THE SONG OF SONGS (concerning SOLOMON)
A PARAPHRASED TRANSLATION ARRANGED AS A PLAY
By Arthur Eedle
(First published 1957 as part of the first “Wellspring” series,
and then republished in 1979 as Volume 4 of Except the Lord build the House.)
Before embarking on the introduction to the Song, I should like to tell the tale of how this translation came about. In 1953, after spending four years at London University, first to study for an honours degree in Physics, and then to obtain a Post-graduate Certificate of Education, I immediately became subject to the law of the land in those days, that every male, on completing his education, should spend two years doing military service. In my own case, and that of my fellow students, representatives from the Royal Air Force had visited the College, and explained to those of us on the physics course, that we should, by virtue of our qualifications, be able to obtain a very cushy position in the Officer class in the R.A.F., and so life would be both exciting and comfortable for the two-year span.
However, I had been a Christian since 1948, and was very intense about my faith. I had worked with Tom Rees inLondon during his “Get right with God” campaigns at the Royal Albert Hall, and was on fire for the Lord. Furthermore, (as is so often the case with young men!) these fires of enthusiasm burned deeply in every direction, driving me to make public decisions which in the days of Nero would have immediately dispatched me to the arena and the lions. One of these decisions was about military service, which I considered contrary to the word of Jesus Christ, and this drove me to the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors (C.B.C.O.) for advice. I learned that the law allowed me to present my case at a Tribunal, but was warned that it would be a long drawn out affair, calculated to mess me about for probably two years, in which time I might find it difficult to obtain any sort of permanent employment. (This proved to be true.)
I presented my case to the Tribunal, refusing to have any witnesses to my “good faith”, (another bullet-headed decision!) only to be mocked by the Magistrate in a crowded court room. My case was rejected. “People like you were responsible for Pearl Harbour,” he said, looking angry. I could never understand the logic of that!. Back at the C.B.C.O. I was told that I could appeal against the decision. Time went by, during which I worked on the shop floor of a motor car factory, until the Appellate Tribunal sat. On this occasion I asked a friend to speak on my behalf. But although the decision was deferred, at the end of the day I heard that my case had once again been rejected.
A further visit to the C.B.C.O. showed me that either I had to back out and do military service, or face a term of imprisonment. My faith was rock steady, and although the prospects were daunting, I felt had to go through with it. Initially I had expected to be allowed to do two years of alternative civilian work, but suddenly I was faced with gaol. Time went by. I was taken to a depot for medical examination, but refused to undergo the procedure. Then came the day when a policeman called at my parents’ home with a summons. I remember even now the dark blue form on which it was printed. The local magistrates’ court was full, and my case was second to be heard. It was all over in less than five minutes. I had broken the law, by refusing medical examination, and was given a choice of a heavy fine or two months in prison. On the earlier advice of the C.B.C.O. I paid the fine, knowing that this would not be the end of the matter. If I had opted to go to prison, on being released they would have started the whole process over again.
More time went by. I managed to get temporary employment in a school, which was far better than working on capstan lathes in the factory. But eventually the policeman arrived yet again, and I was soon back in the court room. This time the options were the same as before, and I knew that I should accept the prison sentence. It was for two months at Brixton Prison in south London. I went through the rather terrible experience of being transported in what is commonly called a “Black Maria”, where each prisoner is forced into a space about 18 inches square, with a small frosted glass window and a door that is slammed shut and locked. Claustrophobia immediately overcame me, but I prayed, and relaxed, and began to feel better. We were finally disgorged within the prison grounds and eventually, after donning prison clothes, I found myself in a cell, about 8 feet by 5 feet, with a domed roof and window grating too high up to see out. The silence following the slamming of a great iron door was intense. (Hence the slang for prison, “The Slammer”.)The only item of furniture in the cell was the bed. I thought to find a Bible, but had another think coming.
The first few days were spent in a huge room with other inmates, sewing up mail bags, whilst a couple of “screws” (prison officers) walked up and down the rows watching every movement. I was told that I could write one letter a month, and the first was due. In it I asked for a Bible to be sent in, not knowing that I had no right to ask for anything. The Bible came, and I was ordered into the Governor’s office. He dressed me down in no uncertain terms, and I was dismissed. So much for that, I thought. No Bible in prison. But at the end of the day, on returning to a new and somewhat larger cell, the Bible was there! Praise the Lord! He had answered my prayer. There were now three of us in the cell, having a bunk bed for two, and a fold-up bed on the opposite wall. It meant that I had company! What I learned from them through the days of incarceration would fill a book.
Time seemed to slip by so slowly. At nights the cell became bitterly cold, and there was insufficient bed covering to keep warm. During the days I was assigned to an odd-job man who tended any minor repairs that were needed around the prison. But during the evenings I began to use the Bible, my cherished possession. Friends had sent, not just an ordinary Bible, but The Companion Bible, a thick tome full of most useful marginal notes and appendixes, the work of Dr Bullinger around the turn of the century.
The first Sunday was a dreadful day. No work, no freedom to move. Just stuck in the cell all day apart from the exercise periods, and the “morning service” in the prison chapel. The hypocrisy I found to be sickening. The Anglican minister made it his business to show that he was “above” all of us, the scum of the earth. During the following week I asked to “go on Guv’nors“, as they said, and requested permission to refrain from attending the Sunday service. He agreed, saying that I should have to stand to attention outside his office for the hour. When the day came, one of the screws (newly arrived from Dartmoor) gave me a bucket of water and told me to scrub the quarry-tiled floor while he goaded me continually for not working fast enough. But I reckoned it was better than the service!
One day I happened to turn to the Song of Solomon, which I had never before read. My first reading caused some confusion. I couldn’t make out who was speaking, or what the theme was about. But on examining the marginal notes, I found that in the Hebrew the pronouns had a gender form, and this enabled me to get to grips with the tale. Gradually, the theme of the story emerged and I found it to be a beautiful love story, and I remember saying to myself that on leaving the prison, one of the first things I would do is write a new version of the story so that everyone could understand it.
Eventually the day arrived for my release. It was a very strange feeling stepping out into the normal world again, and hearing the large iron door slam shut behind me. I had learned many lessons “inside” and the experience had helped me to grow up. Rubbing shoulders with men of all sorts, on many different charges, had taught me about aspects of life which I would probably never meet with again.
Within a short time I worked on the story, examining every word, and looking up names and places in dictionaries to get the full flavour of the tale. Eventually it was privately published as one of a series of papers entitled “The Wellspring.” (This pre-dated the more recent series by that name.) Although this will now be the third edition of the Song, I always look back with memories of those days in Brixton Prison. They were good days for me, with much time to read the Bible, and I thank God for the whole experience. It was exactly two years for the whole procedure, from the time I left College to the time I was released from prison. It seemed as though the authorities were determined to mess people about for two years if they never spent them doing military service.
My role as a pacifist in those days was probably not based on a great deal of prior reflection and examination. I reacted rather impulsively and made a quick decision, thinking that I could spend the two years doing farming work, or something similar (which they sometimes allowed), but the Lord saw fit to organise my pathway otherwise. In later years I often mused over that decision, wondering whether in the light of my further development I would again take that stand. Even now, I find it difficult to decide whether it is right or wrong for Christians to be involved in military service. But it is a very personal matter, and each individual has to decide if and when the necessity arises. And with that, I shall conclude this little tale, and get on with the theme of the book.