September 13: Song of Songs 8:13-14

Song 8:13-14

The final two verses of the Song comprise a short dialogue, or exchange, between the two lovers. Throughout the Song, the young man and young woman have alternated as the effective speakers in the various poems, and now they alternate one last time—with a pair of brief poems that, in their own way, summarize many of the key themes of the Song.

Verse 13

Boy:
“(You) the (one) sitting in the enclosed (garden)s—
(with) my companions attending (me)—
make me to hear from your voice!”

These lines, spoken by the young man, echo the earlier scene in 4:12-5:1 (cf. the earlier notes on 4:12, 13-14, 15, and 4:16-5:1). As throughout the Song, the garden motif symbolizes the young woman’s sexuality, but also the enjoyment of sexual pleasure by the two lovers (when they are together). As in 4:12ff, the girl is understood as being present within the garden enclosure(s) (here, plural <yN]G~, as in 6:2). She is dwelling (literally “sitting,” vb bv^y`) there in her garden, and, from there, the young man awaits her call (to invite him in). The same basic scenario was depicted in 4:16-5:1 (cf. note). Here he is, apparently, waiting with a group of his companions—people (young men) to whom he is closely joined (participle from the root rbj, “be joined, united, bound [together]”). They are “attending” him (vb bv^q*), and it is conceivable—given the climactic place of these lines in the overall structure of the Song—that a wedding scene is implied. In 5:1, a group of friends/companions is also addressed, calling on them to join (with the two lovers) in feasting on the pleasures of love.

Verse 14

Girl:
“Slip through, my love—
and be yourself like to a gazelle,
or to a young stag leading (the flock)—
upon (the) mountains of spices!”

The girl responds, as she does in 4:16, by inviting the young man, her beloved (“my love”), to come into her garden. However, this is done with different imagery, drawing upon separate scenes from even earlier in the Song—using phrases from 2:9, 17, and 4:6. The parallel with 2:8-17 is especially important. The general scenario in that earlier episode, as I understand it, is of a clandestine night-time meeting between the two lovers. In verses 8-9, the young woman describes her beloved as a swift and strong gazelle, or young stag, ‘leaping’ over the mountains and hills to come to her. Then, after they have been together, throughout most of the night it seems (v. 16), she warns him to turn back and ‘fly away’ before the light of day comes (v. 17); the wording in verse 17 is particularly close to what we find here:

“Until (the time) when the day breathes,
and the shadows fly (away),
turn round—you, my love, (and) be like
a gazelle (going) over (the) mountains of rt#b#!”

The wording may be similar, but the situation here at the close of the Song is very different. In the earlier episode, the young man is told to go (back) upon “the mountains of rt#b#,” which, as I discussed in the note on 2:17, is best understood as representing separation between the lovers. Now, by contrast, he is calls to be upon “the mountains of spices [<ym!c*b=],” which refers to union between the lovers. Throughout the Song, “spices” function as a key sexual symbol, representing sexuality and the enjoyment of sexual pleasure. These ‘spice-mountains’ (understood in 4:6 as referring to the young woman’s two breasts) share in the same basic symbolism as the garden with its fragrant spices, and the motifs are thus interchangeable—and there is no problem at all with the mixed imagery here.

Interesting is the use of the verb jr^B*, which occurs only here in the Song. The fundamental meaning of this root is something like “pass through, slip through”. It can refer to escaping out of danger (connoting flight), but it also is used in the more concrete sense of bolting a door, by passing through a bar or beam. Quite possibly, there is a double-meaning here, encompassing both of these semantic domains; we might paraphrase the girl’s invitation as: “Slip away, my love, into the garden…and bolt the entrance behind you!”. That the aspect of bolting a door is intended becomes more likely when we consider that, in the earlier episode of 4:12ff, the garden enclosure had a latched entrance. The latch/lock bars all other young men from entering the garden (of the girl’s sexuality), except for her beloved, to whom the garden belongs—i.e., her sexuality is reserved for him alone.

If marriage (and a wedding) is alluded to here at the close of the Song (cf. above, and in the prior note on vv. 11-12), then conceivably these final lines could contain an implied reference to the lovers’ wedding night (cp. 3:7-10). This is not to say that the two have not spent the night together before—since that is rather clearly implied (or at least suggested) in earlier episodes in each movement of the Song. Still, the context of a wedding would be most appropriate for the conclusion to the Song. It must be admitted, however, that if the motif of a marriage/wedding is intended here in vv. 13-14, it is presented in a most vague and allusive manner.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum interpreted these final verses of the Song as an eschatological prophecy regarding the future and ultimate destiny of Israel. Verse 13 was understood as spoken by Solomon himself on behalf of the people, while verse 14 represented a prayer by the elders of Israel for the redemption of Israel:

“In that hour shall the Elders of the Assembly of Israel say: ‘Flee, my Beloved, Lord of the universe, from this polluted earth, and let your Presence dwell in the high heavens. But in time of trouble, when we pray to you, be like a gazelle which sleeps with one eye closed and one eye open, or like a young antelope which as it runs away looks behind. So look on us and regard our pains and afflictions from the high heavens, until the time when you will be pleased with us and redeem us and bring us up to the mountain of Jerusalem and there the priests will offer up before you incense of spices.”

Cf. Pope, pp. 696, 700

Ambrose understands that it is the young woman who is speaking in verse 13, calling to her beloved (Christ) as the one sitting in the gardens, with his companions being the Angels—and their garden-dwelling is to be identified with the heavenly Paradise. The woman (the Church) wishes to hear her beloved’s voice (the voice of Christ)—but she is only able to receive this voice, the heavenly conversation, once she has been fully purified and matured, bringing forth the “flowers of virtue, the sweetness of grace”. She further calls on him to “flee away” to her, indicating the help and mercy that Christ should provide to believers in their time of distress and persecution. The “mountains of spices” are the saints, and Christ takes refuge with them (cf. Psalm 87:1, cited together with 2 Cor 2:15), the prayers of the saints being like fragrant incense that ascends to heaven. Cf. Norris, pp. 295-6.

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).
Those marked “Norris” are to Richard A. Norris, Jr., translator and editor, The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible, Robert Louis Wilken, general editor (Eerdmans: 2003).

 

September 2: Song of Songs 8:3-5a

Song 8:3-4

“His left (hand is) beneath my head,
and his right (hand) embraces me.
I call you to (bind yourselves) seven-fold,
daughters of Yerushalaim:
(do nothing) whatever (to) stir or stir up love until she desires (it)!”

These lines are essentially identical with 2:6-7 (cf. the earlier note), with two differences:

    • The description of the binding force of the oath (“by the gazelles and by the deer of the field”) is omitted; certainly, anyone paying attention to the earlier portions of the Song would automatically ‘fill in’ the shortened version of the oath here with the phrase.
    • Instead of the conditional particle <a!, the interrogative (exclamatory) pronoun hm* is used. Normally, the particle <a! is rendered “if”, but, in the oath formula of 2:7, it refers to the apodosis of the conditional clause framed as a negative statement (or prohibition)—i.e., “do not…”. A similar negative use of hm* (“what”) is rare in the Old Testament (cf. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar [GKC] §137b); here the sense presumably is, “(do nothing) whatever to stir or stir up love…!”.

If the meaning of the refrain (in the earlier passages) is that sexual love should not be stirred (to consummation) until the time is right, then the sense here surely is that the time is now right for the two lovers. This point would seem to be confirmed by the context of 7:10b-14 (cf. the discussion in the prior note), and the position of these verses (along with chapter 8) to form the climax of the second movement of the Song.

Verse 3 here (as in 2:6) certainly refers to love-making, of the two lovers laying down together in each other’s embrace (vb qb^j*). Whether or not sexual intercourse (coitus) was indicated specifically in the earlier episodes, it is certainly in view here (in light of 7:8-14, cf. the notes on 7:8-10a and 12-14). But, again, we must also bear in mind the more immediate context of vv. 1-2 (cf. the previous note), in which the thematic emphasis is on social recognition and acceptance of the couple’s love—both by their families, and by the wider society. This, naturally enough, anticipates a marriage agreement and a wedding, which helps to explain the presence of v. 5a:

Verse 5a

“Who (is) this coming up from the outback,
supporting herself upon her love?”

The first line of this couplet echoes 3:6, which describes—in colorful symbolic language—the girl arriving at her wedding. It is a grandiose royal wedding that is depicted in 3:6-11 (cf. the earlier notes), however obliquely, by the references to Solomon, etc. In the Song, such royal motifs reflect the nature of the love between the young man and young woman—they are ‘king’ and ‘queen’ to each other, and, any place where they can be together, expressing their love, is like a majestic royal chamber or pavilion. Thus, though it may seem cryptic in the immediate context of chapter 8, we have here, I believe, at the close of this first unit, an allusion to the couple’s marriage and wedding.

The second line here, which does not occur in 3:6, provides an interesting (and telling) addition. Instead of coming alone to the wedding-scene, she approaches together with her beloved. The girl is leaning (or reclining) upon him—literally, the reflexive verb form (of the root qpr) means “supporting herself”. Almost certainly, this alludes back to verse 3 here, and to the lovemaking by the couple, where the young man’s two hands embrace (lit. enfold, vb qb^j*) her. It is intriguing to consider how these references to lovemaking (and sexual intercourse) in 7:8-8:3 relate to this climactic theme of marriage. The question touches on a range of interpretive concerns—including ethical, moral, and religious—regarding the relationship between sexuality and marriage in the Song. It is not possible to address these here, but they will be discussed, in some detail, when we have completed the remaining exegetical notes.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation (vv. 1-5a)

The Targum understands the “brother” of v. 1 as a reference to the Messiah, who will serve as brother to Israel, and the two will “suck together” the precepts of the Torah. The Midrash further applied the brother-motif to the relationship between brothers in Israelite history and tradition, with the kissing specifically recalling the kissing of Moses by Aaron (Exod 4:27). The Targum continued its Messianic interpretation in verse 2, with the drinking of mixed/spiced wine as a reference to the ‘Messianic Banquet’ that ushers in the New Age, where the righteous will feast on the old wine preserved (in the Garden of Eden) since the day the world was created. The Midrash Rabbah explained the house/room of the mother in connection with the historical location of mount Sinai, since it was there that “Israel became like a newborn child”, when the covenant was established and the Torah given. The odd/stray MT reading “she will teach me”, which is probably a corrupt vestige of a lost second line (cf. the discussion in the previous note), is taken at face value by the Midrash, read as “you will teach me” —i.e., YHWH will instruct Israel through the Torah.

Verse 3, repeated from 2:6 (cf. the earlier note), was explained by the Targum as a reference to the tefillin—bound on the left hand and on the head. The Targum and Midrash treated the adjuration in v. 4 (echoing 2:7 and 3:5, cf. above) in a similar manner, adapting it only slightly (cf. the interpretation given in the note on 2:7). Verse 5a also echoes an earlier passage of the Song, which the Targum and Midrash explain here in several different ways. The motif of coming up from the desert suggested, for example, death and the resurrection from the dead—an eschatological reference to the time when the dead of Israel will rise up, appearing as they did, like newborn children, at Sinai to receive the Law. Indeed, the desert-motif naturally brought to mind the tradition of the Exodus and Israel’s arrival at mount Sinai. Cf. Pope, pp. 658-661, 664f.

Theodoret’s interpretation of vv. 1ff resembles the Messianic approach taken by the Targum, only adapted to an early Christian (Christological) context. Christ as the “brother” of the Bride, suckling at the same mother’s breast, was explained in terms of his incarnation and humanity. It was Christ’s willingness to humble himself and take on our human nature that causes us, especially, to love him. And it is because the soul (and the Church) follows the example of Christ, that she is made pure and able to embrace him and kiss him, even in public, without any shame. At a second level of meaning, the “house of the mother” refers to the house of the Spirit, where the Holy Spirit ‘gives birth’ to believers, a house patterned after the heavenly “Jerusalem that is above” (Gal 4:26).

In v. 5a, Theodoret contrasts the shining white appearance of the woman with her earlier black/darkened color (1:6). She is white now because she has “taken on the whiteness” of her Beloved, the pure and holy Bridegroom (Christ). This holiness and union with the Bridegroom makes her worthy of “going up” out of the desert, explained as a reference to the resurrection, much as Jewish commentators explained it (cf. above).

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).

July 21: Song of Songs 3:11

Song 3:11

“Daughters of Yerushalaim, go forth,
and look, (you) daughters of ‚iyyôn,
on the king, Šlomoh, on the crown
with which his mother crowned him,
on (the) day of his marriage,
on (the) day of (the) joy of his heart!”

As discussed in the previous note, The last two words of v. 10 (separated from the prefixed preposition –m) properly belong to v. 11 here, forming an initial parallel couplet in which the speaker—most likely the young woman—calls on the other girls to look with amazement at her bridegroom as he approaches. The “daughters of Jerusalem” are referenced a number of times in the Song, including earlier in 1:5; 2:7; 3:5. Here they function as spectators at the wedding, possibly even members of the bridal party. In my view, all of vv. 6-11 represents an ideal portrait, in the mind of the young woman, of her (intended/future) wedding to the young man.

It may be that this scene draws upon historical traditions regarding king Solomon’s wedding, but here, in the Song, the reference to Solomon is most likely figurative. It is the young man, the girl’s beloved and intended groom, who plays the role of her “king”, her “Solomon”. The crown (hr*f*u&, lit. a band, etc, wrapped around [the head]) emphasizes the royal character of the wedding. Again, this is figurative, and the sense of role-play may be indicated by the role of the boy’s mother in “crowning” him as king at the time of their wedding. The girl imagines the ceremonial splendor of her wedding as being on a truly grand scale, akin to the wedding of Solomon himself.

If there were any doubt that a wedding scene is in view, this is made explicit in the final lines. The noun hN`t%j& occurs only here in the Old Testament, but it is related to /t@j) and /t*j* which essentially denote being (or becoming) a son-in-law. This aspect is quite difficult to translate literally in English; one can only become a son-in-law through marriage, and that is probably the best way to translate hN`t%j& here.

The approach of the young man (the royal bridegroom) is parallel to the approach of the young woman (the royal bride) in v. 6 (cf. the prior note). In my view, this parallelism is clear and definite, like facing panels of a triptych with the central scene of the wedding bed/night (vv. 7-10) portrayed in between.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum explains the wedding/coronation of Solomon in terms of the king’s dedication of the Temple. The Midrash Rabbah played on the presumed derivation of the name Solomon (hm)l)v=) from the root <lv, “(be) complete”, applying it to God who created all things in their fullness and perfection. The “crown” and the wedding-day could also be explained in historical terms, being associated with the Tabernacle, the giving the Law to Israel, and again with the consecration of the Temple. The motif of Israel as a bride (and/or bridegroom), united to YHWH in a covenant bond, was natural and well-rooted in Old Testament tradition (Isa 61:10; 62:3-5, etc). Cf. Pope, p. 449-50.

As Gregory of Nyssa explains it, the “daughters of Jerusalem” are those other souls being saved who have not yet attained to her level of growth and understanding, and so the Bride calls to them that they may follow her example. Christologically, it would be God the Father who “crowned” Christ, so Gregory feels compelled to offer some explanation as to why it says here that the king was crowned by his mother. In this regard, the name is not significant—whether male or female, it refers to the Power of God. The Church itself is interpreted as the ‘living stones’ embedded, it is assumed, in the Bridegroom’s crown; however, the Church only becomes so when believers “come out” to witness the King in all his splendor, and are thus purified and enlightened together as the Bride of Christ.

Ambrose’s explanation of the scene has a more ascetic emphasis, interpreting the command for the daughters of Jerusalem (the souls) to “come forth” as meaning:

“…come away from the cares and thoughts of this age, come away from bodily constraints, come away from the vanities of the world—and behold what love the peace-bearing King has on the day of his wedding, how glorious he is…” (translation by Norris, p. 150)

His fine comments at the close of this section are worth repeating:

“This is the victor’s crown of the great contest, this is the magnificent wedding-present of Christ, his blood and his suffering. For what more could he give, who did not hold himself back, but offered his death for our benefit?” (ibid)

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).
Those marked “Norris” are to Richard A. Norris, Jr., translator and editor, The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible, general editor Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans: 2003).

July 15: Song of Songs 3:1-5 (continued)

Song 3:1-5, continued

The poem in 3:1-5, a mini-drama with the young woman as the protagonist/speaker, was discussed in the previous note. The central motif, the woman’s inability to find her beloved—both in her dreams and in reality—should be seen as representing the barriers and difficulties that keep the two lovers from being together. These difficulties involve a number of different factors.

First, there is the socio-economic situation. Within the setting of the Song, the young man is a herdsman, while the young woman, apparently, belongs to a family of vineyard-workers. These are very different kinds of occupations. Second, there are matters of social custom, including ethical and religious concerns. There is a genuine concern by the young woman’s family, and the wider community, to safeguard her blossoming sexuality, protecting it from amorous young men (the “little foxes” of 2:15, according to a plausible line of interpretation). There are also certain practical barriers, such as the seasonal aspect indicated in 2:9-12, whereby the girl would have been more or less tucked away at home during the rainy winter season, making any romantic meeting between the lovers difficult.

The only way that the young man and young woman can be together on a more regular, continual basis, is for the two to become married. As mentioned in the previous note, 3:4 contains the first reference (allusion) to marriage in the Song. The young man coming (publicly) to the girl’s family home (“the house of my mother”), means making public their love and their intention to be married. This marriage aspect continues in vv. 6-11, which I understand as a symbolic depiction of the expected wedding day.

However, in much of the Song, and certainly in the poems of the first two chapters, the couple is unmarried. This is especially clear in 2:8-17, where the poetic action leads, quite apparently, to a furtive nighttime tryst between the lovers. In any case, this desire and longing of the youths for such an encounter, shows that they are not married.

This question of the marital status of the boy and girl—and the role of marriage in the Song—is fundamental to the overall interpretation. The wider interpretive question must wait until the conclusion of this series; however, it is possible to address it here, at least in part. Perhaps the best way to do this is by considering (again) the refrain in verse 5, which repeats verbatim the refrain from 2:7.

Verse 5

“I call you to (bind yourselves) seven-fold,
daughters of Yerushalaim,
by the gazelles and by the deer of the field:
do not stir or stir up love until she desires (it)!”

For the literal meaning and syntax of these lines, cf. the earlier note (on 2:7). The specific force of the oath-formula is ambiguous, and can be understood a number of different ways. It is worth summarizing here the discussion from the earlier note; the key statement of the oath-formula is:

“do not stir or stir up love until she desires (it)”

The verb is rWu, used doubly (for special emphasis), in two stems (Hiphil and Polel). The basic meaning of the root is “stir”, often in the sense of “rouse, wake(n)”. But it is just here that commentators are divided on the precise significance of the verb in context:

    • The woman is urging the “daughters of Jerusalem” not to disturb her love (i.e., love-making) with the young man; or
    • The statement serves more as a proverbial warning for girls, not to arouse love (that is, sexual desire) until the time is right.

The second option better fits the fundamental meaning of the verb, but does not seem to fit the context very well. After all, since the young woman is (apparently) already in the midst of a romantic/sexual encounter with the young man, such a warning would be rather curious. Perhaps there is a more general proverbial meaning at work, which can be highlighted as a third line of interpretation:

    • to the effect that, as with all things in nature, there is a proper time when a boy and girl have matured sexually and are ready for a love encounter, and at a time when each is truly attracted to the other.

Based on the context of v. 4, with the young woman finding her beloved, and her intention to be married to him, all three lines of interpretation are possible. The refrain is repeated again at 8:4, toward the close of the Song.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The girl’s search for her beloved was explained, by the Targum, in historical terms, as related to the departure of the Divine Presence (cloud of glory) from Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf. The nights spent by the young woman, filled with longing on her bed, were similarly interpreted (in the Midrash Rabbah) as referring to the different periods when the people of Israel were in bondage. In at least one line of midrashic interpretation, focused on the time of bondage in Egypt, it is Moses (the heaven-sent deliverer) who the object of Israel’s quest (cf. Pope, p. 416f). The Targum also explains the guards walking around the city in terms of Moses, Aaron and the Levites, who keep watch over the Word of God (the Torah) and the Tent of Assembly (Tabernacle). The “mother’s house” of v. 4 was similarly interpreted as the Tent, especially as a location for instruction in the Torah.

Gregory of Nyssa interprets the night-time search by the young woman in a profoundly mystical sense. In spite of her illumination by the Word, the soul has not yet fully possessed the object of her desire. The night here refers to the “contemplation of the invisible, just like Moses, who entered into the darkness to the place where God was”. She is searching for He Who is hidden in the dark cloud, whose ultimate presence and essence “resists the grasp of our thoughts”, and so we are unable to find Him at the rational level. In this context, the “city” represents “the entire spiritual and transcendental world” (that is of angels and powers), but even there the soul cannot find Him. Only by abandoning all creatures and passing by “all that is intelligible in creation” —understood in terms of “every finite mode of comprehension” —can the Beloved be found, by faith, in the “chamber of the heart”, which is then “filled by the Divine indwelling”.

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).
The translations of Gregory of Nyssa here are by Herbert Musurillo, S.J., in From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings, edited by Musurillo and selected by Jean Daniélou (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2001).

 

July 14: Song of Songs 3:1-5

Song 3:1-5

The next section of the Song consists of a single poem, a mini-drama narrated by the young woman.

Verse 1

“Upon my place of laying down, in the nights,
I searched for (the one) whom my soul loves,
I searched for him but did not find him.”

This memorable tricolon describes the young woman “searching” (vb vq^B*) for her beloved in her thoughts and dreams. This is an expression of her longing to be with him, and takes place repeatedly—literally “in the nights” (i.e., night after night). The last line can be understood two ways: (a) in her dreams she could not find the young man, or (b) her longing was not fulfilled because she wasn’t actually with him.

Verse 2

“I will stand up now and go around in the city,
in the (narrow) walkways and wide (street)s,
(there) I will search for (the one) my soul loves—
(so) I searched for him, but did not find him.”

The young woman decides to get up from her bed and actually search for her beloved, within the space of the city. The imperfect verbs in the first three lines have jussive/cohortative force, reflecting the girl’s desire and intention (i.e., “let me…”, “I must…”, “I will…”). The “(narrow) walkways” (<yq!w`v=) and “wide (street)s” (tobj)r=) together make a comprehensive pairing that essentially covers the entire city. Unfortunately for the girl, her initial searching ends up no differently than in her dreams—she is unable to find her lover.

Verse 3

“The (one)s guarding found me, going round in the city,
(and I said to them:)
‘(The one) whom my soul loves, have you seen (him)?'”

There is wordplay in this couplet: the girl cannot find the young man, but she has been found by the watchmen of the city; and, just as she has been “going around” (vb bb^s*) the city, so the watchmen have been making their rounds (same verb bb^s*). She asks the help of these men in the search for her beloved; the lack of any response implies that, again, she is unable to get any help in finding him.

Verse 4

“(It was) a little (while) from when I passed by from them,
until (the moment) when I (finally) found (the one) my soul loves!
I will grab hold of him and will not let him go,
until (the time) when I bring him into the house of my mother,
into the inner room (where) she became pregnant with me.”

The first two lines are a bit awkward, with their overuse of the relative particle (v#), but they manage to extend the suspense of the scene, building to the moment when the young woman finally locates her beloved. The imperfect verb forms in the third line again reflect the intention and desire of the girl—to grab hold of the young man and never let him go. The only way she will be able to always have him with her is for the two of them to be married. That is what is alluded to in the final two lines: bringing him to her mother’s house essentially means making their love public, and, with it, their intention of being together (in marriage). This traditional motif is found in other examples of ancient Near Eastern love poetry; in one of the Sumerian Dumuzi-Inanna poems, it is clear that the young man (Dumuzi) will come (or be brought) to the girl’s (Inanna’s) family house (“the gate of our mother”) to make his proposal:

“He wants to stop at the gate of our mother,
I am fairly running for joy.
He wants to stop at the gate of Ningal,
I am fairly running for joy!
O that someone would tell my mother,
and she sprinkle cedar perfume on the floor
….
Her dwelling, its fragrance is sweet,
her words will all be joyous ones:
‘My lord, you are indeed worthy
of the pure embrace,…”
(translation by Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps That Once…: Sumerian Poetry in Translation [Yale University Press: 1987], p.11)

For more on the idiom of the ‘mother’s house’, cf. Gen 24:28; Ruth 1:8. Here the girl’s words only express her intention; as is clear from the context of the Song, and the repeating of this same imagery in 8:1-2, her intention is not immediately fulfilled.

This is first time in the Song that marriage is mentioned or alluded to. Up to this point, through the first 2+ chapters, the two young lovers are unquestionably unmarried. The idea of the two lovers having romantic and sexual encounters prior to their being married is quite troubling to many interpreters of the Song, to the point that it is considered a practical impossibility by some. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, and because a consideration of it is, in my view, central to a proper understanding of the Song, it is worth addressing in the next note, as we continue our discussion on this section.