Egyptian Love Poetry uses Rich Imagery
Egyptian Love Poetry comes from an
accomplished ancient civilisation rich in the arts. Ancient Egypt rated literature very high.
Ancient Egypt was the source of great works written on papyrus or on the walls of temples, tombs, pyramids, obelisks, portraits and monuments. These works of art succeeded for many centuries.
Over time many changes took place; many
governments and civilizations, vanished and others appeared, but the ideals of the ancient Egyptian literature persisted even in our age and this is epitomised by Egyptian Love Poetry.
Besides, ancient Egyptian literature formed central elements in folkloric works of many nations. This shows how elevated ancient Egyptians moral and literary
perceptions were, even before divine religions were revealed or even before the world knew great literary masterpieces.
Ancient Egyptian literature and Egyptian Love Poetry rose and grew and was fuelled by their religious beliefs, but it quickly evolved to deal with man’s ordinary day-to-day life. Literary works occupied a distinguished position in the ancient Egyptian thought and civilization.
The ancient Egyptians viewed literature as a source of spiritual nourishment and a unique way to elevate style of expression. Refined literary style was a source of pride for the writer and appreciation and enjoyment for the reader.
Ancient Egyptians wrote plays, dramatic poetry, songs, religious hymns and love poetry. Egyptian love poetry used rich imagery to communicate deep feelings
How Ancient Egypt composed Poetry
In creating the art of Egyptian Love Poetry, ancient Egyptians excelled in writing romantic verses. In addition to eulogies to the Nile river and its merits, there were many love poems that expressed not only vehement poison surging through the heart of a lover, but also delicate emotions.
Sentiments of Egyptian Love Poetry, were couched in beautiful similes derived from the aesthetic aspects of the Egyptian environment.
For example, a lover says to his beloved My beloved is like a garden, full of beautiful papyrus blossoms and I am like a wild goose attracted by the taste of love.
In another example of Egyptian love Poetry, a lover says My beloved is there on the other bank. We are separated by the floodwater. On the bankside, there is a crocodile lying in wait. But I am not afraid of it. I will swim through the water until I reach her and be delighted.
In yet another example of Egyptian Love Poetry, this time in a love song, two lovers exchange most refined expressions of love. The loving woman says I will never leave you my darling. My only wish is to stay in your house and at your service. We will always be hand in hand, come and go to gather everywhere. You are my health; my life.
To guide you in understanding Egyptian Love Poetry, It is important to note that in many of the love poems of ancient Egypt, the man often refers to his beloved as sister and the woman calls her lover brother in order to show how each one of them highly appreciates and respects the other.
The beginning of Egyptian Love Poetry
The earliest poetry in Egypt was likely part of an oral tradition. Hymns, stories, and prayers were passed down from speaker to speaker. Egyptologists are quite certain that maybe only one person out of every hundred could read and write.
The Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system was likely invented to help with trade, allowing merchants record their wares and account for their stock. Later hieroglyphic writing found on nobles' tombs gave biographical accounts of the tombs' occupants for passersby to read. Over time, longer biographies, narrative poems, and songs also began to appear.
To read ancient Egyptian Love Poetry and other writings is a two-step process. Much of the writing was done in hieratic script, a shorthand form of hieroglyphs. Because this form of writing was long and painstaking, it could take days to write a simple letter.
To begin deciphering the ancient texts, experts used detailed photographs of excavated writings, along with their own observations of actual artifacts, if possible. They would then translates hieratic writing into hieroglyphs. From there, sounds would be given to the hieroglyphic consonants and words, sentences, and entire passages would be generated.
Historical tales and hymns had been inscribed inside tomb walls, written on papyrus, and often scribbled onto shards of limestone pottery. "These shards are considered the scratch paper of the Egyptians," said Terry Wilfong, an Egyptologist at the University of Michigan.
Wilfong said that students in ancient Egypt inscribed many of the surviving examples of the culture's poetry. The students likely copied down poems from other texts and dictation as part of their lessons.
Egyptian Love Poetry from the New Kingdom
The New Kingdom of ancient Egypt is still quite ancient; it began after the fall of the invading Hyksos around 1575 BCE and lasted until 1087 BCE.
The numerous Egyptian love poetry from this period illuminate many of the attitudes of the Egyptians and seem to have been powerfully influential on other peoples, notably the Hebrews, whose own love poetry bears some striking resemblances to them.
As is the case with most ancient verse, none of the authors' names are known. They lack titles, and are referred to here by their first lines.
Sometimes we think of the Egyptians as a gloomy, death-obsessed people; but that is only because we interpret them through the distorted lens of their tombs. The nobles among them at least yearned for an afterlife because they enjoyed this life too much to want to leave it. Their painting and poetry celebrates the pleasures of food, music, dance, and love.
The Egyptian Love poetry of this period have been described as providing an archaeology of the emotions, a sense of what it was like to be Egyptian, which is otherwise inaccessible—the humor, the vivacity that lay behind the monuments.
Archaeologists have discovered most of the examples of Egyptian love poetry in Deir el-Medina, a village of tomb builders during the New Kingdom. Here, many skilled artisans worked on the tombs of pharaohs such as Ramses II and Tutankhamun.
Findings indicate that these villagers may have been remarkably literate for their time. The local community—not just the scribes and students—may have contributed to the Egyptian love poetry of Deir el-Medina.
These Egyptian love poetry were likely set to music and used events from daily life and the natural world—growing grain, capturing birds, fishing along the Nile—as metaphors to talk about love.
The Crossing (Excerpt)
I'll go down to the water with you,
and come out to you carrying a red fish,
which is just right in my fingers.
When love poems first made their appearance in Egyptian writing during the New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC) they were easily fitted into an existing lyrical form already used for hymns and prayers.
Words held for the Egyptians an innate magical force, an ability to alter reality with use; it is only natural that this linguistic power was brought to bear on matters of love in a powerful poetry. The poems are without rhyme, and their language is simple. They are loaded with symbolism and wordplay, these are poems about love.
O my god, my lotus flower! . . .
It is lovely to go out and . . .
I love to go and bathe before you.
I allow you to see my beauty
in a dress of the finest linen,
drenched with fragrant unguent.
I go down into the water to be with you
and come up to you again with a red fish,
looking splendid on my fingers.
I place it before you . . .
Come! Look at me!
Let us take a look at two more examples of the beautiful love poetry of this period.
i)I hear thy voice, O turtle dove-
The dawn is all aglow-
Weary am I with love, with love,
Oh, whither shall I go?
Not so, O beauteous bird above,
Is joy to be denied....
For I have found my dear, my love;
And I am by his side.
We wander forth, and hand in hand
Through flowery ways we go-
I am the fairest in the land,
For he has called me so.
ii)With sickness faint and weary
All day in bed I'll lie;
My friends will gather near me
And she'll with them come nigh.
She'll put to shame the doctors
Who'll ponder over me,
For she alone, my loved one,
Knows well my malady.
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