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“Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem” (Song of Solomon 6:4)

CAT 54 van der Heyden Song of Solomon 6.4 Suderman 1622 BA 76.jpg

CAT 53. Jacob van der Heyden. “Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem” (Song of Solomon 6:4) in Daniel Sudermann, Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen: uber . . .  desz Hohen Lieds Salomonis. Frankfurt: Eberhardt Kieser,1622, p. 47. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

This image could have been used to illustrate any of several passages in the poem, as the king and queen are standing together on the edge of the universe, the earthly city far distant behind them, their heavenly destination an arc of radiance whose Christian source is indicated by the engraved symbol “IHS." This engraving is one of Sudermann’s “wild cards.” He first used it for a commentary on canticle 1 on page 5, next for a commentary on canticle 4 on page 29, now for a commentary on canticle 6 on page 47.

This canticle begins with the women of Jerusalem asking the beloved, “Whither is thy beloved gone?” (6:1). To which she responds, “My husband is gone down into his garden” (where we shall see him in CAT 56). She then says, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (6:4), after which comes the passage Sudermann has chosen as the inscription for this particular commentary, “Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem” (6:4), where the speaking voice seems to shift from that of the female to the male beloved. He tells her to “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is like a flock of goats that appear from Gilead” (6:5). He further declares that “she looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (6:10).

This engraving shows both the radiant beauty of the female beloved and separate togetherness of the two as a pair. The space between the earthly and spiritual realms has suddenly vanished in the presence of their togetherness. Her luxurious hair flows richly behind her as she offers her person before him. Her appearance is as fresh and clear as the morning. He stands securely, one foot forward toward her, the staff confidently poised, the left finger making a point with the assurance of a man reputed to have the wisdom of Solomon.

The portion of German-language commentary on the verso of Melville’s engraving does not include the scriptural passage on which it is based, but the last two lines that are visible clearly continue the Christian allegory printed on the verso of other images:“Da werden wir / mit Gottes Sohn / Christo unserem Herzen . . .” The text on which Sudermann based this meditation is the same one he prints as the title caption for van der Heyden’s engraving at the top of page 47: “Du bist . . . lieblich wie Jerusalem” (“You are . . . beautiful as Jerusalem”) (6:4).