Song of Songs: biblical love poetry in calligraphy 

November 5, 2023

Calligraphic art by Margaret Shepherd will be on display at Trinity Church Gallery, Concord, November 6, 2023 through January 8, 2024. The opening reception, with refreshments and book signing, will be Wednesday, November 10, 5:30–7 p.m. with a gallery talk at 6 p.m. Her full-color book, Song of Songs: The Bible’s Great Love Poetry in Calligraphy, will be available for purchase. 

Song of Songs is a unique book of the Bible, one of two that doesn’t mention God. It has delighted its readers for centuries, while posing a challenge to artists, theologians, and translators. 

Sometimes called Song of Solomon, this scripture describes physical love with graphic frankness, the woman’s voice speaks more often than the man’s and Solomon barely appears. 

Over the centuries, clergy have described the scripture as an allegory for God’s love toward people, or for Jesus’s love toward the church. Other interpretations see it as being about love for the divine or about how human love can become divine in marriage. A modern reading suggests it is about more earthly delights. 

The imagery comes from everyday village life. Writing out this 2,600-year-old text, Shepherd looked for ways to emphasize the natural tendency of letters to look like objects and reinterprets the Song of Songs in a new way, using traditional calligraphy in fresh modern layouts. She has woven together a dozen scholarly translations to let this timeless poetry speak in today’s language.  

“I shape the letters and arrange them on the page to highlight the meaning of the text. As Arabic scribes say, ‘Calligraphy gives greater clarity to truth,’” Shepherd said. 

Shepherd was born in Ames, Iowa. She taught high school English and studied brush calligraphy in pre-war Saigon, and now lives in Boston with her husband. Her engagement with calligraphy has included teaching, exhibitions, talks, commissions and public installations. She has authored 19 books about calligraphy and communication, three of which have been translated into Russian, Romanian and Spanish.  

The exhibit is at the Gallery Space at Trinity Episcopal Church, 81 Elm Street, through January 8, 2024. It may be viewed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays except Friday mornings and after church services during coffee hour on Sunday, 11 a.m.-noon. Enter via the River Street entrance.  

To confirm the gallery is open, call 978-369-3715 x11.