Literary pickup lines? Seriously? Who wrote this meme?
Oh. Yeah. Ahem.
That was me.
This is one that I deliberately left open. It requires some personal definition. And when it comes down to testing it, it all depends on the people involved.
I like to protest that I am not a romantic person, and keep a slightly cynical cloak about me to protect myself from the world.
But when pushed, I find that I do have a penchant for the sweet and sincere and lovely.
I admit that almost any line from John Donne makes my heart beat quickly. A particularly good reading of “The Flea” makes laugh and smile, capturing both my attention and my affection.
And I would swoon over the man who can deliver the line, “I will live in thy heart, die in the lap, and be buried in thy eyes; and moreover, I will go with thee to thy uncle’s!”
Because there is something that line that encapsulates the heart of romance for me. It has the dual strength of poetic devotion and practical aid; the promise of union in both spiritual and material worlds.
Which brings to me to The One Reference To Rule . . . er, My Heart, Mind, and Soul:
The Song of Songs
(Aka: The Song of Solomon, The Canticle of Canticles)
This is book is, frankly, hilarious. I first read it when I was about twelve or thirteen, and could not stop giggling. “Your hair is like a flock of goats”? Strange. How is that a compliment?
Any woman drawn by these descriptions would look pretty odd. (Like here.)
But at the heart of the Song of Songs is a deep, dramatic, devoted adoration of the beloved. The similes may sound a tad amusing, but they are rooted in deep affection and deep reality.
Like the above quote from my man Benedick, this poem unites two worlds. It is rooted in the “material world”. It addresses the physical beauties and difficulties that we know, from the immediately accessible similes, to the earnest admiration and desire beneath the words. It is deeply, deeply sensual. Often this is all read as a pure allegory, for when taken as literal truth it feels a bit . . . uncomfortable to read.
There is certainly that level of meaning, the allusion to the sacred union of God and the church, the devotion that we the Bride should feel for our intensely loving bridegroom. In Aquinas’ commentary, he opens up the meanings of the phrases that I find ridiculous, and layers their sweet expression with the sublime gravity and intensity of spiritual truth.
But it maintains both worlds, full in of themselves, within the same imagery. As poetry, it achieves what Allen calls the “symbolic imagination”.
And in doing so, it becomes one of the most beautiful books of the Bible.
It has the romantic devotion rightly ordered, the spiritual truth, the unity of spiritual and practical meaning, and the simplicity of two loving hearts aching to be as one.
Er, simple. Yes.
It is, ultimately the most poetic retelling of the greatest love story.
Some phrases might make me laugh, still. But that is not a bad thing.
This poem it is intensely, devotedly, beautifully romantic.
Once a friend found me reading this, and he warned me quite seriously, “Be careful! That book might teach you to love!”
1 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
are like the halves of a pomegranate.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built with courses of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle
that browse among the lilies.
6 Until the day breaks
and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of incense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Descend from the crest of Amana,
from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon,
from the lions’ dens
and the mountain haunts of leopards.
9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How delightful is your love , my sister, my bride!
How much more pleasing is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your perfume
more than any spice!
11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;
milk and honey are under your tongue.
The fragrance of your garments
is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.
13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
14 nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.
15 You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.
16 Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.