"Your hair is like a flock of goats..." "Ooh baby, talk dirty to me!"
September 26, 2008 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Is there any sort of modern translation of Song of Solomon that actually makes this literary work culturally accessible?

I have long been fascinated by the erotic reputation of the biblical book of Song of Solomon. The problem is that any romantic ideals tend to evaporate upon actual reading of the book. There is just too much of a cultural divide to actually get caught up in the supposed eroticism.

For example:

"Turn your eyes away from me,
For they have confused me;
(N)Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Gilead.
"(O)Your teeth are like a flock of ewes
Which have come up from their washing,
All of which bear twins"

Uh, okay. I'm sure that was meant to be very complimentary but it's lost on me.

I've Google'd my heart out but I can't find any sort of translation that actually attempts to make it culturally relevant. I've found bits a pieces explained but I was hoping to find something a little more thorough. A complete translation with the weird parts changed to make sense to a modern reader would be ideal. I'd be perfectly willing to settle for an exposition or commentary that focuses on explaining the entire book verse by verse though.

I should add that all commentaries I've seen tend to explain it from an allegorical perspective (i.e. Solomon represents Christ and the Shulammite represents the church). I think this is a valid interpretation but it only works as an allegory if the story also works from a literal perspective (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia only works as an allegory because it's a good story taken at face value). I'm only interested in the literal perspective at this point.
posted by jluce50 to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Here, I'll lay it out for you:

1. Livestock is wealth.
2. Ewes are white when freshly washed.
3. Goats are kind of a brown color.

Seriously, just a very little thinking about the person who wrote this and their context will make the meaning plain.
posted by Electrius at 9:20 AM on September 26, 2008

Response by poster: I realize that, but reading the about a goat as a metaphor for a woman's beauty just sucks any impact out of it (for me). If you're reading it from a scholarly mindset for it's historical literary value it's fine to have think about almost every line in that way. For me personally, by the time I arrive at a conclusion about what something means all that's left is a very dry and clinical piece of information. I don't want to have to stop every line or two and analyze the heck out of it. Besides, while your point is taken about livestock and stuff, some of it is just too obscure and seemingly arbitrary to make much sense of it.
posted by jluce50 at 9:41 AM on September 26, 2008

Supposedly a lot of the imagery in this book, in the original language, is quite erotic without being sleazy. Any Hebrew scholars out there that can help with this? I'm curious myself.
posted by konolia at 9:50 AM on September 26, 2008

Response by poster: I should add that when I said that section was "lost on me", I was referring more to the emotional impact than the literal meaning. Clearly the intention of the author wasn't to just communicate raw information, it was supposed to impact the reader emotionally.
posted by jluce50 at 9:56 AM on September 26, 2008

The Mesage is supposed to be a bible translation in more accessible language.
posted by electroboy at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2008

THIS was amazing. I, too, was a little put off by the "Your neck is like a tower of ivory, your breasts are like two fauns..." type imagery. But this guy goes through it in great detail, with cultural and historical explanations of each one of these images, so you can really sense the depth and value of each one. You get a much clearer idea of what Solomon was saying. The book is definitely worth a read, and the guy's marriage seminars are incredible.
posted by Spyder's Game at 10:10 AM on September 26, 2008

I don't want to have to stop every line or two and analyze the heck out of it.

Any watered-down, "culturally relevant" translation is going to make the piece meaningless.

It's poetry.

Here's the culturally-relevant "translation" of "Innisfree," by Yeats: I'm going to go make a small cottage of the materials available to me in a remote location and live there peacefully while enjoying nature. Not so much the "of twigs and wattles made," or the "peace" that comes "dropping slow."
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:43 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Marcia Falk's translation of the Song of Songs is vivid, clear, and erotic -- a poem in its own right. But if you're utterly baffled and put off by agrarian imagery, I don't know whether you'll find it any more "relevant."
posted by ottereroticist at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: electroboy, Spyder's Game, and ottereroticist... thanks! I'll check them out...
posted by jluce50 at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, ottereroticist, that is exactly what I'm looking for! The entire book rewritten by a poet who just happens to be a scholar of the Hebrew language. If I was more articulate, that's precisely what I would have asked for. Thanks!
posted by jluce50 at 11:30 AM on September 26, 2008

Yeah, in addition to her lovely translation, Falk's commentaries are brilliant too.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:37 AM on September 26, 2008

If you're leaning towards something a little more from the theological side of explanation on SOS, definitely check out Tommy Nelson's video series. Its not cheap, but he really breaks down the original Hebrew meaning into a follow-able format that is extremely relevant to a modern-day reader.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:12 PM on September 26, 2008

There is a poem by an Icelandic poet, Birgir Svan Símonarson, that may be the kind of poem you're looking for. It's not a translation by any means. I think in Hollywood terms it would be referred to as an "adaptation" of the original. It's called Geggjaður ástaróður til Stínu frá töffaranum á 18555 which means, roughly: Crazy Serenade to Stína from the Cool Guy in 18555

18555 is an old style car number plate (the poem was published in 1976) and Stína is a nickname for Kristín, which is the same name as Christine. Here's the Icelandic text and after that there's my rough translation.


Geggjaður ástaróður til Stínu frá töffaranum á 18555

tennur þínar einsog röð hvítra fólksvagna
hörund þitt einsog eftir hvítan stormsveip
augu þín tær einsog lakk á nýbónuðu tryllitæki
fætur þínir smart hannaðir
brjóst þín einsog ís í brauði
ást mín heit einsog nýsteiktur hamborgari
kossar þínir sætari en kók
skaut þitt einsog sæti í Citroen delux
ég gef skít í allt fyrir ástina
tryllitækið steríógræjurnar bíómiðann
síðustu rettuna
kvar retta án elspítu
tryllitæki án þín
ef þú heyrir geggjaðan ástaróð minn
í lögum unga fólksins
mundi ég fíla það í botn
að þú slæðir á þráðinn beibí


Crazy Serenade to Stína from the Cool Guy in 18555

Your teeth like a row of white automobiles
Your skin like after a white tornado*
Your eyes like a wax on a newly simonized muscle car
Your legs neatly designed
Your breasts like an ice cream in a cone
My love hot like a newly fried hamburger
Your kisses sweeter than Coke
Your sex like a seat in a Citroën Deluxe
I'll ditch everything for love**
The muscle car, the stereo, the movie ticket
My last cig
Whassa cig without a match†
A muscle car without you
If you hear my crazy serenade
On The Songs of Young Folks‡
I would dig it to pieces
If you gave me a ring babe

* I think "tornado" may be a reference to something that a youngster like me (born five years after the poem was written) may not get. An ad jingle, possibly, or an TV ad for some sort of cleaning product. Actually, the latter is sparking some recognition neurons somewhere.

** Literally that line means: I give shit to everything for love. In Icelandic you say "I give shit" when in English you say "I can't give a shit." I couldn't think of a profane way of saying "I reject" that keeps the directness of the line. I considered "I shitcan everything for love" but that sounds way sillier than the original.

† The double meaning of "match" doesn't apply in Icelandic, but I included it here because I like it. Also, the line is considerably more vernaculary in Icelandic than I could render it in English without it being ridiculous.

‡ Lög Unga Fólksins (The Songs of Young Folks, being my translation of the title) was the only show on Icelandic state radio that played popsongs (the Icelandic state had a broadcasting monopoly until the mid-80s).
posted by Kattullus at 10:54 PM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

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