Erotic Poetry,
Song of Solomon

The Song of Songs:

A New Translation with an Introduction and Commentary
by Ariel and Chana Bloch

See also, " Erotic Poetry from the Inventor of Sex "
a commentary on erotic metaphors in the Song of Solomon


"The Song of Songs, often referred to as the Song of Solomon, is one of the greatest love poems of all time. In their lyrical new translation, Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch restore the sensuousness of the original language and strip away the veils of mistranslation that have obscured the power and meaning of the poem. Presented en face, this translation is scrupulously faithful to the Hebrew text."


The Blochs -- he a professor of Near Eastern history and she a poet -- have teamed up to render a strikingly beautiful translation of this oldest of Western erotic love poems. The Blochs' translation captures the frank sensuality and rich erotic lyricism that earlier translations have often missed. The poem is accompanied by a splendid introduction that traces the social, historical, and literary contexts of the poem. The afterword, by biblical scholar Robert Alter, praises the Blochs' translation by comparing it with older ones, while an exegetical and expository commentary offers readers a chance to see why the translators made certain choices in rendering their version. Evocative lyrics and lucid expositions make the Blochs' offering one of the best of recent versions. Highly recommended.

--Library Journal

"[A] masterpiece [has appeared in America], Chana and Ariel Bloch's beautiful translation of the Song of Songs, with the English and the Hebrew on facing pages, an informative introduction, wonderfully interesting notes, and a thought-provoking afterword by Robert Alter."

--Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement International Books of the Year 1995

"Chana and Ariel Bloch's new translation of the Song of Songs is quite simply the best version in the English language. Its poetic voice, intimate, dignified, and informed by meticulous scholarship, carries us into the Eden of the original Hebrew text: a world in which the sexual awakening of two unmarried lovers is celebrated with a sensuality and a richness of music that is thrilling beyond words."

--Stephen Mitchell

"Ariel and Chana Bloch have succeeded in an extraordinarily difficult task. This is the best and most enjoyable translation of the Song of Songs that I know. Their notes, too, offer excellent insights to readers who know Hebrew and, for that matter, to those who do not."

--Elaine Pagels

"Chana and Ariel Bloch's translation, a rare conjunction of refined poetic resourcefulness and philological precision, brings us closer to the magical freshness of this anceint Hebrew love poetry than has any other English version."

--Robert Alter

"[This] translation is lucid and direct, and has a lyrical purity that is delightful. It seems to me a model of how such work may be done."

--W. S. Merwin

"[This translation] has a crisp energy that mirrors the poem's springtime mood, and a phrasing that captures the impulsiveness and the delight of the lovers in each other and in their mutual imaginative play. . . . Next to Genesis, no book in the Hebrew Bible has had a stronger influence on Western literature than the Song of Songs. This attractive and exuberant edition helps to explain much of its power, while leaving its mystery intact."

--Alicia Ostriker, The New York Review of Books

This beautifully crafted book is a collaboration between a scholar of both classical Arabic and Hebrew and a poet who has also previously translated several volumes of Hebrew poetry. The result is an authoritative translation that allows the poetry to sing in English as it does in Hebrew. The book begins with an accessible introduction that establishes the context and date of the poem as well as the history of its incorporation into the canon of Hebrew scripture and its translation and interpretation in Jewish and Christian traditions. The translation and the Hebrew text are printed on facing pages, followed by Robert Alter's afterword and an extensive commentary accessible to laypersons as well as scholars, to readers who know Hebrew as well as those who don't. Whether the Song of Songs qualifies as the world's first great love poem is a matter for debate -- Sappho's poetry predates its canonical form by several centuries -- but even where its priority is in question, this new translation leaves little room for doubt as to its greatness and its passion.

--Steve Schroeder, Booklist

From the Authors

"Ariel Bloch and I were moved to translate the Song of Songs because we felt that none of the translations into English fully conveyed the richness and sensuousness of the Hebrew.

It is a poem that evokes the erotic yearning between two passionate young lovers. The most impressive English translation is the King James Version (1611); this magnificent poem, with its rich textures and resounding cadences, has been justly beloved by generations of readers.

Nonetheless, significant advances in biblical scholarship during the past four centuries have shown many of its readings to be in error, including some of the best-known verses, such as "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples" (2:5) or "terrible as an army with banners" (6:10). And its language is often dated, such as "I am sick of love" (2:5) or the unfortunate "My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him" (5:4). Finally, the Song in the King James Version is very stately and formal; you would never guess from reading it that this is a poem about young lovers.

On the other hand, just as earlier interpretations typically erred on the side of prudishness, contemporary translations sometimes verge on crudeness, as in a translation by a distinguished scholar: "Your vulva [is] a rounded crater; / May it never lack punch!" (7:3).

Moreover, our translation corrects the standard misreading of the Song, as exemplified by two key words. In most translations the woman wears a veil, but we show that this reading is not supported by the Hebrew. That incongruous veil, like the fig leaf of Renaissance painting and sculpture, is a sign of the discomfort of the exegetes. When we lift the veil from her face, she is revealed as a passionate young woman, as spirited and assertive as Juliet.

The other key word is commonly translated "love," including in the opening verse "Your love is better than wine," though it refers exclusively to sexual love. One of the major challenges we faced in translating the Song was to find the proper register in English, neither too formal and stylized nor too breezy and colloquial, language that is fresh and urgent and passionate, and at the same time dignified. Our aim was to convey the heat, the speed, the intensity of the original."

Biographical Notes On The Authors...

Ariel Bloch is Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Chana Bloch is a poet, translator, scholar, and literary critic... author of the poetry collection: "The Past Keeps Changing" (Sheep Meadow Press). She is Professor of English and Director of the creative writing program at Mills College.

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From Editorial Reviews

Ariel and Chana Bloch's new translation of the Song of Songs -- the most sexually explicit and sensually rich book of the Bible -- is pure delight from beginning to end. Its introduction is an accessible, sophisticated, entertaining, and comprehensive orientation to the literary and religious history of the Song of Songs. The Blochs say the speakers in this poem "don't suffer love, they savor it." Their translation, overflowing with full -- almost to the point of florid -- feeling ("Feast, friends, and drink / till you are drunk with love!"), arrives at a time when many Jews and Christians are opening themselves to the religious dimensions of sexuality and human love. Song of Songs has a great deal to teach us; this translation is sure to attract many eager students.

--Michael Joseph Gross

Song of Solomon
The Song of Songs:

A New Translation With an Introduction and Commentary
by Ariel and Chana Bloch

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