Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry & Songs
Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry was actually written by men and sung as songs for entertainment. There aren’t that many that were recorded but the few that are seem to be full of desire, longing and heartache.
Have you noticed that love songs and poems throughout the ages and spanning all cultures seem to have that thread of desire, longing and heartache? And Ancient Egyptian Poetry is not exempt.
In many of their verses you’ll find that they call each other or talk of each other as “brother” and “sister”.
These are obviously terms of affection. And although incest did exist in ancient Egypt, it was mainly confined to royal families as a way to keep the power from spreading outside.
Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry – Excerpts from “The Great Leisure”
The following excerpts of ancient Egyptian love poetry is from the love songs called “The Great Dispenser of Pleasure” or “The Great Leisure” depending on the translation. They are part of the Chester Beatty I Papyrus housed in Dublin.
The full poem is composed of 7 stanzas, each one sung by either a man or a woman. They tell of two people who fall in love and are not able yet to unite together.
Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry – The Great Leisure, Stanza One
(the man sings)
Sister without rival,
most beautiful of all,
she looks like the star-goddess, rising
at the start of the good New Year.
Perfect and bright, shining skin,
seductive in her eyes when she glances,
sweet in her lips when she speaks,
and never a word too many.
Slender neck, shining body,
her hair is true lapis,
her arm gathers gold,
her fingers are like lotus flowers,
ample behind, tight waist,
her thighs extend her beauty,
shapely in stride when she steps on the earth.
She has stolen my heart with her embrace,
She has made the neck of every man
turn round at the sight of her.
Whoever embraces her is happy,
he is like the head of lovers,
and she is seen going outside
like That Goddess, the One Goddess.
Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry – The Great Leisure, Stanza Two
(the woman sings)
My brother overwhelms my heart with his words,
he has made sickness seize hold of me.
Now he is near the house of my mother,
and I cannot even tell that he has been.
It is good of my mother to order me like this,
‘Give it up out of your sights’;
see how my heart is torn by the memory of him,
love of him has stolen me.
Look what a senseless man he is
– but I am just like him.
He does not realize how I wish to embrace him,
or he would write to my mother.
Brother, yes! I am destined to be yours,
by the Gold Goddess of women.
Come to me, let your beauty be seen,
let father and mother be glad.
Call all my people together in one place,
let them shout out for you, brother.
The poem continues for 5 more stanzas with the last one shows clear desperation on the part of the young man. He is love sick and hasn’t seen the object of his affections for a whole week. Here’s that last stanza but from a different translation of the poem, just to give you another flavor of ancient Egyptian poetry.
Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry – The Great Leisure, Stanza Seven
(the man sings)
Seven days to yesterday
I have not seen the sister,
And a sickness has invaded me.
My body has become heavy,
Forgetful of my own self,
If the chief of physicians come to me,
my heart is not content with their remedies;
the lector priests, no way out is in them-
My sickness will not be probed.
To say to me:
“Here she is!” is what will revive me;
Her name is what will lift me up;
The going in and out of her messengers
is what will revive my heart.
More beneficial to me is the sister
than any remedies;
She is more to me than collected writings
My health is her coming in from outside
When I see her, then I am well.
If she opens her eye,
my body is young again
If she speaks, then I am strong again
When I embrace her,
she drives evil away from me –
But she has been gone forth from me for seven days!
**The translation of the first two stanzas are from the University College London page found here.
**The last stanza translation is from here.
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