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Saturday, 16 August 2008

An ancient Egyptian poem

I wish I were your mirror
so that you always looked at me.
I wish I were your garment
so that you would always wear me.
I wish I were the water that washes
your body.
I wish I were the ungent, O woman,
that I could annoint you,
and the band around your breasts,
and the beads around your neck.
I wish I were your sandal
that you would step on me.


Above is an ancient Egyptian poem that could well be thousands of years old. I am not sure of the exact period or poet. What struck me most were the brazen innuendoes, representing the raw lust that old Egyptian romantics were famous for. I may think of the poet in question as choosing to call the object of his desire...a broad instead of a lady, so biting is his thirst for a bodily desire that suggests through sharp interwined images; the locking of his whole being into a tight framework with his enraptured one. His tone is one of daring and coyness. For love, he is willing to endure pain, playacting the role of her sandal and being appropriately trampled upon.

In this vein, the poet's secret revelations may be described as masochistic in effect and sensual by turns. At one moment, he desires her vision never to leave his face. From the start, he would rather she stare at him transfixed. This suggests a loss of individual liberation and a sacrificial ambition to bow to her every whim. He would rather be her labourer signifying a stricken desire..with the danger of heartbreak leading to fatalism. For here, is the kind of crude sacrifice carved up by a heart-struck lover from where logic may have fled.

With trademark tools of water, salve, garment, beads,sandals and a band on the lover's breasts, the poet hinges on images that must come into contact with human skin and desires to live in that fluid colourless form. He is no longer content to admire the physical figure from afar. The roles of the lover and loved are clear. The poet hides in the shadows and his sweetheart basks in the limelight. His carefully thought-out masquerade bears similarities with a ghostly apparition. There is a yearning for an invisible form, so he could play tricks and games...offer a wholehearted devotion and hang about with a closeness that would denounce any signs of separation. He would see all and know all. At last, his lust would be satisfied.

No doubt, the composition calls for a fairly straightforward technique, with the use of objects meant to highlight various parts of a physique. The high entertainment would probably lie in the poet's quest to shock the reader with content that depicts his hankering.

I wonder if these words took refuge as a harboured secret or if they were presented with much aplomb as a romantic gift on a papyrus scroll. - suzan abrams