A rock wall soars between
The shattered temple-tombs reflected in the Nile
And this moon-mining scene.
The donkeys, bruised, dejected, crop the gravel, while
You stumble round
The boulders towards the broken lean
To entrance, but a ticket for the plunging mile
Of mirror-pictures underground,
And leave the sun to shine.
The slanted subway takes
Your breath away, then slowly gives it back, but cold.
Perhaps you come at last to your entombment. Old
Fears rise up to flood
Your life’s deep subterranean lakes,
Carved in the stone of childhood, ready to enfold
The late and early terrors. Would
This art withstand earthquakes?
Here docile figures wait
Impassively: the farmer farms, the priest still prays,
The king conserves the state
By adoration, while a god of judgement weighs
In level scales
His heart against the feather – Ma’at –
Of truth. How lightly drawn that feather is! God’s gaze
Upon the king; for if he fails
This test, his heart falls out.
Yet like a children’s book
These speaking pictures pass you by. You are too wise
To take a second look.
Death is the subject for a later date. Your eyes
Are on the stars
Above, gold against blue, which took
Three thousand years to bring you light. But round those skies
The criss-cross Ankh sign, outspread, bars
You back, like a shepherd’s crook.
From what? The false doors lead
In all directions save the one where you should go.
This painted food will feed
Only imperishable people. Stars which glow
Like real stars lose
Their seeming lustre when you need
Them to disclose the way. From what? I do not know –
Except I know that you may choose
Which hieroglyphs to read.
Silence on silence: room
Upon frescoed room, each filled with figures, turned
In profile towards that tomb
On which these ante-camere give. Their eyes have spurned
Your realm of death -
Desert of no dying where you roam
At random; youth which must last always. Having learned
Otherwise, each holds his breath
In wonder at your gloom.
For if they breathed on you,
Would you not fall into a trance of trust? And would
Not air, if stirred, imbue
A faith compelling hope, compelling love? They could
Reveal a world,
All out of sight, though shining, the true
Atlantis. But not so, not so is a childhood
Like that achieved. Their eyes are pearled,
Are crystal, lapis blue.
Now you have reached the goal
Of all this delving. Now you enter on the last
Grand levee of the soul
After a life led looking towards a tomb. The vast
Stillness shimmers. Light,
Sunlight at the bottom of a hole,
Glazes the ‘Window of Appearances’, and, past
Guardians from Kush, quartzite
Glitters: then the drums roll.
See, there the Pharaoh is!
Double-crowned and sceptered with a shepherd’s crook.
Gold. He is gold. And this
Is real gold too. All gold, as in a story book.
Like that Great Green,
Which you have crossed, turned turquoise,
The faience gleams. Such art is subtler than the Greek.
For no king’s smile has since been seen
As calm, as rapt as his.
Why does this young man smile?
Why are these gold Egyptians gay in death? What word
Turns back for them the Nile
Of lost identity? How, living, have they heard
The desolate funeral flutes? That trial
Of the heart which follows these tomb rites, has it occurred
Never too soon? And who goes bond
For those who cannot smile?
Questions. The air is cold.
The silence of this throne room moves you to recall
Those tapestries that told
You, when a boy, about your being here. Each wall
Displayed a scene
In which Egyptian life unrolled;
That linen faithful to this stone. Your playroom, all
The text you now unfold.
But are you young enough
To die? This theme usurps the lyre again. How will
You meet that moment of
Being forever as you are? See with what skill
This king has kept
A look of unchanged youth, as if
He had not ever died at all, was ruling still.
These Thebans think he has but slept;
Awakes elsewhere to love.
The Field of Reeds, that land
Beyond the west - there water-lilies fringe the lakes,
They say. There tamarisks stand
Along the shores. And there the glowing sun-ship breaks
The light in rays
That ripple on the coral sand
Below the flag-flown water-gates. The king forsakes
The sun-ship, as a trumpet plays,
The Ank sign in his hand.
This happens, they contend,
After the Sethem priests, in leopard skins, withdraw.
The scented oil lamps send
A wavering radiance in their wake. Then, chilled with awe,
The slaves let slip
Those granite blocks on which depend
The ramparts of this harbour underground. They saw
The king’s first smile, they claim. His ship
Was launched at the ebb-tide’s end.
So take a courtly leave
Of one who is and is not here to see you go.
Perhaps a bow? Retrieve
Your self-possession as these painted chambers flow
Back and away,
And, on your faltering forth, achieve
The burning gravelled air of life that donkeys know.
‘One comes to port in Thebes,’ you say,
Smiling so not to grieve.