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Love Letters from the Past

By: Amgad Refai
View Profile'Love . Still no evidence for its existence, when it is compared by the great feelings that lie behind it. '

~Khalil Gebran


Love, this feeling which touches our heart to fill it with happiness and joy, to raise us to the sky with our souls, to free us from being humans in order to reach the category of angels. This feeling which pushes one to do anything for the lover and a little thing that is given from one to the other that becomes better than the treasures of the whole world. This feeling which is born inside us from the beginning and its development is not connected in any way with the race of civilization or technology because it is this wonderful nature which was planted inside us by our creator.

How many times the voice of our minds stops to hear the whispers of our hearts. Love. This little word with very big meanings and great responsibilities.
Music of Love


' What poem is
Wideness in vision
And Music?
Stretching in listening '

~Khalil Gebran



No doubt there is the sense of art that is controlled by many elements which we can mention for example as the stability, the mood, the well of creation and for sure, the needs of life. We can say that the man from the dawn of history has this ability even if he was weak in expressing himself in few words with certain rhythm and simple music and maybe he has for himself these songs, which may be used in certain ceremonies or maybe during hunting, but the recording of these words appears later in his experience.

The existence of some musical instruments, even though they may be simple, date back to early times and there is evidence of having a certain type of singing even if it was merely ritual. Or maybe it is that type of silly song that is still sung by our farmers nowadays which has no mutual relationship but which still shows temporary self-experience.

The shortage of romantic poem documents from the early dynasties and Old Kingdom doesn't mean that there were no poems but maybe there was just no need to make a record at that time for many reasons, maybe because papyrus paper was not in common use at that time so the other materials were lost already, or maybe it was not recorded mainly because it was the period of the establishing of the state when there were so many things to record that were more important for them than the recording of a poem.

In the Middle Kingdom we can see very clearly that the development in art and literature supplied a huge need for them after a long period of social disorder and corruption. (The social revolution)

Sister without peerWe have from this period of time all types of literature except the romantic poem and this may be because at that time they needed more the kind of literature that gave advice and other types more than romantic poetry but that doesn't mean that it did exist, even if it is not recorded.

Most of we are familiar with the romantic poem that is recorded and dated to the New Kingdom (1550 - 1070 BC.) when all the types of arts developed and flourished because of the stability of the economic, political and social conditions in the country. This made it much easier to record such writing so that they became more stylish and of course the romantic poem was one of these things that came into being and developed.

From those papers which we now have in our hands is that papyrus known as ‘Chester Beatty'* and we can quote from its pages :

Sister Without Peer


My one, the sister without peer,
The handsomest of all!
She looks like the rising morning star
At the start of a happy year.
Shining bright, fair of skin,
Lovely the look of her eyes,
Sweet the speech of her lips,
She has not a word too much.
Upright neck, shining breast,
Hair true lapis lazuli;
Arms surpassing gold, Fingers like lotus buds.
Heavy thighs, narrow waist,
Her legs parade her beauty;
With graceful step she treads the ground,
Captures my heart by her movements.
She causes all men's necks
To turn about to see her;
Joy has he whom she embraces,
He is like the first of men!
When she steps outside she seems
Like that the Sun!


*- At the British Museum BM 10681 contains 3 groups of lyrics which may be one work consisting of different verses, each having a number and all the group known as ‘the great happiness speech'.
* - The word ‘sister' is used many times as wife, lover and sister of course in ancient Egyptian language is seen as a close person.


Your VoiceThese poem papyruses deal with personal thoughts and most probably some of it consists of songs which used to take place in some festival or at parties and as well it deals with some other subjects; some physical and some romantic. Some describe the absence of love or the need to love while others tell about how beautiful is his (her) lover and most tell of the happiness of being together.


The other paper in which we can find some other romantic poem is ‘Harris Papyrus'* and here we find the following:


Your Voice


Your voice.
As wine
And your look which shelters me
My food and drink.


Those festivals and parties I mentioned were very clear on the walls of the tombs from the New Kingdom period and represent the beautiful ladies with the very nice dresses wearing the fantastic perfumes, dancing and singing to the rhythm of the harpist and the other musicians.

There is another source for our romantic poem, which is now in the Cairo Museum **and from it we can choose:-


Your Love Gives Me Power

My love.
On the other bank of the Nile
Between me and her is the river
And crocodiles .
But I will resist the water
And fight the crocodiles
As your love gives me the power and courage.


The poem itself when we translate it still this missed circle with the same problem even in modern times in translating poetry, which is the rhythm that marks the poem and make it beautiful with the music of it among the words. No doubt this rhythm was supposed to exist in the Egyptian poem at that time as it must be making that rhythm to the sound of music and, even without music, it makes a nice sound reading it as we can understand that from the red points in front of each verse different than the main text by black ink.

* - ‘Harris 500' 3 groups but badly preserved , and full of misunderstanding and gaps, group known as ‘The great happiness for my lover when she come back from the field' , and other 3 poems each one start by a name of a flower.
** - ‘Cairo Ostraca 1266 - 25218' found 31 pieces was originally a large vase decorated by some poems as well full of gaps and very few of it are complete.


The last famous example we have is the ‘Turin Papyrus' * and from this we can choose:

The Sycamore Tree Song


In your garden
I shade your place with my branch
And be happy each day seeing you
Wish to have your satisfaction
The day they seeded me near your house
I was happy by being close And have expectation of being closer
But you
At the feast day didn't see me
And all are mocking my thrust
So my noble lady
I have a blame with you.


Tree Song

' When the hand of life is very heavy, And no singing for night, Here it's the time of being with lovers, and when we love and surrender , Oh how tender is the hand of life , and how much singing in the nights .'

~Khalil Gebran



In spite of believing for a long time that the romantic written love is from the middle or low level of people, we can now say that nothing big can one lover give to the other but a few beautiful words that express his love.

But we have so many examples of using this way of nice words even inside the royal palace. The most famous example from Ancient Egypt is that done by Rameses II for his beautiful beloved wife Nefertari, and even if we believe that maybe he didn't write it himself and just ordered the scribe of the Royal palace to do it for him, it doesn't deny that he has this sense of art to order something like that. We find this poem on the walls of the temple he dedicated to her at Abu Simbel and at Luxor and Karnak and here we can read :-

Nefertari‘The lady of the noble origin, and the high position, the lady of the high attraction, the tender in love, the queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, the lady of the pure hands when she moves the sistrums before her father Amun to make him happy, the lady of the nice face, the beautiful by her two high feathers, the chief of the Horus the lord of the palace, all the people are happy for what she says. When she asks about anything immediately all the people do for her all of what is in her mind from the good thing, all of her speech makes all the people happy. Her voice gives life to all, the great royal wife whom he loves, the wife of the strong bull, the lord of the two lands, Nefertari, the beloved of Mut'‘_

And still there is love, this sacred gift given by God to warm our hearts and make life easier, full of happiness and joy. Thank you God.

* - ‘ Turin Papyrus 1966' 3 uncompleted poem without names, but told on the tongue of the trees that's why it is called ‘The garden's songs ‘.
* - Inscriptions from Luxor temple .



ARTICLE BY:
Amgad Refai
© Amgad Refai. Article used with permission.
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