Nut, the Sky, swallows the sun each evening and brings it forth into the world again at dawn.
GIVING BREATH TO OSIRIS
I am the blue egg of the Great Cackler. I am the egg of the world. I was asleep inside a mound of dirt, now I rise from a buried egg. I live, I say, I live. I smell the air. I sniff the air. I walk with my toes in the dirt. I give my family duck meat to eat. I guard the fledgling in the nest. What food there is for man in the sky, blue sky. A swallow darts and circles. I am the egg. I smell the air.
I am the first-born, the light of the sky. I breathe in the presence of a powerful god, under the belly of sky, upon the shoulder of Egypt. My breath is like a child to me. My breath hangs sweet in my nostrils. I am the blue egg of the Great Cackler. I grow. I swell. I sniff air. I live there like the wing of a goose.
What a journey I have made, the things I have seen. I am but one of you. In my hand I grasp the sailing mast, while my left hand trails in the water. The trees are heavy with figs and olives. A coconut drops to the ground. I have separated myself from myself to sail again on the green Nile waters. I sail to the temple where the gods have gathered to gaze at their faces in deep pools. In my boat the souls of the years sail with me. The hair stands on my head in the wind. I hear the splashing of oars like the cracking of a thin blue shell. Horus keeps one hand on the rudder. What a journey I have made, the things I have seen. We glide to the middle of the lake. Give me a cup of milk and cake or bread. Give me a jug of water and human flesh. Give me air to breathe and a strong sailing wind when I rise from the underworld.
A sycamore rises white from the river, filling itself with water and air. Fill me with water and air. I am the blue egg of the Great Cackler and I sniff the air. I grow and live. I breathe and live. On the banks of the Nile, the sky fills with birds and the sails of boats swell like lungs.
COMING FORTH AND PASSING THROUGH
The plug has been lifted from the unguent jar. A perfume of hours. The past has been rolled into a scroll I shall not see again. The eye of the hawk is unblinking. Open. Shut. Perfect.
I rise like the sun above olive trees, like the moon above date palms. Where there is light, I shall be. Where there is darkness, there is none of me. I rise like the moon above date palms. I am counted as one among stars.
Beam of light, sun and moon. Shining beast, man and woman. I am passing through. Come outside among the people. I am light. Gaze on me. Moon in darkness, sun in morning. Light is what I will on earth, along the Nile, among the people.
I have traveled through the tomb, dark and lonely ground. I am here now. I have come. I see. In the underworld, I embraced my father. I have burned away his darkness. I am his beloved. I have killed the snake. I have given him meat. I walk in my sleep through earth and heaven.
I have set the sky in two parts. I pass through. I wander the horizons. I have dusted my feet with earth. I have worn the skin of a black panther and chanted into the ears of children. I eat with my mouth. I chew with my jaw. I am a living god come forth. I am with the earth millions of years.
Three lyres. One sun in the east. The image of grace in my two eyes. One glad body. A day. The wind which moves the boats, moves them. The strident sun is walking through a field of stars. The beautiful one is singing in two halves of the sky. A child speaks. An old man nods and dreams. The people have come from their houses to sit in doorways to sniff the air.
O sun. O Ra. Osiris risen. O child climbing along mother's back, laughing. Two men in a bark boat, rowing, stop to hear your mother singing. Maat at the double season. Strident sun in heaven.
Ten thousand thousand sticks of light have been raised against the demon. He is fallen. His beard has been cut. His two hands and ten fingers have been severed. His sinews are torn by the knife.
Be quiet. Ra is in the wind. He speaks when the earth is silent and he alone existed until he named the names of things. River, he said, and River lived. Nile. Mountain. Beetle. Fisherman. From his tongue spring words of water. The river quakes with the sound of his voice. Air escaping from his nose. Breathe deep. The wind a sigh from his mother. Such things are made everyday: Duck, Mandrake, Raisin. Grape, Pomegranate, Melon. Cypress, Palm, Osiris.
THE AWAKENING OF OSIRIS
Air and earth are my horizons. What lies between is what I am. O infinite form of being: beast and stone and vegetable; the way a man may stand in his garden or dance by the river while wakes of small boats rock the reeds. The cities and the people in them, gods who walk in white linen, like women under the blue stone of heaven. I am the priest in a hidden house, guide to inner worlds. I am the idea of myself in my mother's belly, a bright trembling star in the memory of morning, a grain of sand blown east. I am the husband of Isis: woman, and widow, and witch. To embrace her is to dream of ripening wheat. To sleep in her arms is to dream of honey. With a word she drives the snakes from the river. The boats sail far to its mouth.
Air is what I breathe. Earth is where I stand. I have given my face to Amenta. It is white with heat. The world is bright as bronze. The dead rise up to see me, breathe the air and look into my face, a yellow disk on the eastern horizon.
THE HEART OF CARNELIAN
Mine is a heart of carnelian, crimson as murder on a holy day. Mine is a heart of cornel, the gnarled roots of a dogwood and the bursting of flowers. I am the broken wax seal on my lover's letters. I am the phoenix, the fiery sun, consuming and resuming myself. I pace the halls of the underworld. I knock on the doors of death. I wander into the fields to stare at the sun and lie in the grass, ripe as a fig. The souls of the gods are with me. They hum like flies in my ears. I am .1. I will what I will. Mine is a heart of carnelian, blood red as the crest of a phoenix.
RETURNING TO SEE HIS HOME
The night sun rests in the lap of a bear, dreaming in the northern sky. A half-moon, I shine above the legs. I come forth from the edge of heaven. I climb to the deepest pit of the sky and rest awhile above cooling rocks, above houses in the cities and people who sleep warm nights on the roofs under a half-moon, dreaming. Oh, I am weak and feeble at the sight of my children sleeping. Oh, I am weak with wonder to see my dark wife dreaming, her hair unbraided and perfumed, falling across her eyes and in her red, red mouth and around her firm, brown shoulders. I am weak and feeble, gliding in cloudless dark. Forgetful of the teeth and tongues of snakes, I rest above my homeland dreaming.
Below are my house and cattle. I grow a little stronger. My beams of light are arrows which wound the night and drive it back. I am the eye of a sleeping lion who dreams of stalking the fields with his mate. I am the eye of a resurrected man come home to kiss his wife. I am a half-moon, high in the darkness, a cup of light spilling dreams from the sky. I must move on to the furthest edge of heaven. The wheat in my fields has sprung up in straight rows. I am a half-moon in the night, keeping watch. I must move on.
A PREPONDERANCE OF STARRY BEINGS
O starry ones! I am a man by a river, gazing up. And how these same stars quiver above Kheraba and An. How these lights reach farther than the watch fires of Heliopolis. And what of hidden things?
O hawk! O restless son, traveling into this season. The snake writhes in your talons. Your wings brush the edge of the sky. Long flight of days, passing many lands, death sleeps among your many feathers.
O soul, ancient ram! come here by the pool to drink. Two horns of sense and reason implanted in your forehead. Son of the mountain sky. Dusty hoof which tramps an old trail.
O king! This rock on which we live endures. Yours is the plumed white crown, tower of flesh infused with spirit. Above, the eye of god is dreaming us. Below, we are. Air and earth and mist and fire. To the east the mountains are singing.
O lord of acacia trees! whose blooms are the first sensations, who binds the rags of mummies. This sad mortality! The boat is set upon its sledge and filled with yellow flowers. O jackal Anubis! I have passed through the underworld door. Nothing grows and nothing dies; all that was and would be, is. This life is a singular breath and your moving eye is time.
Upon the brow of men the word is writ, and in their hearts the word is deed. Smoke from temple fires curls like hair. The ankh in your one hand, the knife in your other. O he whose face is too ponderous for sculpture into stone! Hapi, the waters flow. Papyrus and lotus spring up. In your boat, sailing from some unknown city, your body glistens like water.
The gods have heard my name. Osiris. I am a man by the river, gazing up. Husband and tiller and reaper and king. I am the lord of seasons, of that which falls and returns to light. I am he who sowed the seed. I am the bread I have made.
This is such nourishing peace.
ADORATION OF RA
Rejoicing in the houses. The sound of brass bells on dancing ankles. The hips of women are swaying through dusty streets. Day upon day the sun is risen. Day upon day the sun will rise. Day upon day this heat on adobe walls and the splay of light on Osiris. Morning stars and eventide. Chants ring through the valley and across the sands, to rise to the altar of heaven. The soul of Osiris walks with wind into the temples of gods. He sets sail in the boat of the morning sun. He comes to port at eventide. He twists and twines through star-studded waters, the sound of his oars the ssh-sssh of wind. The sun beats on and on like a tireless heart.
Blessings on thee, hawk, fierce and beautiful as love, whose horizons are the edges of memory so vast a man gets lost. Blessings on thee, beetle sun, which rolls into life every day, kicking six legs and humming your shiny beetle song. This world is a little patch of ground you travel with no particular haste. The sun has burst upon the land, light yellow dust on the head of a bee. The gods are all in rejoicing. They are drunk with sun and singing, and they crown each other king. The lady of the house places garlands on Osiris. Vines and flowers from northern and southern cities meet themselves upon his forehead. "My lord," she says, "the sun is so bright today. It hovers between your shoulders." The idea of himself travels with him, affixed like the figurehead on a ship. His enemies beat themselves with sticks and fall in the water. From the netherworld the dead are rising to catch a glimpse of his shining face. The sea is pregnant with form. And the belly of sky is beautiful.
Every day, the sun. Every day. And I walk east in the garden to see you, west through the country to be with you. O sun, my head fills with light. Do not turn me away from your easy lust, whole in the sky, white with heat. Do not bind me in layers of darkness, a worm in the brown cake of earth. My hands are bread I have made every day. The sun comes into my heart where sparrows nest. I am ridiculous and rolling on the ground, pleased with such company. Every day, the sun on the wall, the sun, lingering on a ripe fig. I am he who worships the sun, a space in my heart a bird could fill. I am one who listens to the grass speaking in the garden. May I chew the green blade of eternity in a garden filled with sun. May I walk into the fire and be burned like kernels of wheat, ground into the pulp of existence. May the sun come and bake me brown as bread. May I rise like bread everyday.
In the field with my cattle, my shadow sinks into black earth and rises. The smell of things growing. The horizon parts like waking lovers and like a child, the sun rises from their sleep. The world watches its steps, old man, old child, old king. Sun passing in the sky, light of all that can be said, shadow of hidden things. Every face watches, every eye turns; resplendent dawn and evening. Such passion is existence. Every day the sun king rides his boat, glory dripping like water from an oar. Every day the streets fill with people, every face, turning. Such power can not be measured. Such love can not be told. Unspeakable grace in the fields and cities. I dip my bread in milk and eat.
Mantis, this landscape is hidden from all but the most holy eye. O sun, going out to the sea's edge over the crest of mountain, what might man call home but the light in his head, the scroll in his heart? What darklings wait with blood red teeth within the walls of his sacred home? Such country the sun has seen, truth like memory or love. Such colors of robes some young women wear, more mauve than grapes their gowns and eyes. What is hidden belongs to the sun. It is too much for a man to know. It is
Ra who gathers the world together, who holds and beholds with his eye, this juxtaposition of vegetation and air, the thousand colors of prayer and stone. Having sprung from formless water, he takes his shape in fire. He springs from the mouth of the horizon as if he were the first word he uttered. May he string his words into song. May be roll through the heavens like music. And for as long as the sun is singing, may the strings of my soul hum like a lyre.
Sun, your number is one, multiplied by millions. I am but a man with my thousand longings for unity. May we never cease to be. May there be no time in which a man must count the days toward some end. o, that life could be more than its fragments. No before and no after, no exaltation but in the timeless one. The sun is striding over heaven, crossing distances of millions of years, and the hundreds of thousands of millions... one day of the sun. He set-rises, set-rises, set-rises over thousands of cities, trees and mountains and men. The distance of the instant. He has made an end to hours, and likewise, counted them. In the morning, earth fills with light. Law and baptism. The one of us all, endures. It is our work under the sun.
Speak of the rising heart of carnelian. Red heart of a living god, old priest in an ancient tomb, an image scratched into muscle and blood. On this stony plateau we stand, all our days like beads of lapis strung on the throat of sky. We stand. Existent cities washed with color. Ash of night fallen underground. The great world pours out its unguents and the little world is made great. A shout among many people rises on a day of splendor when the sun folds back on itself. He deepens and lengthens and thickens, molding his body with light. The sun is grinding itself like corn. Tendrils of fire seek their limits of light. This is the color of time, the joy and pain of a birthing mother. He is born in the form of Ra. He creates himself on his mother's thigh.
May I reach an everlasting heaven and walk in the legend of mountain with thoughts as quiet as deer. May I meet myself in every vegetable and rock quickened by tendrils of light. Holy and perfect is the world which lives by fire in the embrace of the carnelian heart. May 1 walk with the sun until eventide, forgetting the reason of hours. May I burst into light like a purple flower remembered by a lover.
The sun has risen like gold or wheat, aurora in the land of his birth, splendor in a country of sky. His mother is wrapped in the gauze of air, the disc revolves in her hand like a bowl of meal. Egypt will be fed. Great light bursts on the horizon and men who've slept in the dark with stomachs empty as night, rush into the streets hungry, happy to eat morning. Ten thousand thousand fingers are washed in the Nile flood, ten thousand thousand grapes and olives are fed by living water. In the towns and in the temples there is a festival of wine and flowers, one song many lutes are playing. A woman suckles her baby, while her husband, drunk with meat and beer, lies in the shade of a fig tree, singing praises to her inner thigh.
Might of might. Splendor of splendor. This is the terror inherent in love: that such power may exist without reason, that death may be feared and lusted for as a woman, that passion gives rise to passion. I am moved by desire as if in a boat transported from horizon to horizon. What I have done for love, let it be held against me. I am a man whose heart is too full. I am a man empty of sin. It is life I desire and my lust for it and I shall enter the heart of the mountain together. Together we shall be judged by shining beasts and they shall say "There walks he who loved life." One day, with a shout, I'll rise through the sky. My voice will mingle with air. I'll cross horizons; with silver wings I'll enter the realm of magic. Within the temple of mountain and sky, corn grows amid earth's yellow scars. This is the sacred cathedral of Ra into which men long to enter. My name will recall the countless stars under which new lovers kiss. Death ferries me to a distant shore while striped fish spawn on turquoise waters, while black fish leap in white rivers.
The universe is drawn in circles. The memory of chariot wheels clacking across small stones foreshadows the asp's death as he wraps himself around the wheel. He is crushed by its embrace. The air crackles when Ra is within. And sailors who've known only cities by the sea and the whip of the rope and sail, come to moor at last amid a crush of flowers, and rejoice and weep and go on. The days before and the days after fill with the odor of pomegranates; the heart ripens like fruit and falls and breaks. Sweet meat for the lips of gods. On such a day one glances into the sky and finds the eye of Ra looks back. One finds loaves of bread on fine reed mats and the eye of Ra looks back. The air crackles. The sun beats on and on and on.
From The Egyptian
Book of the Dead
translated by Normandi Ellis
excerpts from Normandi Ellis' translation of the Egyptian
Book of the Dead, published by Phanes Press in
1991 (ISBN 0933999747).
Available from bookstores or online bookstores, e.g. amazon.
Published here by kind permission of Normandi Ellis.