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1 The Song of all Songs

2 I am Dark but Lovely

3 Our Couch is Shaded with Branches

4 I was Faint with Love

5 Now the Winter is Past

6 I have Sought Him but not Found Him

7 Look, it is Solomon

8 How Beautiful You are My Dearest

9 I Sleep but My Heart is Awake

10 My Beloved is Fair and Ruddy

11 My Dove, My Perfect One

12 I will Give You My Love

13 My Vineyard is Mine to Give




Solomon (975-931 BCE?), a king of Israel and Judah, is described in the Hebrew Bible as ruling all of the land west of the Euphrates to the territory of the Philistines on the Mediterranean coast. His subjects are described as countless as the sands of the sea; he has a workforce of 180,000 for building a temple and a palace; and he has 700 wives and 300 concubines. Archeological studies have found no evidence of the administrative and military apparatus for maintaining an empire of this size, in contrast to the abundant evidence for the Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Median, and Greek empires. In fact, it appears that the written history of Israel did not begin until about 700 BCE, so the account of Solomon's reign has initially been handed down through oral sources for three centuries or more. One particularly striking piece of literature that appears to have come down to us in this way is the Song of Songs.


The Song of Songs is written in a language that suggests it was compiled and edited in the third century BCE. It is, however, attributed to Solomon. It has a title that indicates that it is a collection of songs, but the syntax of the title shows that it means "The Best Song". It is a passionate exchange of sentiments between lovers, with the interjections of a chorus, which suggests that it is a ceremony involving a sacred marriage rite.


These characteristics are shared with the earliest sacred marriage rites of which we have written records; namely, the Sumerian fertility festival involving Dumuz and Inanna. These two become Tammuz and Ishtar in the corresponding Semitic festivals. The male god Tammuz appears to have originally been Dumuzi, a mythical Sumerian king of Erech who reigned sometime in the third millennium after Lugulbanda. The female, Ishtar, was a goddess of erotic love and fertility. Various myths link these two. In one, Inanna mischievously enters the underworld and can only escape by killing Dumuz so he can take her place. Dumuz then persuades his sister to replace him for half of the year, thus providing the myth of a vegetation god that dies by disappearing underground during winter. Hebrew women wailing for the death of Tammuz outside the temple gates are recorded by Ezekiel, which suggests that Tammuz worship was active in the sixth century BCE or later. Tammuz came to be referred to by the Semitic word Adon, "Lord", which became Adonis in Greek myth.


Towards the end of the third millennium BCE, the Sumerian ceremony for ensuring the return of spring and successful farming required the local king to assume the role of Tammuz and a cultic priestess to take the role of Ishtar. The sexual union of the two was the climax of a city-wide celebration, perhaps held over several days at the New Year. It was essential for the well-being of an ancient community that the king should be demonstrably strong and virile, because he was the ceremonial link with the gods and the good harvests they could ensure.


The verbal accompaniment to the annual fertility festivals included original songs that were intense expressions of love between a man and a woman. These individual songs were integrated into a larger work that portrayed the drama of the union of male and female fertility gods, performed as a sacred marriage between the king and the cultic princess. It is in this context that Samuel Noah Kramer, a noted Sumerologist and Biblical scholar, has argued that the Song of Songs has evolved from such a performance of Sumerian songs that might have been current at the time of Solomon. Later editing removed the explicit references to the fertility rite. It is possible that Solomon performed the role required of the king. The Hebrew Bible suggests this when it records that Solomon became a follower of Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians. Ashtoreth is another name for Ishtar, the Semitic form of the Sumerian Innana. It also gives rise to the name Aphrodite.


In each set of songs, Kramer points out, the lover is both king and shepherd, the bride is also referred to as his sister, the dialogues and monologues of the two are interspersed with a chorus by onlooking companions, ornate figures of speech are used, vegetation themes of garden, orchard, and field appear, the bride brings her lover to her motherís house. The resemblance of the two texts can be seen by referring the words of the ecstatic bride of the Semitic king Shu-Sin (about 2,000 BCE).


If this is correct, then the Songs of Songs is indeed a song made up of songs. And it is also the best or most important of songs, insofar as it was considered the essential text for a sacred union that ensured the fertility of the soil and animals on which the community was wholly dependent. It might also be Solomonís song on the basis that he was a king who took part in this ceremony, which is accord with his public reputation as a lover. However, from an analysis of the words used in the text, the version that we have appears to date from the third century BCE, probably going through lengthy oral transmission and scribal editing.


This beautiful poem is more polished than the Sumerian originals. This is to be expected as the skills of poets evolved over time, building on the techniques established by their predecessors and incorporating aspects of love poems from other cultures, such as India and Egypt, brought along trade routes.




1  The Song of all Songs




The song of all songs that was Solomonís

May he smother me with kisses.


Your love is more fragrant than wine,

fragrant is the scent of your perfume,

and your name like perfume poured out;

for this the maidens love you.

Take me with you, and we will run together;

bring me into your chamber, O king.



Let us rejoice and be glad for you;

let us praise your love more than wine,

and your caresses more than any song.



2  I am Dark but Lovely



I am dark but lovely, daughters of Jerusalem,

like the tents of Kedar

or the tent-curtains of Shalmah.

Do not look down on me; a little dark I may be

because I am scorched by the sun.

My mother's sons were displeased with me,

they sent me to watch over the vineyards;

so I did not watch over my own vineyard.

Tell me, my true love,

where you mind your flocks,

where you rest them at midday,

that I may not be left picking lice

as I sit among your companions' herds.



If you yourself do not know,

O fairest of women,

go, follow the tracks of the sheep

and mind your kids by the shepherds' huts.


I would compare you, my dearest,

to Pharaoh's chariot-horses.

Your cheeks are lovely between plaited tresses,

your neck with its jeweled chains.



We will make you braided plaits of gold

set with beads of silver.



3  Our Couch is Shaded with Branches



While the king reclines on his couch,

my spikenard gives forth its scent.

My beloved is for me a bunch of myrrh

as he lies on my breast,

my beloved is for me a cluster of henna-blossom

from the vineyards of En-gedi.



How beautiful you are, my dearest,

O how beautiful,

your eyes are like doves!



How beautiful you are, O my love,

and how pleasant!



Our couch is shaded with branches;

the beams of our house are of cedar,

our ceilings are all of fir.



I am an asphodel in Sharon,

a lily growing in the valley.



No, a lily among thorns

is my dearest among girls.



4   I was Faint with Love



Like an apricot-tree among the trees of the wood,

so is my beloved among boys.

To sit in its shadow was my delight,

and its fruit was sweet to my taste.

He took me into the wine-garden

and gave me loving glances.

He refreshed me with raisins, he revived me with apricots;

for I was faint with love.

His left arm was under my head, his right arm was round me.



I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem,

by the gazelles and the hinds of the field:

Do not rouse her, do not disturb my love

until she is ready.



5  Now the Winter is Past



Hark! My beloved! Here he comes,

bounding over the mountains, leaping over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle

or a young wild goat:

there he stands outside our wall,

peeping in at the windows, glancing through the lattice.


My beloved answered, he said to me:

Rise up, my darling;

my fairest, come away.

For now the winter is past,

the rains are over and gone;

the flowers appear in the country-side;

the time is coming when the birds will sing,

and the turtle-dove's cooing will be heard in our land;

when the green figs will ripen on the fig-trees

and the vine blossoms a give forth their fragrance.

Rise up, my darling;

my fairest, come away.



My dove, that hides in holes in the cliffs

or in crannies on the high ledges,

let me see your face, let me hear your voice

for your voice is pleasant, your face is lovely.



Catch for us the fruit bats, the little bats,

that spoil our vineyards, when the vines are in flower.



My beloved is mine and I am his;

he delights in the lilies.

While the day is cool and the shadows are dispersing,

turn, my beloved, and show yourself

a gazelle or a young wild goat

on the rugged hills.



6  I have Sought Him but not Found Him


Night after night on my bed

I have sought my true love;

I have sought him but not found him,

I have called him but he has not answered.

I said, 'I will rise and go the rounds of the city,

through the streets and the squares,

seeking my true love.'

I sought him but I did not find him,

I called him but he did not answer.

The watchmen, going the rounds of the city, met me,

and I asked, 'Have you seen my true love?'

Scarcely had I left them behind me

when I met my true love.

I seized him and would not let him go

until I had brought him to my mother's house,

to the room of her who conceived me.



I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem,

by the gazelles and hinds of the field:

Do not rouse her,

do not disturb my love until she is ready.



7  Look, it is Solomon




What is this coming up from the wilderness

like a column of smoke

from burning myrrh or frankincense,

from all the powdered spices that merchants bring ?

Look; it is Solomon carried in his litter;

sixty of Israel's chosen warriors

are his escort

all of them skilled swordsmen

all trained to handle arms,

each with his sword ready at his side

to ward off the demon of the night.


The palanquin which King Solomon had made for himself

was of wood from Lebanon.

Its poles he had made of silver,

its head-rest of gold;

its seat was of purple stuff,

and its lining was of leather.


Come out, daughters of Jerusalem;

you daughters of Zion, come out and welcome King Solomon, 

wearing the crown with which his mother has crowned him,

on his wedding day, on his day of joy.



8  How Beautiful You are My Dearest



How beautiful you are, my dearest, how beautiful!

Your eyes behind your veil are like doves,

your hair like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead.

Your teeth are like a flock of ewes just shorn

which have come up fresh from the dipping;

each ewe has twins and none has cast a lamb.

Your lips are like a scarlet thread,

and your mouth is lovely ;

your parted lips behind your veil

are like a pomegranate cut open.

Your neck is like David's tower,

which is built with winding courses;

a thousand bucklers hang upon it,

and all are warriors' shields.

Your two breasts are like two fawns,

twin fawns of a gazelle,

which delight in the lilies.

While the day is cool and the shadows are dispersing,

I will go to the mountains of myrrh

and to the hills of frankincense.

You are beautiful, my dearest,

beautiful without a flaw.


Come from Lebanon, my bride;

come with me from Lebanon.

Hurry down from the top of Amana,

from Senir's top and Hermon's,

from the lions' lairs, and the hills the leopards haunt.


You have stolen my heart, my sister,

you have stolen it, my bride,

with one of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.

How beautiful are your breasts, my sister, my bride!

Your love is more fragrant than wine,

and your perfumes sweeter than any spices.

Your lips drop sweetness like the honeycomb, my bride,

syrup and milk are under your tongue,

and your dress has the scent of Lebanon.

Your two checks are an orchard of pomegranates,

an orchard full of rare fruits:

spikenard and saffron, sweet-cane and cinnamon

with every incense-bearing tree,

myrrh and aloes

with all the choicest spices.

My sister, my bride, is a garden close-locked,

a garden close-locked, a fountain sealed.



The fountain in my garden is a spring of running water

pouring down from Lebanon.

Awake, north wind, and come, south wind;

blow upon my garden that its perfumes may pour forth,

that my beloved may come to his garden

and enjoy its rare fruits.



I have come to my garden, my sister and bride,

and have plucked my myrrh with my spices;

I have eaten my honey and my syrup,

I have drunk my wine and my milk.

Eat, friends, and drink,

until you are drunk with love.



9  I Sleep but My Heart is Awake



I sleep but my heart is awake. 

listen! My beloved is knocking:


'Open to me, my sister, my dearest,

my dove, my perfect one;

for my head is drenched with dew,

my locks with the moisture of the night.'


'I have stripped off my dress; must I put it on again?

I have washed my feet; must I soil them again?'


When my beloved slipped his hand through the latch-hole,

my bowels stirred within me.

When I arose to open for my beloved,

my hands dripped with myrrh;

the liquid myrrh from my fingers

ran over the knobs of the bolt.

With my own hands I opened to my love,

but my love had turned away and gone by;

my heart sank when he turned his back.

I sought him but I did not find him,

I called him but he did not answer.

The watchmen, going the rounds of the city, met me;

they struck me and wounded me;

the watchmen on the walls took away my cloak.

I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem,

if you find my beloved, will you not tell him

that I am faint with love?



What is your beloved more than any other,

O fairest of women ?

What is your beloved more than any other,

that you give us this charge ?



10  My Beloved is Fair and Ruddy



My beloved is fair and ruddy,

a paragon among ten thousand.

His head is gold, finest gold;

his locks are like palm-fronds, black as raven.

His eyes are like doves beside brooks of water,

splashed by the milky water

as they sit where it is drawn.

His cheeks are like beds of spices or chests full of perfumes;

his lips are lilies, and drop liquid myrrh;

his hands are golden rods set in topaz;

his belly a plaque of ivory overlaid with lapis lazuli.

His legs are pillars of marble in sockets of finest gold;

his aspect is like Lebanon, noble as cedars.

His nature is sweetness itself, wholly desirable.

Such is my beloved, such is my darling,

daughters of Jerusalem.



Where has your beloved gone,

O fairest of women ?

Which way did your beloved go,

that we may help you to seek him?



My beloved has gone down to his garden,

to the beds where balsam grows,

to delight in the garden and to pick the lilies.

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine,

he who delights in the lilies.



11   My Dove, My Perfect One



You are beautiful, my dearest, as Tirzah,

lovely as Jerusalem.

Turn your eyes away from me;

they dazzle me.

Your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead; 

your teeth are like a flock of ewes come up fresh from the dipping, 

each ewe has twins and none has cast a lamb.

Your parted lips behind your veil

are like a pomegranate cut open.

There may be sixty princesses,

eighty concubines, and young women past counting,

but there is one alone, my dove, my perfect one,

her mother's only child,

devoted to the mother who bore her;

young girls see her and call her happy,

princesses and concubines praise her.

Who is this that looks out like the dawn,

beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun,

majestic as the starry heavens?


I went down to a garden of nut-trees

to look at the rushes by the stream,

to see if the vine had budded

or the pomegranates were in flower.

I did not know myself;

she made me feel more than a prince

reigning over the chariots of his people.



Come back, come back, Shulammite maiden,

come back, that we may gaze upon you.



How you love to gaze on the Shulammite maiden,

as she moves between the lines of dancers!


How beautiful are your sandalled feet, O prince's daughter!

The curves of your thighs are like jewels,

the work of a skilled craftsman.

Your navel is a rounded goblet

that never shall want for spiced wine.

Your belly is a heap of wheat

fenced in by lilies.

Your two breasts are like two fawns,

twin fawns of a gazelle.

Your neck is like a tower of ivory.

Your eyes are the pools in Heshbon,

beside the gate of the gate of Beth-rabbim.

Your nose is like towering Lebanon

that looks towards Damascus.

You carry your head like Carmel;

the flowing hair on your head is lustrous black,

your tresses are braided with ribbons.

How beautiful, how entrancing you are,

my loved one, daughter of delights!

You are stately as a palm-tree,

and your breasts are the clusters of dates.

I said, 'I will climb up into the palm

to grasp its fronds.'

May I find your breasts like clusters of grapes on the vine,

the scent of your breath like apricots,

and your whispers like spiced wine

flowing smoothly to welcome my caresses,

gliding down through lips and teeth.



12  I will Give You My Love



I am my beloved's, his longing is all for me.

Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields

to lie among the henna-bushes;

let us go early to the vineyards

and see if the vine has budded or its blossom opened,

if the pomegranates are in flower.

There will I give you my love,

when the mandrakes give their perfume,

and all rare fruits are ready at our door,

fruits new and old which I have in store for you, my love.


If only you were my own true brother

that sucked my mother's breasts!

Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you,

and no man would despise me.

I would lead you to the room of the mother who bore me,

bring you to her house for you to embrace me;

I would give you mulled wine to drink

and the fresh juice of pomegranates,

your left arm under my head and your right arm round me



I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem:

Do not rouse her, do not disturb my love

until she is ready.



Who is this coming up from the wilderness

leaning on her beloved?



Under the apricot-trees I roused you,

there where your mother was in labor with you,

there where she who bore you was in labor.

Wear me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion cruel as the grave;

it blazes up like blazing fire,

fiercer than any flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,

no flood can sweep it away;

if a man were to offer for love

the whole wealth of his house,

it would be utterly scorned.



We have a little sister

who has no breasts:

what shall we do for our sister

when she is asked in marriage ?

If she is a wall,

we will build on it a silver parapet,

but if she is a door,

we will close it up with planks of cedar.



13  My Vineyard is Mine to Give



I am a wall and my breasts are like towers;

so in his eyes I am as one who brings contentment.

Solomon has a vineyard at Baal-hamon;

he has let out his vineyard to guardians,

and each is to bring for its fruit

a thousand pieces of silver.

But my vineyard is mine to give;

the thousand pieces are yours, O Solomon,

and the guardians of the fruit shall have two hundred.



My bride, you who sit in my garden,

what is it that my friends are listening to?

Let me also hear your voice.



Come into the open, my beloved,

and show yourself like a gazelle or a young wild goat

on the spice-bearing mountains.





The Old Testament World, Second Edition, by Philip R. Davies and John Rogerson. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2005.

History Begins at Sumer, by Samuel Noah Kramer. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981.

The New English Bible. Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1970. 


The Song of Songs and Ancient Tamil Love Poems by Abraham Mariaselvam. Biblical Institute Press, Rome, 1988. Copyright © Biblical Institute Press 1988.

 The Message of Lu-dingir-ra to his Mother and a Group of Akkado-Hittite ďProverbsĒ. M. Civil. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 23, 1964.

Introduction Copyright © Rex Pay 2007