Song of Songs 8:8-10
New translation by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch
Chorus of Brothers:
We have a little sister
and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
when suitors besiege her?
If she is a wall, we will build
a silver turret upon her.
If she is a door, we will bolt her
with beams of cedarwood.
I am a wall
and my breasts are towers.
But for my lover I am
a city of peace.
It is Sunday morning, we lose a precious hour today, in this foolishness of changing clocks, but not time. We should never move clocks forward. We should only move them back an hour, always giving us one more hour on a Sunday until we wake in the dead of night and then we would stop pretending time is something we can manipulate and give this idiocy up.
I write this post knowing my words won’t do it fairness, the beauty of the real life discovery far beyond what I can share in words. But here goes.
I think everyone should indulge themselves with the serendipity that used book stores provide. About a month ago, the evening before the weather forecast said we were going to get a foot of snow, I stopped by my local used book store and figured I needed a book or two if I was going to be snowed in the next day. As I usually do, I went to the poetry section and just looked at authors and titles. To my surprise, I discovered a volume that was on my long-term shopping list, an author who just recently came into my consciousness, Chana Bloch, who published back in 1995 a new translation of the Song of Songs or as it more widely known if you have a bible at hand, The Song of Solomon or by a less familiar name, The Canticle of Canticles.
The translation itself is short, taking me less than 30 minutes to read through the first time, the bulk of the book is made up of a lengthy academic forward and then an exhaustive line by line justification, (word by word in some cases), for the translation based on the Bloch’s selection of words, in their attempt to stay true to the ancient text, but setting it free as poetry not scripture.
What makes this poem remarkable is what it does not say. It is the only book in the Bible that does not contain the word “God”, not once. It is the only book in the Bible that I am aware, in which the narrator is in first person as a young female; an empowered, strong, sensual female, for whom sexuality is not something to be avoided or ashamed, but is a thing that is sacred, a sanctity to be shared with her lover and her God.
“I am dark, daughters of Jerusalem,
and I am beautiful!
Dark as the tents of Kedar, lavish
as Solomon’s tapestries.”
Song of Songs 1:5:6 Translation by Ariel and Chana Bloch
I cannot do an analysis of the poem justice, so I will not even try. This is a poem that in the last month I have probably read 15 times. I am simply absorbing it at this point, its’ insights unwrapping itself in my consciousness at its own pace. But what I will tell you is that for me, it has restored a little wonder in my soul. I recommend you find a copy for yourself and see what it could do for you.
The real story today is what happened several days after the snow day. I had read the poem through probably 3 times by that point and my curiosity got the better of me on how the Bloch translation compared to my Mother’s Bible. So I got out of bed and went and retrieved her Bible and slid into bed under the glow of my reading lamp. I am not familiar enough with the Bible to know exactly where The Song of Solomon lies so I went to the table of contents in the front, found the page number and made an attempt to open it up close to its beginning. As I did a sheet of paper fell out along with several very old pressed rose petals, pressed so thin with time between the Bible’s pages that they fell out on my naked belly in a flutter motion startling me. I carefully picked up the rose petals, trying not to damage them and set them on my bedside table and then picked up the piece of paper. This is what it said;
The prayer, (poem), is one written by Mother’s and my good friend Liz Heller. The next time I visited Liz, I told her the story, read a little of the Blochs’ translation and read to her, her own words. She smiled deep in thought and we sat for a bit and she said to her friend Jerry who was seated by her having lunch “You didn’t know I was a poet, did you Jerry?” And he said, “There are lots of things I know about you Liz.”
Where ever this post finds you today, give some thought to being a city of peace, for yourself and those you love.
Flour and Ash
by Chana Bloch
“Make flour into dough,” she answers,
“and fire will turn it into food.
Ash is the final abstraction of matter.
You can just brush it away.”
She tacks a sheet of paper to the wall,
dips her hand in a palette of flour and ash,
applies the fine soft powders with a fingertip,
highlighting in chalk and graphite,
blending, blurring with her thumb.
Today she is working in seven shades of gray.
Outside the door, day lilies
in the high flush of summer-
about-to-be-fall. Her garden burns
red and yellow in the dry August air
and is not consumed.
Inside, on the studio wall, a heavy
thickens and rises. Footsteps grime the snow.
The about-to-be-dead line up on the ramp
with their boxy suitcases,
When I get too close she yanks me back.
She hovers over her creation
though she too has a mind
to brush against that world
and wipe it out.
4 thoughts on “For My Lover I Am A City of Peace”
Never heard of her, but I ordered this book. A used version, of course.
I use that prayer of Liz’s at every funeral I’ve done in the last 30 years!
Peace, Judy Kim
I too need to look up this translation. The Bible has many important stories and fine passages, but only three books of poetry. The Psalms have always been hit and miss with me, but Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes always seem to replay attention.
It’s a fascinating little read. The forward is outstanding. It is subtle poetry for what it says and what it doesn’t say. And if it turns you on to Chana Bloch the poet, its a double win.