As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (Song of Solomon 2:3, NRSV).
Metaphors allow us to say what we mean—only more so.
Think for a moment about how metaphors work. They allow us to free associate. They invite us to bring memory and senses to the aid of what is often an abrupt comparison. So, when the psalmist says, “I am a worm,” everything we have ever thought or felt about worms rushes in to help us understand what the psalmist is saying (Ps. 22:6). Sure, he could have explained that he was feeling vulnerable and was having trouble reaching his full human potential. But that would have been boring. And at the end of the day, it wouldn’t have told us a fraction of what he managed to convey when he smashed the words “I” and “worm” together.
Lovers have long been quick to catch on to the potential of metaphors. In this verse from one of the world’s most famous love poems (Song of Solomon 2:3), the woman invites us to share her appreciation of her beloved by describing him as an apple tree. Go ahead. Accept her invitation. What do you think of when you imagine an apple tree? Shade, sweetness, nourishment…. The list is as long as your imagination and as broad as your experience.
It’s not clear whether this verse from the Song of Songs inspired the 18th century poem, “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” Others have made the leap between that ancient love song and the love between Christ and the Church. What is clear, however, is the poets’ mutual appreciation of a metaphor.
As you read it—and then listen to it expressed musically—free associate. Bring your own memories to the poet’s extended metaphor. Let the richness of the comparison fill your senses and your soul. Because metaphors allow us to say what we mean—only more so.
JESUS CHRIST THE APPLE TREE
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
Listen: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree This anthem by Elizabeth Poston is based on a text from “Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs” compiled by Joshua Smith in 1784. This performance is by Seraphic Fire, conducted by Patrick Dupré Quigley.
Pray: We would rest here a while, O Christ—from our toil and ambition, from our anxiety and grief. Make our soul to thrive. Keep our dying faith alive.
Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series
Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.