Metaphors and Symbolism in the Song of Songs
An important part of literary expression is metaphor and symbolism. Parables are called parabole in Greek. Parable means to set aside, and it refers to the comparison of similar things or events by placing them next to each other so that one thing or event can be perceived more clearly. The Greek word remains in English as a parable.
The symbol also means to throw together in Greek. It also means to throw similar things or events together so that one can be recognized more clearly.
The meaning of a symbol is more complex and holistic than that of a parable because it is cast “together” rather than “alongside” like a parable.
The Bible is full of similes and metaphors, and the book of Arthur is especially full of them.
Let’s take a look at some of the metaphors for the parts of the beloved’s body in the Song of Songs.
The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, is a captivating book within the Bible that showcases the power of metaphor and symbolism in conveying the essence of love and desire. This ancient text, attributed to King Solomon, has intrigued scholars and readers for centuries with its rich and poetic imagery, exploring both the earthly and the divine aspects of love.
1. A Profusion of Metaphors for Physical Beauty
“Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.Song of Songs 7:5, NIV
Your hair is like royal tapestry;
the king is held captive by its tresses.”
Carmel is the Hebrew word for farm, garden, or orchard. Mount Carmel is a mountain in the north of Israel. The phrase “hair like Mount Carmel” refers to the abundance of hair like Mount Carmel. His hair is purple and graceful. The phrase “the king is held captive by its tresses” refers to the king being held captive by the woman he loves.
The Song of Songs opens with a chorus of admiration for the beloved’s beauty, creating a vivid image of the beloved through metaphors. The beloved’s hair, described as “like a flock of goats” (Song of Songs 4:1), signifies not only its abundance but also the allure of its cascading flow. Such metaphors are not mere descriptions but are designed to intensify the emotional connection between lovers, depicting the beloved as an embodiment of perfection and desirability.
2. Metaphors for Passion and Longing
His head is purest gold;Song of Songs 5:11, NIV
his hair is wavy
and black as a raven.
What does the phrase “hair like fine gold” mean? Fine gold is gold that has been fully refined, and it can mean purity, solidity, and neatness.
This is a metaphor that applies to both men and women. When we see a face that is strong, well-groomed, and clear, we have every reason to assume that the person’s hair is like gold.
The hair that frames such a face looks beautiful no matter what its shape.
Throughout the Song of Songs, metaphors are used to articulate the profound longing and passion shared by the bride and bridegroom. The mention of “drops of honey” (Song of Songs 4:11) in association with the lips accentuates the sweetness and sensuality of their kisses. This metaphorical use of honey implies that every touch and every kiss is infused with an irresistible sweetness, making it an unforgettable experience for the lovers.
3. Spiritual Interpretations and Allegorical Significance
While the Song of Songs is celebrated for its celebration of human love, it has also been embraced for its spiritual interpretations. Many theologians and scholars have viewed it as an allegory representing the divine love between God and humanity. In this context, the metaphors and symbols take on deeper spiritual dimensions. The passionate love between the bride and bridegroom becomes a reflection of the soul’s yearning for union with the divine, emphasizing the profound connection between earthly and heavenly love.
4. Doves and Nature Imagery
Your hair is like a flock of goatsSong of Songs 6:5, NIV
descending from Gilead. (6:5)
Here, the hair is compared to a herd of goats lazing at the foot of a mountain.
Perhaps this is because the hair is reminiscent of goats in its draped appearance. Alternatively, it could be a metaphor for the calming effect of hair.
‘How beautiful you are, my darling!Song of Songs 1:15, NIV
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.’
How beautiful you are, my darling!Song of Songs 4:1, NIV
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
A dove’s eyes look in one place at a time. They don’t blink to look in multiple places at once. Its gaze is always steady. The eyes of a double-minded person are always restless.
Doves, symbolizing purity, love, and peace, appear repeatedly throughout the Song of Songs. “Your eyes are doves” (Song of Songs 1:15) signifies not only the innocence of the beloved’s gaze but also the unwavering focus and commitment of true love. The book also abounds in nature imagery, invoking elements such as gardens, vineyards, and mountains to evoke the emotions and desires of the lovers. These natural symbols serve to deepen the sensory and emotional layers of the narrative.
In a love song, the mouth and lips are inevitably described.
The Song of Songs is full of metaphors about the mouth and lips: “Your lips are like a red thread” (4:3), “Your lips are like lilies, dripping with the juice of myrrh” (5:13), “Drops of honey drip from your lips” (4:11), and so on.
What is unusual here is the use of metaphors involving sweet liquids such as myrrh and drops of honey in relation to the mouth and lips. This is how they describe the sensation of exchanging saliva in each other’s mouths when they kiss.
5. The Symbolism of Wine
The metaphor is very sensual, especially in 7:9.
‘and your mouth like the best wine.Song of Songs 7:9
May the wine go straight to my beloved,
flowing gently over lips and teeth.’
The common translation reads, “Let me taste in your mouth the sweetness of wine that goes beyond the gums and lips. The idea is that the saliva in your lover’s mouth is sweet like old wine, and you want to keep drinking it. Even saliva, which is usually dirty and unclean, is fermented into fine wine as an elixir of love.
Wine is employed symbolically in the Song of Songs to convey the intensity of the lovers’ desire for each other. “Your mouth is like the best wine” (Song of Songs 7:9) poetically portrays the richness and intoxication of their kisses. This metaphor suggests that their kisses are so exquisite that they are akin to savoring the finest wine. Even the most ordinary acts of affection are transformed into profound expressions of love.
In conclusion, the Song of Songs is a literary masterpiece that showcases the enduring power of metaphor and symbolism in conveying the complexities of love. Its poetic use of language allows readers to dive deep into the emotional and spiritual dimensions of love, whether viewed as an earthly romance or a divine allegory. This timeless text continues to inspire and resonate with those seeking to explore the profound intricacies of human emotion and the spiritual journey toward divine love.