I am deeply thoughtful of poetry, particularly when related to sex. One of the medieval poems that have impressed me is the “Song of Songs”. This song refers to the love between God and the soul. God is deeply in love with us, and wills our love in return. This love between the soul and God, which is the most intimate love possible, is expressed in the analogy of bride and bridegroom, where the intimacy of love is especially expressed. Nothing can be more intimate than this love where a bride and her love enter into a carnal embrace. In history, no book has received such intensely devoted attention in commentary and preaching as this song.
The composer of this song was Bernard of Clairvaux. He was a French abbot and the primary reformer of the Cistercian order. The Song does not have the same importance earlier, but never the less it is a part of modern people’s imagination. Bernard preached eighty-six homilies on the Song and died just as he was getting started on chapter 3
The song and Lusty thoughts
The song is often read in modern days as a lusty celebration of sex People like me read it to brush aside the prudish poetry and try and peep into the sex acts of Solomon and his Shulammite ( women of Jerusalem).Thus the contemporary obsession is projected by the ancient text. It assumes that everybody knows about sex and it’s depth. Perhaps in modern times we have outgrown old romantic notions of sex and know it more as a clash of bodies and exchange of fluids. There is thus no magic and no mystery in it. The song is disguised pornography that gives sex a sacred image. It represents the confusion of that age.
The Erotic Poem
The song teaches a lot. Robert Alter has made a telling observation. As per him the song is the epitome of erotic literature. The theme states that the body in the act of love seems to displace the rest of the world.
The song affirms joyful love. In the poem, Solomon is a lover who abandons the world for the love of his bride. The beauty of the song is that he rediscovers the world and love in her. This glorious insight is enough to justify the song as great literature.
The song itself sinks the reader into something deeper. The song gives the poem a cosmic look. The strength of love is comparable to forces of decay and destruction I.e death and Sheol.
Despite all allusions to god, the poem is an erotic piece. As per the poem, love, like wine is the intoxicating desire of carnal knowledge. This is disguised as sexual attraction. The theme covers all this and brings out that God invites his beloved into the “house of wine”. Wine is a fitting trope for the one love because it is a fitting trope for the other. Forests, orchards, and gardens are figures of the temple, The lover’s enthrallment to his beloved is the Lord’s enthralled fascination for his people, black but beautiful.
The song brings out something which has been known since time immemorial that sex is an allegory and it includes metaphysics and theology and cosmology. For Christians, sexual difference and union is a type of Christ and the church: How could an erotic poem (and in the Bible!) be anything but allegory?
Poetry like this brings out the truth of human sexuality. Only as allegory does the Song have anything to teach us about sex. Only as allegory can the Song play its central role in healing our sexual imaginations.
How similar this is to Tantra of Hinduism where sex is unadulterated bliss and a path to God and salvation. This poem also explores the union of man and woman in a similar vein. I am sure friends will now read this poem along with the Tantra as espoused in the Puranas and conclude that sex has a definite place in the world and cannot be brushed under anything.