This piece is a kind of poetic experiment. It is two independent texts (one composed by me in English, one transcribed from Egyptian) constructed and interleaved in a way that allows them to be read as one continuous poem, individually, or in a combination of languages. So at least three readings are possible (more if there are two or three readers and/or the texts are read in A, B, and A+B sequence in both languages). The inspiration comes from a moment just at dawn in January 2016, when hundreds of birds appeared seemingly from nowhere above the great Deir el Bahari Temple of Hatshepsut. The Temple’s proper name is Djeser Djeseru, which forms the title.
Dawn light and cliff glow
Bathe stone walls and altar –
White, orpiment, and umber
Blend to gold. There are birds, birds –
(wannaná nan apúdyu ḥarúsin ma rámaṯ ḳádsin ma apúdyu)#
(How these birds exist is with their faces as people and their nature as birds,)*
Banking and turning above, like waves against the cliffs, not touching, not crashing,
In conscious flow they call through the rock cove – Living, living.
(wúꜤꜤu amá madwáf ḫíft sanúwif ma mádu ramí:wat)
(One of them speaking to the other with the speech of crying.)
Crying like the Ba of Shu, a wind of souls,
They greet the shining sun who woke them
From dark caves beyond the mountain.
From lament to joy, their songs cheer – healing, healing,
(ará ma-ḫít iwásin ar wanmá sí:mu ar saḏfá’ ma kú:mat)
(After they come to eat plants and get nourished in the Black Land,)
As their waves subside. Dry rock silence replaces echoes of voices
And they descend to lush fields of birsim and sesame, cabbage and cane. Flying, flying,
(ḫanyásin ẖur ḥíḏwat nit pú’at)
(alighting under the brightness of the sky,)
They move to broader day. New light subsumes old thoughts.
Across flat rich land and canals,
The spectrum widens in greens and metal-shine,
Yet with old rhythms still sounding, sounding –
(ḫaparḫarásin ma ḳádsin (ni) apúdyu)
(then they change into their nature of birds.)
In their separated hearts, now just people, now just birds,
Echoes linger of Gods they praised in Most Sacred of Sacred Places:
Matt Whealton, May 2016, May 2017, January 2018
Djeser Djeseru is the Egyptian name of the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri. The Name is often translated as ‘Holy of Holies’. Here I translate as “Most Sacred of Sacred Places”, since Holy of Holies carries some confusing connotations from usage in other religious traditions. Djeser Djseru is the proper name of the Temple here. The central, most sacred shrine in a temple is usually called Per-Wer (pr-wr) ‘Great House’, or sometimes Set-Weret (s.t-wr.t) ‘Great Seat/Throne’.
#Burgundy italic reconstructed vocalizations are my own work.
*Black italic text in parentheses are from an inscription in the Cenotaph of Seti I at Abydos. Translation by James P. Allen. Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts. Yale Egyptological Studies 2, 1988: 1. Hieroglyphic text was transcribed from von Lieven, Alexandra. Grundriss des Laufes der Sterne: das sogenannte Nutbuch. Vol. 31. Museum Tusculanum Press, 2007, 408-409.
© Matthew J. Whealton, May 2016, 2017, 2018