by Susan McCaslin
As an alternative to watching “Sex in the City” or reading a Harlequin romance on your summer vacation, why not try this ancient of ancient texts – the Song of Solomon, better known as the Song of Songs? It belongs right up there with the Kama Sutra and Ovid’s The Art of Love as a manual on how to love well.
This is the real thing – you will be swept away by the ache of unadulterated sex, the mingling of the raw and the refined. Here you’ll find a holy eroticism that so understands feminine sexuality, I have a hunch it could have been written by a woman.
You’ll also find it’s not just about human longing, but the yearning of nature and all things for fulfillment, for oneness. It’s a book that has appealed not only to lovers, but to mystics like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.
One caveat, however. This is a richly layered text that just might transport you into undreamed regions of the erotic much larger than anything you had in mind. Let me give you an example.
“My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him” (Song of Solomon 5.4, New International Version). Or try the New American Standard translation: “My beloved extended his hand through the opening, And my feelings were aroused for him.”
The Medieval poet Dante spoke of how a text can speak at multiple levels, four of which he named the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. In the above example, you can see the literal image of one lover arousing another, the allegorical as the prelude to the union of two beings, the moral sense that “it’s better to make love than war,” and the anagogical or spiritual level as the intuition that the universe constantly draws us toward union with all that is. The Song of Songs is both visceral and spiritual. You can’t separate the two, as they are aspects of one vast process. And since we are infinitely layered ourselves, this kind of richness suits us well.
So if you happened to grow up with a sense of shame about sexuality and the body, this book just might free you to locate your eros in a wider framework. Whether you are partnered or single, sexually active or celibate, whatever your sexual orientation, the Song of Songs has the power to take you to the place where the ego dissolves and flows into the otherness of the beloved, where the possible enemy just might be the beloved friend.
We crave intimacy and union at multiple levels. The Song of Songs is about how our small yearnings fall into the big yearning to go deeper, to fully drown in the cosmological embrace, the holistic hug, the “love strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8.6)
And if you have time, check out Sinead O’Conner’s brilliant rendering of the Song of Songs in her recent CD Theology.
Susan McCaslin is a prize-winning poet and author of eleven volumes of poetry. Susan is Faculty Emeritus of Douglas College where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years. Her most recent volume of poetry, Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011), has recently been named a finalist for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award). She lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Visit her website at www.susanmccaslin.ca.