I was sleeping, but my heart was awake!
Of a sudden I heard a knock at my door,
And then the voice of my beloved,
Whispering to me,
“Open to me my sister, my dearest,
My dove, my perfect one,
For my head is drenched with the night dew,
My locks with the moisture of the night!”
And I remember saying,
As one awakened from a dream,
“I have taken off my dress,
So shall I put it on again?
I have washed my feet,
So must they once again be soiled?”
I arose and dressed,
And there at the latch of the door
I saw my beloved’s hand!
My heart was stirred within me
I arose to open for my beloved,
Though my hands were wet with myrrh.
In this sleep-walking state she had taken too much myrrh, and now found it difficult to negotiate the door handle.
When finally the door swung back
And I looked for my beloved
He was gone!
He was nowhere to be seen!
I called, but there was no answer
And my heart sank within me.
The shock of this realisation brings her out of the world of sleep. She is dazed for a moment, trying to adjust her senses, and as is so often the case, she cannot make up her mind what had really happened from what was pure dream fantasy. She finds herself fully dressed, and her hands are too liberally covered with myrrh. And then she finds the door latch covered in myrrh, and the door open. Who did it? She is perplexed, but cannot take a risk. Did he come for her in the night? Has something gone wrong? Why did he leave in such a hurry? Was he trying to convey to her that danger existed? She must now try to find out. Even though he said he would be waiting for her in the morning, she must investigate for herself. Dreams have a habit of being too real sometimes!
She makes her way out of the palace, past the night guards. it does not occur to her that her beloved would not have been able to make an entry past those same guards! All her actions are now based upon the twisted emotions of the waking mind, and not the common sense. She makes her way out to the palace courtyard and grounds, and then beyond. The court ladies are aghast, and listen with much interest as they attend to her needs.
I sought him everywhere!
I could not find him!
I called out in the night,
Once and again,
But his voice did not answer me!
I ran straight into the night-watchmen
As they made their rounds of the city.
I sought to get past them
But they grasped hold of me tightly
(Not knowing who I was)
They struck me,
They wounded me,
They tore off my veil,
And then they let me go!
The night-watchmen had assumed her to be a woman of easy virtue, fleeing perhaps from some skirmish. It was only after they saw her face and recognised her that they let her go. For the rest of that night they must have been worried men, anticipating the wrath of the King himself should he find out what had transpired.
O daughters of Jerusalem
I beg of you,
If you find my beloved
Tell him that I am love-sick for him.
COURT LADY: (sarcastically, knowing that they had little further duty towards her – )
What is your beloved
More then any other
O ‘fairest of women’?
2nd COURT LADY:
What is your beloved
More than any other
That you should charge us in this way?
They are distinctly irritated with the Shepherd Girl and her behaviour. They feel that she has been using the palace facilities unfairly, luxuriating in the bounty of the King without giving anything in return. What makes the matter so much worse is that they would give anything to be in her place! However, the girl sees nothing of this intrigue, and has eyes, ears, and heart only for her Shepherd Boy. Feeling rather hurt at their gibes she changes her tune –
My beloved is fair and ruddy
The fairest among ten thousand!
His head is like the finest gold,
And raven black his flowing locks;
His eyes are the eyes of doves
That rest by the little water brooks,
Bathed in milk,
Set like choice gems of Lapis Lazuli;
His cheeks are raised beds of balsam
Full of fragrance;
His lips are like the lilies
Sweetly distilling their fragrance;
His arms are cylinders of gold
Adorned with choicest topaz;
His body like polished ivory
Overlaid with sapphires;
His legs are white pillars of marble
Set in sockets of finest gold;
His appearance is that of Lebanon,
Choice as the cedars;
His voice is sweetness itself,
Altogether lovely! Such is my beloved, my darling,
O you daughters of Jerusalem!
The Court Ladies are dazed and incredulous at such a description. And not having seen her beloved, they are decidedly curious, and anxious to have a sight of him.
Where can your beloved have gone
O ‘fairest of women’?
2nd COURT LADY:
Which way did your beloved go
Pray let us join you
And help you find him?
SHEPHERD GIRL: (suddenly suspicious of their motives -)
My beloved has gone down to his garden,
To the beds where the balsam grows
To delight in his garden,
To pick the lilies!
I am my beloved’s,
And my beloved is mine,
He who feeds his flock among the lilies!
She feels quite pleased with her attempt to deflect their minds from inquisitiveness. Her figurative language would only be understood by herself and her lover, and now she feels a sense of relief. She has learned the lesson, not to use the intimate language of love when speaking to the wrong people. She has felt their deprecatory reaction and smarted, but has now successfully sealed the breach.
The Court Ladies have now finished their task. The slight scrapes and bruises have been attended to, the hair re-set, clothes changed, and jewelry replaced on her hands and neck. It seems that all may now retire to bed for the rest of the night.
However, they are totally unaware of one thing. Someone else had been unable to sleep properly that night, and during his nocturnal perambulations, he happened to chance by the rooms where the Court Ladies attend their charges. Silently he had been listening to the conversations. Suddenly he enters the room through the richly tapestried curtains. The King!
All present bow low to the ground as their liege enters.
At his behest they arise and stand before him. The Shepherd Girl looks radiant, and the King, having listened to her tale of love, feels intent on trying yet again to win her favour. Summoning a chamberlain he orders the dancing girls to perform for him. The Shunamite would be the central attraction. She has been shown what to do on such occasions, but thus far has been spared the indignity. The dancing girls are skilled, and have been trained to operate alone or with the presence of one such as the Shepherd Girl, and they know the purpose of their task.
We now follow the party through to the great hall, lit by a thousand flickering lamps, and sumptuously decorated in all manner of velvet and gold, and cunningly woven tapestries. The King has taken his place on the royal dais, and madehimself comfortable in readiness for the display. The court dancers are just appearing. The Shunamite girl has been attired suitably for the King’s pleasure, which means that she is wearing the equivalent of our modern ‘bikini’, except that the brief two-piece has been made of far more costly material. Over this she has a long flowing veil held in place by a jewelled coronet on her head.
There was naught she could do but comply with Solomon’s request. Silently she prayed that the God in whom both she and the King trusted would look favorably upon her that night. Solomon was no doubt a wise and gentle man, a man of some forty-five years of age, possessing charm, maturity, and poise. She could see why women liked him. She could not understand why the King should have looked twice at HER! The musicians are now grouped, and the dancing girls begin their sequence. They weave in and out and their lithe and graceful bodies are indeed a sight to behold. The Shepherd Girl awaits her cue and then moves into their midst. She only has to perform the most elementary movements, requiring no skill, and little practice, because it is not expected of her. The dancing girls convolute around her, providing a perfect setting for her graceful movements.
The dance lasts at the most five minutes. To the Shunemite girl it seemed like an hour. At the end of the sequence the dancing girls prostrate themselves on the floor, leaving the girl to bow low before the King. Solomon shows his pleasure and they arise. But instead of there being further dances, the King dismisses everyone from the great hall except the Shepherd Girl, whom he beckons to the dais. Slowly but gracefully she ascends and sits facing him.