Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



Song of Songs

Lyrics for a cantata in English for two soloists and chorus. They are awaiting a setting by a composer so please contact if you are interested.

The Song of Songs is unique among the books of the Old Testament in being a celebration of sexual love. It is a collection of songs dating from about the fourth or third century BC. It has been interpreted by the Jews as an allegory of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel and later by the Christians as Christ’s relationship with his Church. It has also been used as an instructional text showing how to deal in a virtuous way with human desires and sexual impulses, and in this sense it earns its place among the other instructional texts such as the Book of Wisdom which follows it in the Old Testament. The original text, before these allegorical and instructional overlays were added to it, was an anthology of folk songs exuberantly expressive of young passionate love, sexual longing and its fulfilment. It may originally have been performed as a musical drama, but the text is fragmentary and scholars are divided as to its storyline or if a storyline was intended. Composers from Bach to Edward Bairstow have been inspired to set individual verses; there are few settings of the whole series.

This new English language version uses most of the original text, but reworks the lines and reshapes the story to give it poetic and dramatic force.

The parts are divided into three – the young woman, the young man and the chorus of the young women of Jerusalem.

Song of Songs

W = young woman
M = young man
C = chorus of the young women of Jerusalem

Your love is sweeter than the fragrance of perfume,
Your love is more intoxicating than the finest of wine.
O my love, kiss me, and again, kiss me again.

Let us sing and join in rejoicing!
We celebrate your love.

I am in a trance, in a daze.
I am burnt by the sun’s blaze
In the vineyard of my brothers
Where I neglect to care for the vines.
O my love, where can I find you?
Tell me where do you take
Your flock of sheep to rest
When the sun is at its highest?
Tell me lest I have to ask,
Like a wanton woman,
Among the other shepherds
To find out where you’ve gone.

O most pure of women,
You only have to follow
The tracks of my flock,
And they’ll lead you to the meadow
Where I’ve pitched my tent.
I’ll make a necklace of gold
And bracelets of silver
Though you are lovelier
Than any of these ornaments.
Then on the soft grass we will lie down and rest...

And around you will rise the great cedar beams of a house
And overhead will spread the rafters of cypress.

W (to C)
In his shadow I love to rest
As his right arm embraces me,
And his left hand caresses me.
Promise me, O women of Jerusalem,
Not to excite my love until the time is right.
Strengthen me with raisin-sweet pastries,
Refresh me with the juice of apples,
I am weak, I am weak with love.

Who is this outside in the street below?
We can see him peering in,
Looking for you through
The lattice of our windows.

He’s come from the lairs
Of mountain leopards and lions.
He has bounded over the mountains.
Like a gazelle, he has leapt over hills.

Arise my love and come with me
For now the long cold winter’s over,
The days of rain have passed, and see
The wild flowers, the poppies, the clover,
They are springing up, and birds are singing
And on the grapevine the new leaves are green.

We must scare away the foxes,
The little foxes that raid our vineyards.

Promise me, O women of Jerusalem,
Not to excite my love until the time is right.

At night, unable to go to sleep,
I’ve got up and gone out to search
Through the souks and squares
Looking for my heart’s desire.
I’ve searched for him everywhere.
And I’ve met the night watchmen
And stopped them to enquire:
“Do you know where he is?
Do you know where my love lives?”

Do you see these clouds of dust
That rise like smoke on the horizon?
Who comes riding from the desert
Like the wedding train of Solomon,
Marching across the plain to his bride?
Each soldier carries a sword at his side
Against the hidden terrors of the night,
And the strongest of men bear his litter
With velvet cushions on his throne
Surrounded by shining pillars of silver
Beneath a canopy of gold that glitters.

My love, you are beautiful beyond words.
How can I describe
The way your hair glides,
Falls down your shoulders,
Like goats streaming down a hillside.
There’s a rosy bloom
That spreads through your russet
Cheeks so they seem
Like the halves of a ripened pomegranate.
Oh, how you are flawless,
Capturing my heart
With one glance of your eyes
Like the flash of a jewel in your necklace.
Your fragrance is more pleasing than perfume,
Frankincense, spices and cinnamon,
And there are garlands of soft fruit
Hanging from the trees in your garden,
And there’s a shaded place,
Hidden within this paradise,
Where there’s a well with the waters of life.

North wind blow, south wind blow,
Let my fragrance fly on your breezes.
Bring my lover to my garden.

Let him gather the garden’s spices,
Let him squash in his mouth its fruits,
Let him drink from the well of its waters.

Once when I was sleeping
My heart was awake and I was dreaming
My lover had come to my door and was calling:

‘Open your door to me my love, my darling,
My head is wet with dew
And my hair is damp with the moisture of the night’.

But I’d taken off my clothes
Should I dress again to answer the door?
But I’d washed the soles of my feet,
Should I soil them as I step across the floor?
He tried to force his hand inside
To reach and raise the latch.
I was trembling from head to foot.
I jumped from my bed and ran to the door.
My fingers pulled back the bolt
And I opened the door –
But he had gone!
My heart sank...
I called and called after him, but no answer came
And the streets were empty.
(to C)
O women of Jerusalem, promise me
That if you find my lover,
Tell him I am weak with love.

O most beautiful of women,
What makes him so different from other men
That you are so weak with love for him?

He is dazzling, my love,
He outshines a thousand other men.
His eyes are as gentle as a dove
His hair is as black as a raven.
His lips are as soft as lilies
Perfumed with myrrh.
His chest is like ivory
Studded with rubies.
Like rods of gold are his arms,
And his legs are as strong
As marble columns.
His face is as manly and firm
As the cedar of Lebanon.
His mouth is the essence of sweetness.
He is the finest of men,
This is my love and my friend.

O where has he gone, O beautiful one?
Let us help you look for him.

My love is like a new day’s dawn.
She’s as bright as the noonday sun.
My love is as purely white as the moon,
And as glorious as a heavenly vision!

There may be queens and countless maidens,
But only one is my perfect one.
All the young women bless her,
Queens and princesses praise her.

Let us gaze upon her.
Turn to us so we may admire you.
In the dance your steps
Are so noble and graceful.
Your hips move smoothly
As if they were made
By a master craftsman.
Your belly is like a bowl
Full of sensuous delight
And your eyes are like sparkling pools.
Your head is held high on a tower of ivory.
As majestic and stately as a palm tree...

I will climb the palm tree,
Take hold of its branches
And shake the clusters of dates.
Ah, your breath has the fragrance of apples,
Like grapes on the vine are you breasts,
Your kisses are the finest wine –

That slips
So smoothly over your lips.

Come, let us go together.
Let’s spend the night in the vineyard
When no-one is there.
And I will give you new delights
As well as old.
There I will give you my love.

If a man gives all his riches
They count for nothing against love,
Love is more precious than wealth.
Love is as strong as death.
No waters can quench its fire,
No rivers can sweep it aside.
Love is as strong as death
And its flames the flames of the divine.


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