Skip to main content

“I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me” (Song of Solomon 8:2)

CAT 58 van der Heyden Song of Solomon 8.2 Suderman 1622 BA 70.jpg

CAT 57. Jacob van der Heyden. “I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me” (Song of Solomon 8:2) in Daniel Sudermann, Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen: uber . . .  desz Hohen Lieds Salomonis. Frankfurt: Eberhardt Kieser,1622, p. 55. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

In contrast to the enclosed garden in the previous image, the queen and king now stand together before the more public world represented by the congregation in the holy temple, gathered presumably to bless their marriage in this life as a prelude to the more purely spiritual glories of the eternal city in the sky. The female beloved seems to take the lead in this scene, his feet and staff not yet inclining to her as much as is his face. She is free and easy in her movement, any inhibition seemingly gone, her luxuriant tresses now clearly visible on both sides of her body as she brings him along by firmly grasping his wrist.

This image was first used in the series, appropriately, to illustrate a passage spoken by the female beloved in canticle 3: “I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house” (page 22, verse 3:4). The same image now returns in chapter 8 to illustrate a very similar passage spoken by the female beloved:  “I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me” (page 55, verse 8:2). Turning over Melville’s image to see which of these two pages his engraving was cut from provides a clear answer in the heading that introduces the following passage from canticle 8: Setz mich wie ein Siegel auff dein Hertz” (“Set me as a seal upon thine heart”) (8:6). The next phrase in that line, “as a seal upon thy arm,” relates very well to the depiction of her hand on his arm in the engraving itself. The next phrase in that line includes the words on which Melville provided his own commentary in Pierre: “for love is strong as death” (NN P 307-08). Sudermann’s commentary on the verso of Melville’s engraving elevates the emotional “seal” of the Solomonic poem into religious realms by asking “Dear God” for help in “coming” to “you” (“Ach lieber Gott / wer hilffet mir / Das ich * ubersich komm zu dir?”)

This particular engraving has spatial planes and realms that coexist as dramatically as the various interpretive layers of the poem. The king and queen stand on the topmost of three flat, terraced right-angled planes, these contrasting geometrically with the three-dimensional sphericality of the temple and its elliptical shadow on the ground. These foreground elements themselves contrast with the horizontal regularity of the turreted wall in the background and the egg-shaped imminence of the cloudbound heavenly city. In the Song of Songs the “seal upon thine heart” in verse 8:6 is an effective variation on the “garden inclosed” and “fountain sealed” in verse 4:12. Both meanings are activated by Melville’s ironic allusion to Vine’s heart as a “fountain sealed” in Clarel, when Vine spurns an “overture” of  friendship from Clarel (NN C 2:17.20-22), his heart being “sealed” against either the intimacy of the enclosed garden or the healing powers of legendary “Fountain” of the Pool of Siloam (with which Vine was physically associated in canto 1:28). For the suppressed homoeroticisim of this imagery in both Vine and Clarel, see Pardes, “Melville’s Song of Songs,” 226-27.