The Song of Songs, set loose


“Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses,” Graham School of General Studies lecturer Stephen Hall reads to about 100 people in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater. The September 1 program, “Song of Songs: Eros and Allegory,” part of the Graham School’s “First Friday” lecture series, examines Song of Songs, a book and poem in the Hebrew Bible about two young lovers’ passionate relationship. “We will laugh, you and I, and count each kiss, better than wine,” Hall quotes the lyrics with eyebrows raised, before addressing the crowd with a smile. “What is this book doing in the Bible?”

Known in the Christian tradition as the Song of Solomon, the Song of Songs presents a love story most commonly interpreted as an allegory to describe God’s love for Israel and the Christian church. But Hall asserts that apart from that meaning, the poem tells a more scandalous story about two unwed lovers, frustrated because social mores won’t allow them to pursue their relationship.

“We can read it and get lost in the drama, like a movie,” says Hall, “but there’s also this sense of voyeurism, that we’re watching this most private experience.” He dissects each verse, illustrating how the woman compares herself to a garden and nature. “My brothers were angry with me,” she tells her lover. “They made me guard the vineyards, but I have not guarded my own.” The man then describes the woman as “a hidden well”—Hall explains, “You want to lower your bucket in it”—and “a sealed spring”—Hall suggests, “You want to break the seal.” After several examples, he proclaims, “If this is not consummation, I don’t know what is.”

He expresses disappointment with how many of today’s churches frown upon the Song of Songs and do not commonly discuss the book. “I want to teach the Song of Songs in Sunday School,” says Hall, an evangelical Christian. “But my wife prohibits me.” Despite the book’s suggestiveness, he says, its basic message is still a testament to what drives believers to faith. “I think there’s something in the human soul that longs for the eternal, for the Divine,” Hall says. “Sometimes it is God pursuing us, and sometimes it is us pursuing God.”

Hassan S. Ali, '07

Photo: The Graham School's Stephen Hall gives his interpretation of the Song of Songs.

September 5, 2006