Song of Songs 2:17, "Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains

I'm trying to understand this idiom, "the day breathes and the shadows flee." Does this mean until the day's end? Shadows flee may mean sunset as the shadows extend long. Does "exhale" indicate that the day is coming to an end? I suppose shadows fleeing could also be at noon when the sun is overhead and shadows have shrunk to nothing. Does this indicate that "my beloved" is going about in the world during the daytime until night breaks?

In Song 3:1 (next verse), the female voice is "upon her bed in the nights" and in the city, indicating a kind of associate of darkness with the space of the dwellings of the city and the chambers while the previous chapter seems to associate the light of day with the motion of the male out in nature upon the mountains as a wild animal.

In these sections I'm reading the female associated with darkness (Song 1:5), night, indwelling, and civilization, while the male is associated with the sun (Song 1:6), light, day, transcendence, and wild nature. That would lead me to associate this idiom in 2:17 with the bounds of the day. Is this a consistent understanding of Song 2:17?


Most versions of SS 2:17 are either overly literal (and thus leave us wondering) or are slightly interpretive and render the first phrase as "day break" or similar.

In my view, "day break" appears to best suit the context for the following reasons:

  • The context appears to discussing activity during the night
  • "day breathing" is a reference to the light zephyr that occurs at dawn and sunset so could refer to either as in Gen 3:8
  • sunrise is the coolest part of the day
  • "shadows fleeing" or "fading" is best understood as sunrise.

Thus, the force of the verse appears to be something akin to the CEV -

Pretend to be a young deer dancing on mountain slopes until daylight comes and shadows fade away.

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