Ancient Egyptian Love Poems – John L Foster translation
We explored some Egyptian Love Poems created 3,000 years ago at a recent U3A Poetry Appreciation session.
They were translated from the Ancient Egyptian by John L Foster from the book Love Songs of the New Kingdom (Charles Scribner’s Sons – New York 1974)
In 2003 the ABC Radio National program ‘Poetica’ explored this work … the summary text –
Four small collections of anonymous poems have survived from the New Kingdom of pharaonic Egypt. Written on papyri and a stone vase, they are approximately 3,000 years old, but John L Foster’s translations make them seem very contemporary, fresh and erotic. This program presents a selection of the poems accompanied by music from Michael Atherton and the Musicians of the Nile.
Here are two of the poems …
How clever my love with a lasso How clever my love with a lasso - she'll never need a kept bull! She lets fly the rope at me (from her dark hair), Draws me in with her comehither eyes, wrestles me down between her bent thighs, Branding me hers with her burning seal. (Cowgirl, the fire from those thighs!)
… this example is quite contemporary … and makes that universal statement on how passionate love flows endlessly through the years
Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me As sweet soothing oil to the limbs of the restless, as clean ritual robes to the flesh of gods, As fragrance of incense to one coming home It is like nipple-berries ripe in the hand, like the tang of grain-meal mingled with beer Like wine to the palate when taken with white bread. While unhurried days come and go, Let us turn to each other in quiet affection, walk in peace to the edge of old age. And I shall be with you each unhurried day, a woman given her one wish: to see For a lifetime the face of her lord.
… love, food wine nicely married … and oil is referenced so important in ancient times … and it does say something about the culture of the day and the place of woman in society … that very last word Lord … if it was changed to love it would remove the subservient nature
… but I do like the line – walk in peace to the edge of old age … taking quiet affectionate togetherness to the precipice … implying parting at death
It is interesting to see how love is articulated through the centuries in words. And the importance given to love by making it remembered by transcribing on material objects.