This poem is a free paraphrase of chapter one of the Song of Solomon, a collection of lyrics found in the Hebrew Bible after Ruth and in the Septuagint after Ecclesiastes, possibly completed around 400-450BC. It is unclear exactly how this text is to be subdivided, with some commentators suggesting that it is a continuous unit, others suggesting that it features multiple speakers, or that it is an exchange between a man and a woman with a form of choral refrain. The King James Version of the excerpt paraphrased here has 41 lines; Melville's has 90, which even allowing for the relatively tight space constraints of the metre shows how extended his version is. There is no textual evidence to give even an approximate date of composition. Melville's choice of language and imagery owes much to the poems of Catullus, and the metre (hendecasyllables) is one used frequently by Catullus. Metre: phalacean hendecasyllables.
Ex Cantico Salomonis (n.d)
Ex Cantico Salomonis
1O Si me meus imbuat suarum
suavi nectare suaviationum! 1
Nam tui lepidi, venusti amores
suavi nectare sunt suaviores.
5Te propter liquidos tuos odores,
clari nominis ob tui decores,
vel suave magne balsamo suaves,
[p96] amant, depereunt, petunt puellae,
castae, candidulae, piae puellae.
10Me prensam trahe, pone subsequentes 2
advolabimus. Aedium in suarum
me rex intulit intimos recessus.
Laeti in te modo gestiemus: in te
exultabimus, et tuos amores,
15suavi nectare melle suaviores,
grati concelebrabimus. Sitit te
ardore igneo inustulati amoris
iuventus pia, sanctula, integella. 3
Vos o, quae Solymas sacrae puellae
20sacras incolitis, licet nigella
sim, sum pulchra tamen, tamen venusta,
ceu tentoria Cadarena, ceu quae
tendebat Salamo, foris perusta
crebis solibus: at referta gemmis,
25gemmis pallidulis, venustulisque,
gemmis, fulgidulis, micante et auro.
Ne me, ne precor, obtuemini me
torvo lumine, tristiore ocello:
quod nigellula, quod misella, Solis
30crebo lumine fixiore ocello
visa, sim cute decolor recocta.
Materno soboles satu creata
(ah fratrum soboles ferociorum)
in me incanduit igneo furore,
35me vineta jubens et haec et illa
ejectam, horridulam, vagam, tueri:
quum sortem fidei meae, mihique
quae concredita, palmitis feracis
germen nobile non queam tueri.
40Tu nunc, tu mea lux, meum merum mel,
meae deliciae, mei lepores, 4
meus flos, mea suavitas, meum cor,
responde roseis loquens labellis,
ubi pascis? Ubi levare cogis
45defessum nimio gregem calore,
cum fax ignea vertici minatur,
[p97] et flammis rapidis hiulcat arva? 5
Cur tanquam vaga, perdita, impudica
divertens adeam tuos sodales,
50insidos pecoris tui magistros?
O formosula forma fœminarum,
quot sint, quot fuerint, quot esse possint! 6
O pulchellula, scitula, integella,
et quantum pote plurimum venusta; 7
55si te pascua pinguioris herbae,
si te umbracula lenioris aurae
arentem esurie latent, sitique,
i, vestigia contere auspicata
pedum trita solo gregis pusilli:
60i, compasce tuum pecus, secundum
pastorum attegias benigniorum.
Es instar, mea lux, equae nitentis,
quae vehit Pharaonias quadrigas.
Gemmulis gemmulae, monilibusque
65cervix lactea lucet implicata.
Tibi nos faciemus ergo torques
ex auro, artifici manu politas.
Auro, argentea signa quod figurent:
signa vermiculata, bracteata,
70stellisque irradiata, punctulisque
distincta, et variis superba gemmis.
Dum rex accubitu serenus almo
laetos lautitiis serit lepores;
hinc late mea nardus inde jactat
75blandum, molliculum, suavem odorem.
Est mihi meus ignis illigatus
nardi fasciculus, cubatque pernox
inter candidulas meas papillas.
Est mihi meus ignis uva dulcis
80Cypri suaveolentis, inter uvas
Engaddi roseas feracioris.
O quam pulchra nites, nites venusta
ocellis mea lux columbulinis!
O pulcher meus ignis, o venustus!
85Ah dulcis quoque mustulusque totus:
[p98] ah vernans quoque lectulus, virensque
nostri amplexibus osculisque nostris! 8
Ut nostrae laquear domus renidet,
Cedrinis trabibus perennitatum;
90tignis Berothinis amœnitatum.
[Paraphrase of] Song of Solomon [chapter 1]
1Oh that my man would touch me with the sweet nectar of his kisses! For your fine and graceful love is sweeter than sweet nectar.
5Because of your flowing fragrance, because of the charm of your honorable name, more delightful than sweet balsam, [p96] beautiful, chaste, and pious girls seek you out, love you, and desperately adore you.
10Snatch me away and drag me, and following behind we will hasten on. The king has borne me into the innermost chambers of his palace. Joyfully we shall then exult in you: in you we shall rejoice, and your love, sweeter than sweet nectar and honey, gratefully we shall praise. The pious, holy, and unmolested youth thirst after you with the fiery passion of an undimmed love.
19O you holy girls, who dwell in holy Jerusalem, although I am somewhat dark, nevertheless I am fair, and elegant, just like the tents of Kedar, a of the sort which Solomon used to pitch, scorched on the outside by the relentless sun: moreover I am bedecked in jewels, pale jewels, charming little jewels, lightly sparkling jewels, and in gleaming gold too.
27Not upon me, I pray, gaze not upon me with a disapproving look, nor with a sterner eye: since, a little dark and dejected, having been exposed to the relentless light of the sun, to its immovable eye, my skin is baked and I am defaced.
32The brood sprung from my maternal family (alas a brood of savage brothers) raged against me with fiery intensity, ordering me, who is cast out, unkempt, a vagabond to watch these vines and those vines: while my faith's due allotment, which was entrusted to me, a noble bud of fruit-bearing vine, I cannot tend to!
40You, you my light, my true honey, my delights, my loveliness, my flower, my sweetness, my heart, speaking from your rosey little lips, tell me now where you graze? Where do you take your flock worn out by excessive heat for refreshment, when the fiery sun threatens with its flame, [p97] and cracks the fields with its scorching heat? Why wandering like a vagabond, lost, unchaste should I submit to your companions, the treacherous masters of your flock?
51O the pretty form of pretty little women, how many there are, how many there have been, and how many there can be! O little girl, elegant, unmolested, and as charming as it is possible to be; if a pasture of lusher grass, or a branch shady with a lighter breeze conceals you, faint with hunger and thirst, go, pound the sacred footpaths carved out by the feet of your little flock: go, feed your flock, besides the tents of the good shepherds.
62My light, you are just like the glittering mare, who drives forth the chariots of the Pharaohs. b
64Your milky neck glows, surrounded by jewels and a necklace of gems. We shall now make for you a bracelet from gold, smoothed by the hand of an artist. It shall be from gold, with silver images on it: scrolled artwork, gold-plated, sparkling with stars, and adorned with little points, and distinguished with various gems.
72While the king at ease on his feasting-couch spreads charms delightful in their splendour; here and there and far and wide does my nard plant c emit its pleasing, soft sweet smell.
76The object of my ardour is a bouquet of nard bound to me, and sleeps through the night between my white breasts.
79To me the object of my ardour is a sweet grape from sweet-smelling Cyprus, among the rosey grapes of most fertile Engaddi. d O how beautifully you shine forth, how lovely with the eyes of a little dove you shine forth! O my beautiful desire, o my love! Ah sweet also and so pristine in all respects: [p98] ah our marriage bed is also young, and flourishing with our embraces and our kisses! How the ceiling of our house shines down, with perennial cedar beams; with beautiful Lebanese timbers.
1: Horace, Odes I.13.15-6
3: cf. Catullus, Carmina XV.4. Here and the previous stanza we find something of an inversion of traditional Catullan love, e.g.,'...iuueni ardenti castam donare puellam.' Catullus,Carmina LXII.23
4: Catullus, Carmina XXXII.2
5: Catullus, Carmina LXVIII.61
6: cf. Catullus, Carmina IL.2-3
7: Catullus, Carmina XLV
8: This and the previous line: cf. Catullus, Carmina LXIV.89
a: Kedar, son of Ishmael, founder of a nomadic tribe (Genesis 25:13). The implication here (and in the following line in relation to the tents of Solomon) is that the speaker, though plain on the outside, is beautiful within.
b: The horses of the Pharaohs were renowned for their quality.
c: Nard, or spikenard, is a himalayan plant used to make an extremely expensive perfume. Jesus is anointed with it in two separate episodes in the New Testament: once by Mary, the sister of Lazarus (John 12:1-10); and again by an unnamed woman (Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9). Nard is mentioned again in the Song of Solomon 4:14.
d: En-gedi in Israel, meaning 'Spring of the Kid (young goat)' from gedi, 'kid'. Also mentioned in Joshua 15:62.