In 2008, New Hall Cambridge hosted an exhibition of prints by Judy Chicago, based on ‘The Song of Songs’. They invited an art critic, theologian, and a poet to respond. Whereas Chicago was concerned to assert the importance of the physical body to counter an allegorical reading, I was drawn to the images – the land, animals and plants – used to present states of being and love.
Using different translations of the Hebrew I became interested in how the indeterminacy of translation can open up meaning, for example the shift in vocality, ‘you’ and ‘him’:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth / for your caresses are better than wine! 1.2 (Exum, J.C. 2005)
Preserving the female voice of desire, so remarkable in the original context, I also wanted to similarly locate the voice. I chose the valleys of the Ariège and Aveyron, in South West France, an area of extraordinary beauty, where Occitane, the language of both the Troubadours and the Cathars, betrays the complex histories of intolerance.
Excavating the Persian root of the word Paradise (4.13) pardes, gave me access to the idealistic leitmotif that runs through the original and determines my concluding poem’s return to the Plain of Sharon. To quote from Mimi Khalvati: ‘The traditional ghazal addresses the unattainable beloved…’.
Songs of the Aveyron and the Ariège: after ‘The Song of Songs’