Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you. Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.
I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!
Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions?
Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver. While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi.
Ah, you are beautiful, my love; ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.
Song of Song 1:2-7, 10-16
“I am black and beautiful”, She speaks, contending that her beauty is not a product of her station in life. She challenges the upper class concept of beauty being attached to ones living conditions. The higher ones social status is the greater their beauty must be. She is setting up her beauty as independent of her social status.
The use of “and” eliminates the possibility that her blackness is a condition. The world wants her to use “but” here and make her blackness a hindrance to her beauty. That she is beautiful in spite of her blackness. This would make her love an aberration, under a special clause. Therefore, her love would not challenge the status quo.
This is further supported by the claim of theologian Cheryl Exum as she states, “Black indicates color, not race…Clearly the woman sees herself as both black and beautiful; the question is how beauty and blackness are related.” Her beauty is not the marginalizing factor. It is her blackness prescribed by her work in the fields. This was something that lower-class women would have had to perform. The question is about her breaking through the veil of social class.
This is where her beauty arrives. She is beautiful because she has black skin, not in spite of it. She is challenging the status quo. She demands her lover tend to her needs. She is unashamed in her description of her desires for her lover. She is also bold in her assertion that she is black and beautiful. She will not let the daughters of Israel direct her in social decency and decorum. She is beautiful in her departure from marginalization and into her lovers waiting arms. She becomes a symbol of liberation.
The passage as a whole takes on new light when viewing it from the hermeneutic of rebellion against the status quo. It is her passion and desire to break free of her constraints. Be they social, political, or religious she is willing to leave it all behind to enter the chambers of her lover. She fears not the penalty of her actions. She is undaunted and unapologetic in her pursuit of him.
Neither is he ashamed. He receives strength as she pursues him. The world becomes more focused and clear. His longing matches hers and a true union of souls emerge. This inspires the host of witnesses to long and marvel at this love and urn for this kind of passion. To hunger to be free. Liberation dances upon their lips and their hearts ache to break free from the status quo.
What happens when we are taken up by this kind of passion? As a reader, we become involved and invested with their love and soon long for it. This becomes the standard to which human love is measured. I cannot stop here. Just as the woman of the Song of Songs challenges the status quo, we too must endeavor to resist conformity of the current depraved circumstance that bind us to status quo. Preventing us from experiencing the full and consuming love of God, of each other.
It is here that we move from a passionate, impatient, lustful, desirous, and hungry human love towards something more. We look to God, our beloved Creator, and the longing and desire present in the Most High and awaken to know that to be loved and hunger passionately for the love of God is to bear that same witness in and with others. It is here we move from a literal interpretation into a mystical allegorical rendering of God’s divine love story with us the beloved creation.
Physical beauty in the Song of Songs lies in passion and desire that cater to eroticism. The beauty of the woman in chapter one is defined by her longings and her experience. Her pursuit of her lover adds to her beauty. There is no checklist that asserts her beauty.
In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 beauty lies in the heart. In verse seven we see God’s designation of beauty as, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Here we see that it is not the things that are said or done. Rather it is the heart that provides beauty.
This is then countered with a description of David in verse twelve, “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” This contrasts verse five of the Song of Songs in its declaration, “I am black and beautiful.” The outward appearance of David is beautiful. This vision of beauty is determined by the beauty of David’s heart. It is not necessarily David’s outward beauty that is visible, but David’s heart radiates externally and is witnessed as beauty.
As it is the woman in the Song of Songs desire to strive against the status quo that provides her beauty. So too David’s beauty lies in his unique circumstance. He is smaller than the rest and is not thought of as one that could be anointed. The Lord does not see as we see. Beauty to God is present in motivation and in the divine creative process in and of itself.
We find an entirely different understanding of beauty in Proverbs 31:10-31. The Song of Songs idea of beauty yields a poetic list of inspired qualities in comparison to the love felt and yearned for. Proverbs has a checklist of attributes that are ascribed to what a beautiful woman will exhibit. Her beauty does not lie in passion and untamed actions and desires. The beauty of Proverbs is rooted is practical chores that tend to the status quo.
In verse ten we find, “She is far more precious than jewels”, in verse twelve, “She does him good, and not harm”, verse thirteen, “She seeks”, verse fourteen, “she brings”, verse fifteen, “She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household”, verse sixteen, “She considers”, verse nineteen, “She puts”, and in verses twenty-two and twenty-four, “She makes.” Her beauty lies in her actions that care for and provide for the husband and family.
She is not idle or unkind. She speaks wisdom and is strong. Physical beauty is considered vain here. Charm or persuasion is deceitful. The beauty of the Song of Solomon would not be tolerated in Proverbs. It is deplorable.
We have three different perspectives on beauty. One is passionate and representative of the human spirit. It challenges the law and demands to be noticed. The next is calm and peaceful. It is patient and kind. It sooths quietly and demands little. The last is also demanding and representative of works. It is practical and abides by the law. They all describe beauty none the less.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” Beauty is as beauty does. Go and be artists in the world.