Four Ancient Egyptian Love Poems

The following are my attempts to “translate” ancient Egyptian poems into English by comparing published versions and then creating my own rhyming versions. I hope you enjoy them. Note that it was conventional for lovers to be addressed as “sisters” and “brothers.”

Poem I (Turin Papyrus – A Palm Tree’s Song)

I hide her secrets in my shade,

this sister on her holiday.

And all the promises they made

and all they did I do not say.

Poem II (Papyrus Chester Beatty I)

My sister has no rival: she’s most beautiful and dear.

She shimmers like the morning star when New Year’s Day is here.

She shimmers bright, her skin is white, her honeyed speech is such

that none could ever charge she speaks too little or too much.

Her hair glitters like lapis and her arms outshine pure gold

her fingers are like lotus buds, her gait is straight and bold.

Her thighs are curved, her waist is tight, her legs the stuff of song

and all show off her beauty wherever she walks along.

She can make the neck of every man begin to spin

just to catch a glimpse of her, and in this glance to sin.

My love for her has vanquished me, and her heart conquered mine.

Whoever can embrace the sun is he himself divine.

Poem III (Papyrus Chester Beatty IV)

When my thoughts turn to you, my heart beats outside my chest.

I lose all sense and reason and I even cannot dress.

I even can’t put on a scarf or brightly paint my face.

And every time I think of you, I sigh and writhe in place.

My heart tells me to go to you whenever I am still,

And though I curse my foolish heart, I’m enslaved to its will.

Don’t move! Your brother comes to you, but many eyes come too.

Don’t let them think you are in love, although you know it’s true.

Don’t let them know he’s conquered you, composure would be best.

Yet when my thoughts turn to him, my heart beats outside my chest.

POEM IV (The Cairo Vase)

My sister lives far, far away

the foaming Nile in our way.

And on the shore, the crocodile

bears his fearsome teeth awhile.

But passion for her makes me brave

and I plunge into the waves,

swimming to the farther shore,

thinking of her all the more.

As I wade past desert sand

the croc’s a mouse, the sea’s dry land.

Her love protects me with a spell,

and I survive alive and well,

finding solace in her face

and in the strength of her embrace.

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