Sandalwood timber is prized beyond all others for its colour, resonance, perfume and superb carving qualities, but the tree has a dark secret. The roots penetrate those of its neighbours; and it is perhaps only due to this hemi-parasitic lifestyle that it can afford luxuries beyond the means of lesser trees.

Analogies with Solomon are too strong to need stating. The fragrance of his heritage reaches down to the present day; and of his surviving works, The Song of Songs is the most celebrated.

Throughout the narrative we hear the female and the male voice, but there is an indication of a third person, probably a shepherd boy, the Shulamite’s true love.

Because of the erotic nature of ‘The Song’, it is by no means an obvious choice for inclusion in sacred literature, but many passionate, though unconvincing, attempts have been made to emphasise its spiritual content. In common with most religious works, the one quality lacking is humour, although the elements of it lie just below the surface.

It could be argued that only a King with his hareem could begin to imagine what a mature relationship with a woman might mean. On the other hand, he was in a unique position to move on, with declarations of intense feeling at each stopping point.  

Was  the Queen of Sheba his soul mate, or did he only experience true love for his Shulamite? The enigmatic words, ‘I am black but comely’ promotes some confusion between these figures.


As a conventional love-story, one plausible summary is as follows:-

Solomon has heard of a young girl of quite exceptional beauty. He plans to win her heart by the nobility of his character alone and comes to her disguised as a poor shepherd boy. He succeeds, and after making vows of  eternal love, they part. He returns to Jerusalem and arranges that she be brought to the palace. Then, without revealing his earlier identity, he woos her again, this time as King and presumably he succeeds, though this is not entirely clear.

It is a power struggle that he will win, not least because he holds all of the cards but one. He has twice conquered, and the Shulamite has betrayed her true love, giving him a let-out card to play when he tires of her, as he must know he will. He can betray her because no matter his inconstancy, hers is worse. She has betrayed his pure and noble self to his magnificent, but worldly, self.

Yet rather than revealing himself as a great lover, Solomon was no more than a collector of beautiful women. His latter day equivalent being the fabulously wealthy, reclusive art-collecter.

Poets whose work has been quoted, or implied, include Browning (My last Duchess), Fitzgerald, Keats, Longfellow, Eliot, Coleridge and Sassoon.

Writers include Daudet ( Les Étoiles), Katherine Mansfield (The wind blows). Information about sandalwood, the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley, the Persephone myth, the Medusa myth, the Scandinavian water spirit (the Nix) and the maturation of the flatfish eye comes from Wikipedia.

How beautiful are thy steps in sandals, O prince's daughter! ..7:2


We can, from just one part

scattered amongst these fragments,

reconstruct the man, the King or shepherd boy,

whom feet had touched, and from the cradle of his will,

brought forth a graven image. Tied him,

enchained him

by this faintest hint of wood-borne fragrance.

Hold it to the light now.

See, by that angle, how the foot points down,

and how this golden arch said to his passion, yes!

Yes she, yes her, yes you.

And, tapping with the fingernail turned back,

sense its resonance. Understand

how the sound of wood on marble floor,

or tiptoe to the sheepfold, held him pinned against some frame,

a butterfly preserved, its sheen intact, that those who came

thinking of the where and why of them, would ask,

‘What incense bound in un-denying chains?’

King among men,

his words, were they his own,

are said to teach skills of the marriage bed;

hers, skills of the chaste.

But lead me back to any place where we have walked,

and I would think no flute, however sonorous,

could match your voice;

then, from one touch

reconstruct what you have been to me,


though old men forget,

the faintest hint of wood-bound fragrance

shows how the Lord,

who has taken away,

gives back.

Behold, thou art fair my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.  1:16-17

Sous les belles étoiles

We lie spread-eagled out,

as constellations spread across the sky.

The evening star slides down amongst the leaves,

and his voice whispers, look,

look up and see, the lovers,

us, the twins.

He leads and you

reach out to draw him back.

Then at the zenith, rule and line,

defining up and down,

vanished. We found ourselves

pinioned like gods under the sky,

the stars beneath

a noctiluminescent sea.

And then we saw it all,

the Gods know just one thing,

the perfection of an instant.

Now the stars have gone.

One constellation rises,

one alone,

the great and mighty hunter;

looking down,

or looking on.

By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. 3:1

Night watch

Hands touch in the dark.

Whatever he thought,

whatever I thought,

we did not speak.

The space of the night

had come down to this;

the space in my skull.

Nothing exists

that is not encrusted within it.

Two worlds side by side.

Two shells lined with pearl,

and a single watchlight

to illuminate both.

My beloved is like a roe or young hart: behold he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. 2:9

Raising the bar

Young man,

those doe-like eyes

have yet to meet the world of wisdom.

Their dreamy fawning brown

is in for some surprises.

The place for men is in the sports-ground,

raising the bar,

not gazing through the window panes

at girlish things

and pretty trinkets.

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 2:1

The six senses

If my love wishes to find me,

he should lay down his head

and hear the sound of the wind on the sand.

If my love wishes to know who I am,

he should look down to the light

and away from the high places.

And should he desire to embrace,

though I faint in his arms,

he will bear me upright.


If my love wishes to take me away

and lay hand on my flesh,

sand will sear through his skin.

Then, should he wish to forget,

he will not.

He has become one

with the scent of my breath.

If my love wishes to leave me now,

he should prepare for my salt tears,

because I am the six-pointed star

that dwells in the dark places.

Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead. 6:5

Bad hair day

Burnt yellows and brown of the hillside

began to dissolve;

streaming, dividing, rejoining

and flowing

all the time


in an endless crescendo.

Approaching, unceasing,


and bleating,

feet meeting


Eyes pass,

not greeting;

the tamed and the wild.

I wanted to read them,

but pride intervened.

Each expression insisted,

don’t try it!

don’t try it!

But just wait a minute.

Who goes there?

Who is it

who goes there amongst them,

unnoticed, except for his fine pair of horns?

A ram?

A member of the upper echelon?

And has he had a good night out?

Too right,

he has!

Behold his bed,which is Solomon’s; threescore valiant men are about it, the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear of the night. 3: 7-8

The wee small hours

I dreamed my shepherd boy

had gone to tend his flock

and not returned.

And while the terrors of the night advanced,

and shadows folded, danced about me,

many emissaries came.

One, with spurious dignity, proclaimed,

My master, may he live and reign

forever, sends his greeting, his profound respect.


Hear ye this

he, may he live and reign

forever, wishes you to know

that he is everywhere your lover is.

This came and went, and yet a third said,

He, who lives and reigns,

has everything your man had not.

The world of far and near

taunted me with many different forms.

Then, in these terrors of the night,

my bed become an armed encampment.

About it threescore mighty men,

the valiant of Israel, stood,

each with his sword unsheathed

and slapping on his thigh,

but made no other sound to overarch

my own heart’s beat,

my prayer;

Oh father

thou hast never heard me yet;

please hear me now.

Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? 3:6

Pillar of fire

Off-centre stage

he makes his entry;

he who tamed the wilderness;

the wilderness itself beneath his skin?

Our danger man,

the unpredictable!

Out of the strong comes forth

his rage, his whim and his disdain.

He does not stoop nor mock,

nor does he turn.

Sweetness his pain.


and all the while preoccupied,

he is the veil we cannot see beyond.

Flint kindles tinder in his eyes,

oak-tanned his arms, a bead of sweat

poised to perfection at his neck,

granite his thighs.

Menace blended with surprise;

and in his strong right hand

a cigarette.

But he will never say,

with need-concealing threat,

Excuse me, mister

have you got a light?’

Sweet perfumes rise about him,

Oh my God, has all come down to this;

the powders of the merchant on his skin?

The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. 2:8

Going down!

Oh yes! Does that man leap!


Breathless in his sweep across the slopes.

He is the very one;

black runs

his starting point,

moguls his love,

off-piste his place.


his dream.

As for the pine tree’s branch,

he does not care one jot.

The maiden

can just stand out there and watch.

He thinks he can outrun

the awful avalanche

his call has just dislodged.

We shall soon see for ourselves

whether he can

or not.

Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the  honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue: and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. 4:11

What my lover said

Such words;





held me entranced








and the wonderful odour of cedar wood

clung to his chest.

I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. 5:2

In vino veritas

There is always a first time.

Though my body was unaware,

my heart knew he would come to me in the night.

He called me his undefiled,

and my heart knew he was right,

though my body was unprepared.

There is always a first time.

At daybreak he came to my bed,

though his head was filled

with the dew of the night,

and his locks with the drops of dawn.

There is always a first time,

as there had been for him.

But he has remained undefiled,

though his head was filled with the dew,

and his mind was replete

with the drops of the night.

I would lead thee, bring thee into my mother’s house, (who) would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine and the juice of my pomegranate. 8:2

A winter’s tale

King of the underworld,

he insisted,

Eat your pomegranate seeds. Oh

Mother, look at what he made me do

against my will! I

have told and

told you, men

will take what they can get, but

did you listen? I have seen the hook

baited. I could have warned you of it,

but he remained two moves ahead,

and you complied.

But there is another way to think about it now.

Summer will come again!

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field: let us lodge in the villages. 7:11

Country matters

Mr and Mrs Smith, oh yes!

We see a lot of you,

a family tree,

or is it trait?

We country folk

are not too good at words,

They reckon

in the old days

it was Mr Smith

who made the locks

and held the keys

and knew the meaning

of duplicity.

Which, I have to say,

is more than we do here,

being only simple country folk.

His mouth is most sweet, yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem 5:16

Joined at the hip

My boy-friend!


let me have

to say it,

to say it again,



Don’t let me

have to say

how it is with us,

me and my

boy friend.

There is a boundary round us

and its name is


me and my


me and my boy


Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines. 2:15

Cunning little vixen

Yes, fair enough, but slyness is their name.

Have you ever seen them at it,

spoiling vines, has anyone?

They could, you know, undermine the roots,

as excavation is their trademark?

Then there is that legendary sweet tooth.

And for another thing,

it’s not all innocence.

I saw one once at night

right here upon the lawn.

It must have been the bark,

so wild, so full –

–a kind of come-and-get-me call –

No, not quite that, but visceral;

it stirs you up. Insatiable, they say,

but once again, the evidence is thin.

Back to the point.

Where are we now?

As I was going to say, phy-

lloxera, does that sound right to you?

It spoils the vines, it devastates;

but for resistant root-stock, wine

would be a memory from the dustbins of the past;

with no more scattered boxes, or these chips

and pizza wrappings.

I have put off my coat: how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet: how shall I defile them? 4:3

Cat Walk

Fashion dictates.

Oh yes, it does!

The few bold lines

as if derived from some equation

that takes its root from undulating shape:

how it relates,

how it refines.

And many a lover,

waiting at the gate,

has been unmanned

by lazy tightness of a belt, or

lapel folded unexpectedly

over the throat.

But, when that coat

is draped across a chair?

The bare foot

mirrors every other part,

and washing it

cleanses them all.

There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. 6:8.


We all agreed.

There’s something that you need to know.

Everybody must have heard but you.

Lots were drawn,

and I’m the hapless one.

I hope that what I have to say

will not affect our friendship.

Go ahead.

These are the facts:

The first is you,

then threescore queens,

and fourscore concubines

and virgins without number!

Oh that!
I thought it was a counting rhyme they learned in class,

or, after lessons, words for girls to chant

while jumping squares

outlined in dust.

Well! You are partly right, because,

could you see over that wall,

every afternoon at playtime

you would find them

walking slowly round and chanting;

Threescore queens,

and fourscore con

cubines, and virgins

without num


Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love 2:5

Cheek by cheek

Look, can we take our drinks outside?

Somewhere where we can talk?

There’s something that I have to ask,


I’m worried about my man.

When we make love

I think he’s wanting someone else.

He hasn’t tried it on with you

has he? No!

Drink up,

remember me,

(holds her hand,

gives it a squeeze)

I’m your best friend.

And there’s another thing.

I think about him all the time,

but when he’s there

I keep him at arm’s length.

Is that something wrong?

No, I do it myself,

or would do if I had the strength. This

round is mine.

Look, what really did you want?

Are you sick with love,

or sick of it?

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. 2:4

Amuse bouche

Perfect choice again Sir, if I may be so bold to say so.

Oh yes, my dear, this waiter is a gem;

trained to recognise refinement,

but he has his little games.

How he plays on that young couple,

their apologetic stance and distinctly rustic manner.

Have they tied the dog outside?

Don’t look up, they’ll see we’re talking, it would give them

(God forbid it) cause for feeling less than welcome.

And where do you suppose they left the sheepskin and the crook?

Of course, I’m only joking, but I’m sure you know the type.

Again! You did not give the slightest glance in their direction;

tell me how you came to be so completely upper class.

The secret stays with me; but see, the next part is the best,

when he makes them feel both grateful to be here

and distinctly out of place... with the tour de force of timing

when he beckons for the bill!

But the girl. Your heart must bleed.

This is trial by ordeal.

Must say she has something,

an innocent appeal. Wonder where he picked her up

and I wonder what they’re drinking.

You can bet your life upon it, it is far beyond his means

and the compass of his palate.

Needs the training of a lifetime to enjoy what he possesses

and to know there is a shape to any pleasure he could take

while it lingers on the tongue, leading on from the bouquet.

But doesn’t this remind you of the errors of the young?

And you’re wrong about the wine, I recall the appellation,

young and red, so crude and fiery

it would scorch a jaded palate,

like yours,

or mine.

Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? 6:10

This nettle, danger

The woman tempted me and I did eat.

Her eyes looked at me and spoke directly.

They explained how, should I lie with her,

we would become as Gods.

Whether this was justified or not

I do not know. I think she added,

souls meet there. That seemed to be

the thing she most needed.

I could not disagree;

but what surprised me next was the naivety.

Had she forgotten what had been implied?

My, if you like, conversion to her point of view.

Commitment was required,

and she prepared herself

to go to any lengths to get it.

To do whatever it takes,

like painting her face;

and I must comply


and again

in a waking dream.

A Grecian vase, dark against the light,

elegant shoulders curving away,

arms raised.

Safe from the mirror,


hair-curlers in.

Unmasked, I saw!

I bit my arm.

I sucked the blood

and cried, a sail, a sail,

but all that arrived was a winged horse;

whereupon I jumped on its back and did make good my escape.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;  2:11-12

Mediterranean Climate

The spring we yearned for

fell like rain,

and has been swallowed up by earth.

Dust has come.

The gods have given three great gifts to man:

frost shadows in winter sun,

rain that falls into the light,

and summer lightning

that drifts

far over the hills.

Dust will remain.

The rains have gone,

The flowers are dead.

The long summer has come,

and the turtledove picks at dry seeds.

The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? 3:3

Brief encounter

Dead leaves idling in the doorways,

rustling reds and browns. The breeze

disturbs them.

They fall back in the afternoon heat.

Then, towards teatime

the wind rises;

they become

purposeful; some,

more fleet,

hurry along; others

hold back, lift,

collapse. Repeating this,

some progress until

corners distress them.

Returning, turning around,

they rise up.

A swirling column grows


You reach out your hand and say,


have seen

many things,

have you seen the one

whom my soul loveth?

But the life

goes out of it.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. 8:6

Moving on

Thou art the salt of the earth.

The sheep and the young lambs,

that leap on the hills,

rush to the salt rock.

But, if the salt loses its savour,

(though, I ask myself,

 how could that happen?)

if it did,

the sheep and the young lambs

would be utterly lost.

Then the sheep must come down to the plains

only to find that the salt, dried from the sea

in the salt pans, has been ploughed in the land.

Nothing will grow here;

nothing will grow here

ever again;

that is, unless, or until, the sun’s heat

has encrusted the rock

with sea salt,

and a new taste is born;

a new savour to banish the old,

to consume and consume,

and its name will be called

‘moving on’.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned. 8:7

Death by water

So then, we are not talking about the same thing!

The drowned do not die when the soul has been leached out.

Diluted, but not extinct, it will seep back,

a music spread so thin,

layer upon layer of notes

under the light green water.

We who stand on the shore and wait there

cannot accept inevitability;

at worst hope only to see

the spirit that came from the waves

enticing the child to ride on its back.

But, of course, this is not

what you have been talking about.

It does not concern you.

Yours is the cup

that can never be filled.

Drink it up!

Drink it up!

Drink it up!

It will cost

all that you have,

and be worth

all that you’ve got.

The watchmen that went about the city found me, the smote me; they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. 5:7

The wind blows

Doors shake, windows

rattle their frames, débris

races. Down the streets leaves

crowd into alleyways

and then disperse. Wildness

is all. The heart calls,

have you seen him?

Have you seen the one for whom my soul yearns?

Watch out;

the wind knows where he is.

But you,

hard though you try,

can not make headway against it.

The leaves

batter your face;

debris soars.

It was one day like this,

perhaps just before noon,

when he passed,

vacuum of air

extracting your breath.

It is a chase,

the veil torn away,

your face revealed.

You knew them all,


no more than boys,

and some old men,

wiser than Kings.

Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib. 6:12












to much speed


driving out



that is



we succeed

on the



No thing

more than



Solomon had a vineyard at Baalhamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver. 8:11

Pieces of silver

This is a most secure and sound approach.

Invest to take away and then sell back;

drôit de seigneur.

Secure, by blood and sweat,

the natural means of increase,

adding nothing but the pure

and unpolluted essence of succession.

But there are lesser rights,

the labourer,

worthy of his hire,

is tired of treading out his crop,

and bleared with trade

raising his bees-winged eyes,

looks back from a high place,

call it a vantage point,

and holds a work-worn chalice to his lips.

The master, gaining more than thirty times the price

of ‘Him’ who was to come, announces this,

as if to say

the prudent and the wise

are blessed.

Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it. 8:13

A weeping willow tree

Man, that is born of woman,

has very little time for discussion.

I see that now.

For every word he brings forth,

she will produce five-fold.

Yet he would say that

weighing his words

against hers is the true test,

as the scales will not lie flat,

but tilt to his statements.

And so he will stand

a man among men

as he raises his tankard.

Then, as they will,



with the shake of his head,

the sweep of his hand,

give birth to some weighty pronouncements,

profound and embedded remarks

about sporting prowess.

Whilst I,

having waited too long,

draw back the curtains,

and turn down the lights.

Thine head upon thee is like Carmel and the hair of thine head like purple: the king is held in the galleries. 7:5

Art for art’s sake

I had likened her unto an art form,  

because Joseph (for example) went a-walking,

and he walked not between the trees

with one leg under his arm,

his face a patchwork quilt.
Notice too

the bottom-dwelling fish,

whose eye migrates from youthful symmetry,

around or through its head.

I have thought it best

to let mine follow any independent route,

to see the murky world from underneath.

But, to business now; that’s what it’s all about.

Art cannot run upon the spot (neither can I),

but enters an imaginary space

where force distorts.

Capitalise on that and then move on.

The artists,

(no one else may call them so)

worked for a day, or less,

(no pompous wisdom of a lifetime here.)

and then I chose the one

most likely to distress.

Pull back the curtain.

You will find a rare treat hanging there!

The Queen, my Lord, he said

is not dead,

but distorted beyond measure!


he replied;

in that,

she lives.

We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for? 8:8

Moment of truth

What shall I tell my sister

when her time comes?

When we were young

she would climb into my bed

and we together enter story-land.

Now she knows my tales

and must begin to tell hers,

but I warn her,

Your brother

in law,

the King

has heard all that I have to say,

and will want to hear you.

He will wish to be there,

when she sees the boy whom she loves

becoming a man.

I shall not tell her this;

She will see it three times:

the first time with joy,

the second with pride

and the last with dismay.

And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. 7:9

Song without words

The choir paused.

Silence filled its space

and unfamiliarity spoke out.

That which is lost,

that which you will never hear again,

has been playing for you

from the very first day.

Now they were filing on stage,

and soundlessly passing between us.

Everyone slowly started to sing.

This was my tune,

these were my words,

and this was my sunset.

I had been far away,

now I was coming home,

and when they take leave

I shall be there among them.

Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing, whereof every one bear twins, and none barren among them   4:2

White from the washing

Dentition indicates well-nourished female in her early teens

and ripe. Incisors white, incisive (smile solidified,

its impact neither her’s nor anybody’s fault),

as they parade with one lamb at each side;

white rump, white even height,

proof of his omnipotency,

his surge of ecstasy,

her once-upon-a-time caress.

But these were sheep,

their smiles indecipherable to us.  

White shining teeth or eyes, it’s hard to say,

Those rectilinear slots,

the curtains none put by but him.

He must move on.

Age withers, dentine flecks and yellow-brown marks appear.

Yes! And it was ages long ago this lover said

these things and wrote them down.

Did he escape his chains? Turn back, oh man,

rejoin the twofold path.

The gods will not be mocked.

And over all

incense of lanolin pervades,

white soap, white suds,

white skin

from every sin washed clean.



1 Sandalwood

2 Sous les belles étoiles

3 Night watch

4 Raising the bar

5 The six senses

6 Bad hair day  

7 The wee small hours  

8 Pillar of fire

9 Going down!

10 What my lover said

11 In vino veritas

12 A winter’s tale

13 Country matters

14 Joined at the hip

15 Cunning little vixen

16 Cat Walk

17 Playtime

18 Cheek by cheek

19 Amuse bouche

20 This nettle, danger

21 Mediterranean Climate

22 Brief encounter

23 Moving on

24 Death by water

25 The wind blows

26 Exodus

27 Pieces of silver

28 A weeping willow tree

29 Art for art’s sake

30 Moment of truth

31 Song without words

32 White from the washing



The writer attended poetry meetings organised by Rob MacKenzie. At one of these Rob proposed that all willing attendees write a poem based on a verse from the Song of Solomon. Misunderstanding the instructions he chose a verse and wrote the poem, White from the washing. Only later did he receive an assigned verse, requiring a second poem, Sandalwood. but by now the habit was formed and 31 poems followed.

Thoughts about the Song gave rise to the idea that it was based on an ancient theme. A nobleman learns of beautiful (poor) girl, visits her in disguise as a pauper and wins her heart. He returns to his palace, contrives that she be brought to him and tries to win her a second time. He is successful, as he has to be, but things do not end well.

The plot of the Song of Solomon is not explicit, possibly because in its day there was no need for it to be. Contemporary audiences would have recognised immediately one of the standard plots from the story-telling tradition.