Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Paul Griffiths on "Identifying the Beloved in The Song of Songs"

This semester I am taking my first level Theology course and as a requirement for our next test we had to attend the lecture presented by Paul Griffiths on “Identifying the Beloved in the Song of Songs.” I had no intention of relating this event to our class discussion but after hearing the lecture I realized that several of the points made by Griffiths could be connected to class.
Paul Griffiths studied as an undergraduate at Oxford University where he received his B.A. in Theology. He went on to get his Masters Degree in Classical Indian Religion. He then obtained his PhD in Buddhist studies at Oxford University as well. He constructed an Indian Buddhist Meditation theory which led to the publishing of his earliest book on Buddhist Meditation and the Mind, Body Problem. He was baptized into the Anglican Church and is now a Roman Catholic. His lecture focuses on the commentary of the biblical text “The Song of Songs” and discusses the problem of identifying the Beloved in “The Song of Songs.” Griffiths analyzes what the meaning is of “The Song of Songs” and who is speaking and to whom. These questions are similar to the questions we ask when we analyze poetry in class.
When seeking to answer the question of what the true meaning behind “The Song of Songs” is and what “The Song of Songs” actually is Griffiths break apart the elements of the biblical work and dissects all aspects of the work similar to what we do when reading poetry. In a sense, the process Griffiths uses to explain “The Songs of Song” is exactly when we do in class discussion on a daily basis. Griffiths first states “The Song of Songs” is a love lyric. He states that if you take its meaning literally and read it on its surface it reads like a lyric. It expresses the speakers/poets feelings. “The Song of Songs” opens with the line “Let me be kissed with your mouths kiss.” This demonstrates that there is a desire for someone or something and the desire is being depicted. Griffiths concludes that “The Song of Songs” is “a series of short lyrics loosely connected into a longer lyric with occasional narrative elements.” “The Song of Songs” is unique because there is not one narrative voice, instead there proves to be three speaking roles. This leads to the next idea of what “The Song of Songs” is. Griffiths next observation is that “The Song of Songs” is a scriptural book; a book of the canon of the scripture. He displays this by stating demonstrating how “The Song of Songs” has a tone, usually one that praises, celebrates, or gratifies the Lord for his deeds. There are also tones of lament throughout as well. Griffiths states “The Song of Songs is a scriptural song that shows an act of confession. It portrays a relationship of the singer to the Lord and this is shown by imagery which intensifies and deepens this relationship. Griffiths states that in order to achieve this relationship “language must be heightened, intensified, and crystallized.” Also, if we focus on the actual title, “The Song of Songs,” it is a superlative – “the best of all songs.” Griffiths final idea of what is “The Song of Songs” states it is a book about God. What is ironic about this idea is that God is never directly mentioned or present throughout the song, but when dissecting the speaking roles it can be implied. There are three voices, the lover (a man), the Beloved (a woman), and the daughters (a group of women). The Beloved calls the lover “a delightful man” twenty-seven times throughout the song. She also calls him “king, lover, and the man in whom my soul delights.” The lover refers to the Beloved as “a dove, delightful woman, bride, and most beautiful.” The daughters fulfill the role of prompting speeches between the lover and the Beloved. They speak in a more Shakespearian soliloquy form. When these three roles are analyzed we see a relationship between the lover and the Beloved especially in lines such as “we shared a bed full of flowers.” This analysis leads to the overall meaning of “The Song of Songs” which is ambiguously about sex. Like all poetry we have read in class, it takes uncovering the underlying meaning to conclude the overall meaning.
Paul Griffiths lecture on “Indentifying the Beloved in the Song of Songs” was interesting and relatable to our class because it to a biblical work and analyzed it to uncover the overall meaning. The way in which Griffiths achieved this made is more clear and understandable to see what “The Song of Songs” is actually saying. This idea of analysis and taking a literary work apart piece by piece represents our daily class discussion and the similarities of how we analyze literary works I class. We look for imagery, tone, the speaker, the setting, and other elements to aid us in uncovering its true meaning. For example, in my presentation on Emily Dickinson’s two poems “I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” I tried to dissect the poem to the fullest in order to achieve the task of explaining the meanings of each to the class in a well thought out and organized, complete form. I discovered the rhyme scheme, the form of each poem, the speaker, the setting, the atmosphere, and the imagery to assist my explanation. In the poem “I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died” concluded with the line “I could not see to see” which implies the speaker had died. The lines prior to that play with the element of light and dark imagery and its significance. This is just one example of a poetic line that can mean one thing on the surface, but can mean something greater when you look beyond it.
In conclusion, Paul Griffiths lecture provided me with sufficient knowledge of “The Song of Songs”; what it is and what its meaning is. It opened my eye to how important careful analysis can lead to a greater understanding and more knowledge about a certain text. The lecture made me appreciate our class exercises more and the importance of each presentation. When ideas are collaborated by many there are more opportunities for understanding and discovering things you yourself may not have noticed.

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