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Her: Restless night after night in my bed,
        I longed and looked for my soul’s true love;
    I searched for him,
        but I could not find him.
    I will get up now and search the city,
        wander up and down streets and plazas;
    I will look for my soul’s true love.
        I searched for him, but I could not find him.
    The watchmen found me as they kept watch on the silent city.
        “Have you seen my soul’s true love?” I asked.
    Not long after I left them,
        I found him—I found my soul’s true love.

This libretto is full of imagery. Two of the most common images are that of the gazelle and the lotus blossom (translated here as “lily”), both frequently used in many ancient Near Eastern cultures. The gazelle is a species of antelope whose males have long horns. Both males and females move with grace and strength as they cross flat savannahs or climb steep cliffs. It is because of these traits that the gazelle is equated with sexuality, youth, and stamina. The Israelites used it in poetry to represent the youthful joys of love and sexual vigor, while many Near Eastern pagan religions used it in images honoring fertility goddesses. The lotus is a type of lily found in watery regions. Because of its shape, which resembles the womb, and its fragrance, which is alluring, the lotus became the flower of choice for lovers across the Near East. In Israel it was featured in poetry and even dominated the capitals of the columns supporting Solomon’s temple; in Egyptian and Phoenician cultures, it represented the gods themselves. With just one word, “gazelle” or “lotus,” this poet conveys a bevy of ideas about love, youth, strength, and passion.

    I pulled him to me and would not let him go
        until I brought him to my mother’s house,
        to the very room where she conceived me.

    (to the young women of Jerusalem) Heed my warning:
        By the gazelles and deer of the field,
    I charge you not to excite your love until it is ready.
        Don’t stir a fire in your heart too soon, until it is ready to be satisfied.

Young Women of Jerusalem: Who is this coming up from the desert,
        with billowing clouds of dust and smoke,
        with a sweet aroma of burning myrrh and frankincense,
        with fragrant spices fresh from the merchant?

The royal litter carries the groom to the wedding, and upon the litter is the king with his crown.

    Look, it is Solomon’s litter,
        surrounded by 60 strong men,
        some of the very best soldiers in Israel,
    All armed swordsmen,
        battle-hardened heroes, experts at war,
    Marching with swords at their sides,
        ready to guard the king from the terrors of the night.
    King Solomon built his own royal carriage
        from the trees of Lebanon.
10     He had its posts fashioned from silver,
        its back made of gold,
        its seat covered with royal purple,
        its interior decorated with love by the young women of Jerusalem.
11     O go out, young women of Zion,
        and see King Solomon
    Wearing the crown with which his mother has crowned him on his wedding day,
        on the day his heart overflows with joy.

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