The lovers in the Song of Solomon describe each other’s body in bold and unusual metaphors that are often sexual, but that, at the same time, function as much to hide the body as to display it. Lips that drip liquid myrrh, cheeks like beds of spices (Song 5:13). Is this a description of what the man’s lips or cheeks actually look like, or does it refer to the way his lover experiences them? Do the metaphors convey a particular aspect of each body part, taken on its own, or do they form a composite picture?
His lips are like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh… Solomon’s Song 5:12, 13, a print by Israeli artist Lika Tov, takes the woman’s metaphoric description of her lover’s body literally, combining similes and metaphors from the text to form a composite picture of his face. The technique used here is collagraphy (a collage print). The image is printed on a cardboard plate on which cut-out shapes are glued, as in a collage, and the lines are engraved with a pen. About twenty-five prints of His lips are like lilies were produced from this particular plate, using different colour combinations.
Following the Hebrew text, Tov pictures the man’s wavy locks as palm fronds bearing dates. Dove-like eyes frolic in brimming pools, lips are lilies dripping myrrh and cheeks are beds of spices. Is the result beautiful? Does it draw attention to an element of incongruity—even grotesquery—in the Song’s metaphors?
More than anything else, Tov’s print is a forceful reminder that metaphor cannot be reduced to something else, be it a prose paraphrase or a pretty picture. By incorporating the metaphor into her visual representation, Tov offers a mode of interpretation that allows the metaphor to stand and provoke in the viewer the variety of responses the text might provoke.
Black, Fiona C. 2009. The Artifice of Love: Grotesque Bodies in the Song of Songs (London: T&T Clark)
Tov, Lika. 2004. Mijn lief: Hooglied uit De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling met illustraties van Lika Tov, 3rd edn (Heerenveen: Uitgeverij NBG)
1I come to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
I drink my wine with my milk.
Eat, O friends, and drink:
drink deeply, O lovers!
2I slept, but my heart was awake.
Hark! my beloved is knocking.
“Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.”
3I had put off my garment,
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet,
how could I soil them?
4My beloved put his hand to the latch,
and my heart was thrilled within me.
5I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
upon the handles of the bolt.
6I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
7The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city;
they beat me, they wounded me,
they took away my mantle,
those watchmen of the walls.
8I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my beloved,
that you tell him
I am sick with love.
9What is your beloved more than another beloved,
O fairest among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
that you thus adjure us?
10My beloved is all radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
11His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
12His eyes are like doves
beside springs of water,
bathed in milk,
13His cheeks are like beds of spices,
His lips are lilies,
distilling liquid myrrh.
14His arms are rounded gold,
set with jewels.
His body is ivory work,
encrusted with sapphires.
15His legs are alabaster columns,
set upon bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
16His speech is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.
6Whither has your beloved gone,
Whither has your beloved turned,
that we may seek him with you?
2My beloved has gone down to his garden,
to the beds of spices,
to pasture his flock in the gardens,
and to gather lilies.
3I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.