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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry

You may not think of ancient Egypt as being the most romantic of societies (hard to think of candlelit dinners when candles hadn't been invented yet), but a fair bit of ancient Egyptian love poetry has actually survived the archaeological record. Today I have a little taste for you dating from the 15th-10th centuries BCE.

The little sycamore she planted
prepares to speak- the sound of rustling leaves
sweeter than honey.

On its lovely green limbs
is new fruit and ripe fruit red as blood jasper,
and leaves of green jasper.

Her love awaits me on a distant shore.
The river flows between us,
crocodiles on the sandbars.

Yet I plunge into the river,
my heart slicing currents, steady
as if I were walking.

O my love, it is love
that gives me strength and courage,
love that fords the river.

My imagination soars with this poem, written by some man (probably a scribe) 3,500 years ago. I wonder who the woman was he loved and if they ever got together. I certainly hope so.

Do you have a favorite poet? Do you ever wonder what an artist was thinking when you read a poem or look at a painting?


Amalia T. said...

Sometimes I wonder what Homer was trying to accomplish with the Iliad and all the sidetracking that goes on-- but that's the extent of my ruminations over poetry, for the most part. I am not poetically-romantic :(

I do stand in awe of painters though.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I have many poets I adore, such as Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Lucille Clifton, WB Yeats--really I could go on and on.
But in the spirit of your ancient poem, I'll offer Chiyo-ni, an 18th century Japanese haiku poet, at a time when few women engaged in such activity.

till his hat
fades into a butterfly
I yearn for him

change of kimono:
showing only her back
to the blossom's fragrance

airing out kimonos
as well as her heart
is never enough

woman's desire
deeply rooted--
the wild violets

how terrifying
her rouged fingers
against the white chrysanthemums

Stephanie Thornton said...

Amalia- Homer's not my favorite style of poetry, but I do think the Iliad is pretty awesome. I have a thing for Briseis and Achilles' romance. :)

Tricia- I love those haikus! I've never heard of Chiyo-ni, but now I'm intrigued. The first haiku is lovely- I adore butterflies.

laurel said...

Some of the imagery reminds me of the Hebrew poetry in Song of Songs, and some of it seems so purely Egypt. The "crocodiles on sandbars" line is incredibly evocative of the hazards of love and live. Love it.

Thanks for sharing this.

Falen said...

This is wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

L. T. Host said...

Wow, how cool! I love the little bits of history you bring us :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I think that's the first Ancient Egyptian poetry I've read.

I read more poetry when I was younger, not so much lately. I love Margaret Atwood's stuff. Frost.

For kids, Jack Prelutsky's spooky poems are great!

Just Another Sarah said...

I love the imagery of this Egyptian love poem! Especially this bit:

"On its lovely green limbs
is new fruit and ripe fruit red as blood jasper,
and leaves of green jasper."

Beautiful! And the haiku Tricia put up above--just lovely. While not so wild about some poetry myself (I hardly even count Homer, though I guess I ought to), and while I am a horrible poet myself (I think I've written a few that are just okay), I appreciate a good poem. Or at least parts of a good poem.

My favorite is Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll. I've got it memorized.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nice, though a part of me thinks he's in love w/the sycamore :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love the imagery, especially "new fruit and ripe fruit red as blood jasper" and "The river flows between us,/crocodiles on the sandbars".

I love Wordsworth and Hopkins and Frost and Langston Hughes. I ALWAYS wonder what they were thinking. :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Laurel- I love the crocodile line. I wish the Nile still had crocs!

Falen- Glad you liked it!

L.T.- Well, it's my job to make you all history nerds like me!

Jemi- I had to memorize a number of Frost's poems when I was in school. I think that turned me off his work. Sad.

Sarah- I love Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland is my fave, but Jabberwocky is nifty too!

Bane- You would think that. ;)

Shannon- I'm glad I'm not the only one who wonders what they were thinking!

Elana Johnson said...

I'm not much of a poetry buff. Scratch that, I don't read or write poetry. But this was beautiful. I do often wonder what artists were thinking when they painted a piece. I adore art.