:8 I said, “I will climb up into the palm tree.
I will take hold of its fruit.”
Let your breasts be like clusters of the vine
the smell of your breath like apples.
This illustrated edition only hints at the vast amount of literature and visual artwork available to aid in understanding Song of Solomon, not to mention religious instruction in many denominations. I hope to inspire readers to seek further insight, through research and contemplation, into this fascinating work of literature.
Sarah Wathen, born in Oklahoma City, lives and works as an artist in Orlando, Florida. Her roots began in the classical style with traditional media, such as pen & ink with her grandfather, cartoonist Jim Lange, and oil paint and charcoal during her undergrad at the University of Central Florida, but her practice encompasses any expressive tool or artistic outlet necessary. Through the years, her subject matter has developed with her life experiences, from travel with family to the graduate fine arts program at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Sarah has a special love for literature and bookmaking, and feels privileged to be able to illustrate classical works, delivered directly to her audience through self-publishing online. What an amazing time we live in!