Updated: May 30, 2019
The “cherries” in this poem represent three things. First, they are a reference to verses talking about good trees bearing good fruit, secondly, a metaphor for virginity, and lastly a representation of cherry-picking both in reference to selective biblical literalism and also to grey areas in general.
Any word that represents God or the elders is capitalized as the elders in the story believed they remained holy after committing their sins and continued to play God by sentencing the woman to death for her “sins”. The harvest is a reference to parables in the bible where judgement is represented by the harvest. By wearing His skin they are using their authority to justify and cover up their sins to appear holy. The last two lines of the first stanza contrast each other. The elders are represented in the capitalized Lamb, while Susanna’s blood is on every doorpost, a reference to the passover lamb. Essentially, even though Susanna is actually innocent but because the elders hide under the guise of holiness, Susanna is sentenced to death.
Assault and harassment aren’t always physical, manipulation and psychological abuse can be just as damaging. The second stanza is basically saying that while Susanna never came in contact with the elders (in the bible, in art the elders are always physically harassing Susanna), the elders simply claiming she did caused her to be seen as impure (bruised fruit), something worthy of death.
The bible is pretty clear about who is to blame in cases of rape. If a woman is raped and doesn’t scream she is to be put to death. If a woman bears false witness, she is also put to death. Susanna is placed into a common paradox where both having sex and not having sex are punishable, the virgin-whore dichotomy or Madonna-whore complex. The Madonna-whore complex is a Freudian idea that essentially states that men will never respect women they lust after and will never lust after women they respect. This is perpetuated by Naomi who highlights that this paradox results in women having to handle the worst aspects of both sides of the spectrum. Women are treated as sexual objects, there are countless stories of men becoming violent when being denied sex and countless people who still believe women owe men sex. However, if they actually have sex they are no longer valued, respected, or worthy of a serious relationship. Men are allowed (and expected) to have as much sex as they please but still expect to marry someone "pure". Despite being willing to "defile" other women, they are not willing to have a serious relationship with someone "defiled". If Susanna has sex with the elders, they say they will not tell anyone and she will not be punished by law or socially condemned (but will be guilty in the eyes of God) if she doesn’t have sex with them, she will be punished by law and be de-valued in the eyes of the public but remain innocent with God. Susanna knows that the elders' word will always be taken against hers but trusts that being right with God is the better option.
The “trees” in the fourth stanza continue the reference to the harvest and “good trees bear good fruit” verses, but also literally represent the line of questioning the elders face. They are asked what tree they found Susanna with her lover, if they both choose the right tree, the trial will be in their favor, if not, they are proved to be lying. By choosing the wrong tree, Susanna’s purity is proven.
Pick wisely again references both cherry picking and literally picking the correct tree or correct verdict.