Quite a lot of time has passed since last we heard the girl speak. They have been in Jerusalem for some days, and during this time she has only been able to find her lover on one occasion. As we join them in the palace rooms, she is relating her experiences to the court ladies, and as always, they are extremely good listeners when it comes to the affairs of the heart!
Night after night have I lain on my bed
Seeking my true love;
I have sought him but not found him;
I have called him, but he has not answered.
I have walked the city by night,
And the watchmen on their rounds
Came upon me.
I spoke to them and said,
‘Have you seen my true love?’
They shook their heads
And passed on.
And then I saw him!
I ran to meet him!
I seized him and would not let him go;
O how I longed to bring him into my mother’s house,
To the place where my mother conceived me.
She goes on to explain how her lover would not allow her to run away with him at that time. He persuaded her to go back to the palace and be obedient to the King. After a few moments of tearful embrace she reluctantly agreed and they parted company. Once again she turns on the ladies and in a direct and forceful manner addresses them.
I adjure you, 0 daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles and hinds of the fields,
Not to arouse my love,
Nor inflame my emotions
Until I am ready.
More time has passed. Solomon has wooed his new-found damsel but with little or no success. She always holds him at arm’s length. To use the language of that day, she behaved as a ‘wall’, a ‘garden barred and bolted.’ The King realises that he will be unable to make progress with his amours, and looks upon force and rape as revolting. However he remains always attracted to the Shunamite maiden because of her constancy of love towards another. He, the great King of Israel, has been unable to break that bond! As a result, he has decreed that the girl should be released the following day to return to her native land in Northern Israel.
She is free! Free to go home! Free to travel with her friend and lover back to her family’s patrimony. She goes out into the city and finds her friend, and as they talk together, there is a greater ease and relaxation. As we join them she is relating some of the earliest memories she has of the entry in Jerusalem with the King’s caravans.
(I listened to the townsfolk, saying – )
What is this?
Coming up from the country
Like a column of smoke
Rising from the burning of frankincense and myrrh
From the powdered spices of Eastern merchants?
Look! It is Solomon in his royal sedan,
With his escort of sixty,
The choice warriors of Israel,
Skilled swordsman they are, and trained to wield arms,
Swords ready at their sides
To combat the terror that comes by night.
King Solomon made his royal palanquin
Of choicest wood of Lebanon,
With beams of silver
And couch of gold,
Upholstered in royal purple;
See the exquisite flooring
In tessellations cunningly wrought
By the daughters of Jerusalem!
Go forth, you daughters of Zion,
And greet Solomon your King!
See, he is wearing the crown
Placed upon his brow
By Bathsheba his mother
On his coronation day!
That great and joyful wedding day;
That day of joy and gladness!
The Shepherd boy listens to vivid memories with great interest and admiration. He is acutely aware of the insistent loyalty of his beloved, and this affects him deeply. How many girls would have been able to resist the offer of half the kingdom, promised by the world’s greatest and wisest ruler? But his ‘maiden of delights’ chose rather to stay in the simple life of the hills, the life of vineyards and sheep, and above all the life they would be sharing together before long now. He cannot restrain himself from the poetry of love.
How beautiful you are my dearest,
How truly lovely!
I see your eyes behind your veil
And they are the soft eyes of doves;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
Springing down the rocks of Mount Gilead;
Your teeth are white as a flock of ewes
And returning from the dip,
Each ewe has twins,
Not one has cast a lamb;
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
Your mouth of lovely form;
Your cheeks beneath your veil
Are pomegranate halves,
And your neck like the tower of David
Built with its winding courses
And a thousand bucklers there displayed
And all the warriors’ shields.
Your breasts are like the twin fawns of a gazelle
As they feed among the lilies.
When day breaks
And the shadows flee away
I shall be leaving here
For the mountains of myrrh
And the hills of frankincense.
You are beautiful my darling,
Without spot or blemish!
Come away with me from ‘Lebanon’ my bride,
Hurry down from the top of ‘Amarna,’
Hasten from the summit of snowy ‘Hermon,’
Come away from the ‘Great Lion’s Den’
And the ‘Mountain of Leopards.’
(In this poetic imagery the city of Jerusalem is likened to some of the great peaks in the Hermon Range, some 40 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The Mountain of Leopards is the royal palace, and the Lion represents the King himself.)
You have put heart into me, my sister,
You have made me a new man, my bride,
With your twinkling eye
That smiles around your veil,
And the gemstone
That swells upon your breasts
(The ‘single eye’ mentioned here is in accordance with the customs of those days, whereby unmarried women were required to wear veils, but it was permitted to uncover one side of the face as a sign of favour to a man. We must remember that the Shepherd Girl is wearing the clothes consistent with the heights of fashion for those days, and whilst at court she had been trained to comply with official custom and taste. Her preparation at court had heightened her natural beauty, and refined her features, so who could say that the ordeal was entirely without its usefulness?)
How beautiful are your endearments,
My sister, my bride!
Your love is more fragrant than wines
And your perfume sweeter than your spices!
Your lips drop sweetness like the honeycomb,
Milk and honey are under your tongue,
Your garments have the fresh smell of Lebanon,
You are a garden enclosed and barred,
My sister, my bride,
A garden locked and a fountain sealed.
Your garden is a paradise of pomegranates
With pleasant fruits,
Cypress and spikenard are there,
Spikenard and saffron,
Calamus and cinnamon
And every type of frankincense,
With myrrh and lign-aloes
And all the choice varieties of spice.
And your garden is a fountain,
A well of living water
Flowing down from Hermon.
Awake 0 north wind!
Come, south wind, blow!
Blow upon my garden,
Set free its fragrances,
That they may drift upon the wings of the wind.
Come into my garden, 0 love of mine,
Taste of its choicest fruits!
I will come indeed, my sister, my bride,
I will come into my garden
And pluck my myrrh and spices,
And eat my honey from the comb,
I will drink both milk and wine,
For all are mine!
Come, friends of the bridegroom,
Eat and drink at my table with my beloved!
And so, with hearts high, and the thrill of expectation throbbing in their breasts, the lovers part company. He promises to be at the north gate of the city at sunrise to meet her, and then together they will wend their homeward way.
However, circumstances are about to arise that are totally unexpected for the Shepherd Girl. She goes back to the palace and instead of spending time with the court ladies goes straight to her bedroom to get a good night’s sleep in readiness for the coming day. Excitement and racing thoughts prevent her from sleeping for a while, but eventually she drops off and sleeps very deeply for a few hours. And then she is awakened by a dream, a dream that triggers off a sequence of events calculated to cause her great distress.
We next meet her in one of the court rooms in the small hours explaining to the court ladies all that has taken place. They have been aroused from their sleep by the Shepherd Girl who is now in need of them. As they attend to her needs, they listen to her strange tale of the night