Anatoly Kaplan: The Enchanted Artist

Song of Songs

Color Lithograph

Sholem Aleichem’s 1910 Song of Songs (בלעטלעך שיר השירים) is a short novella that describes the innocent love of a nine-year-old boy for his eleven-year-old niece. While the first two chapters take place during the narrator’s childhood, the final two describe events happening many years later when the protagonist returns to the shtetl to attend the now young woman’s engagement. This is essentially a story of language and its insufficiency, of a narrator who cannot express his young love in Yiddish. His everyday words seem to him banal and inept, and he struggles to find some higher, holy language, which he finds in Biblical Hebrew, specifically in the Song of Songs (traditionally ascribed to King Solomon). He reads it as a guide for lovers, combining its images of Eretz Israel with those of his East European market town.