The young woman, intoxicated with the delightful love of her young lover, describes herself in the presence of the other women of Jerusalem — who watch her love like a chorus surrounding the scene — with these words:
5 Dark am I, yet lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.*
6 Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I have neglected.
7 Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock
and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I lose my way among the flocks of your friends?
The woman is deeply tanned “dark” in color (the word does not mean “race” — see Exum) because she works in the vineyards and is exposed to the sun. She invites the women to gaze at her. She’s not like city women whose skin is protected from the sun. Her beauty is natural. She knows her beauty. It is good to think you are beautiful even when the standard image might be otherwise.
Her self-consciousness of her own beauty emerges out of tough circumstances: her brothers were angry with her and forced her to take care of the vineyards. She turned that injustice into an opportunity to discover her beauty.
With her deftly poetic “my own vineyard” the young woman refers either to her chastity or to her self-esteem/personhood or to her beauty. The first view is supported by 6:11 and 7:13, and the second is an option for those who think the image is general. The third by the previous line. I think she is referring to her beauty — she’s not been able to look after her beauty as the city-ladies have, but she is nonetheless beautiful.
Now she turns to thinking about her young love (now a shepherd): Where will you be grazing your sheep? Is she evoking his sexuality or asking a question for information? The reader of the Song may not know. Poetry is like that.
When she speaks of wandering … and I’ve edited the NIV here … she seems to be asking for precise information (where will you be?) so she won’t get lost among his fellow shepherds or because she doesn’t want to waste time searching for him. When I get to the camp, she is saying, which tent will you be in?
The woman announces that she will come at midday to his tent — and that means she wants to find him, to lie with him, and to enjoy love with him.
A woman needs to know her beauty. A woman can assert her beauty. A woman has no need to be overwhelmed by the body-image of others. To love the other, one must know oneself. She does. And her circumstances don’t stop her from finding that place of knowing her own beauty. So confident is she of her love and the delightfulness of that love that she will chase her lover down in the middle of the day. All she needs is directions.