Dialogue of a Man & His Soul

min-temple-of-hathor-deir-el-medina-2

Part One 

I opened my mouth to my soul:

This is too much for me to stand today

my soul will not talk to me

It really is too much

 

It is as if you are abandoning me

Let not my soul go away

you should attend me

and my body with its net of tightening cords

 

Because on the day of pain you will not be able to flee

Look, my soul misleads me, I won’t listen to it

it drags me towards death before I am ready

casts me into the fire so as to burn

 

My soul be with me on the day of pain,

let it stand by my side as a true companion

My soul, too ignorant in life to assuage my pain

leading me towards death before I am ready

 

Sweeten the West for me

Is that so hard?

Life is a journey. Trees fall.

Tread down evil, end my misery

 

May Thoth judge me, who appeases the gods

May Khons defend me, he who writes truly

May Ra hear my speech, who calms the boat of the sun

May Isde defend me in the sacred hall of the West

 

My suffering is too heavy a burden

for me to bear

May it please the gods to relieve

my body of its secrets.

 

Part Two

My soul opened its mouth to me

to answer what I had said:

Are you not a man?

Are you not alive?

What do you gain by complaining

of life as if you were a rich man?

 

I said:

I will not go on so long

as this remains unanswered

If you run away

you will come to grief too

Every criminal will say: I seize you

Even in death, your name lives on

Yonder is the place of rest, the heart’s goal

The West is a dwelling place, a voyage.

 

If you my soul will listen to me

without malice

your heart in accord with me

I shall be happy

I shall reach the West like one who is in his tomb

whose burial his survivors tend.

 

I shall make a shelter over our corpse

so that you shall make other weary souls envious

I shall make a shelter

it will not be cold

so you shall make another soul

who is too hot, envious.

 

You shall drink cool clear water

from a pond over which I will make shade,

so that you shall make another soul, who hungers, envious.

 

But if you lead me towards death in this manner

you will not find a place in the West to rest.

 

Be patient, my soul, my brother

until my heir comes

who will make offerings

who will stand at the tomb on the day of burial

having prepared the bier in the graveyard.

 

My soul opened its mouth to me,

to answer what I had said:

If you think of burial, it is heartbreak

It is the bringing of tears, it is making a man sad

It is taking a man out of his house

so that he is left on the hillside

He will never see the sun again.

 

Those who build in granite

who erected halls in excellent tombs of excellent construction

—when the builders have become gods

their offering-stones are desolate

as if they were the dead

who died on the riverbank for lack of an heir.

 

The flood takes its toll, the sun also

The fish at the water’s edge talk to them

Listen to me

It is good for people to listen

Follow the feast day, forget worry and care.

 

A man ploughed his plot

He loaded his harvest into a boat

He towed the freight

As his feast day approached

he saw the darkness of the north wind rising

As the night came on, the boat foundered

with his wife and children therein

in crocodile haunted waters.

 

When he saw what happened

he sat down and he said:

I do not weep for that mother

for whom there is no coming forth from the West

for another time­ on earth

I weep for her unborn children

broken in the egg

who saw the face of the Crocodile

before they had lived.

 

A man asked for his dinner in the afternoon

His wife said: That’s for later!

He went grumbling out of the house

When he came back in

he was like someone else

His wife implored him

but he would not listen to her

He was heedless, he dishonoured the household.

 

Part Three

I opened my mouth to my soul

to answer what it had said:

 

1

Let my name stink

worse than the smell of bird droppings

on summer days when the sky burns

 

Let my name stink

worse than a catch of fish

on days when the sky burns

 

Let my name stink

worse than ducks smell

worse than reed beds full of water fowl

 

Let my name stink

worse than fishermen smell

in stagnant marsh-pools where they fish

 

Let my name stink

worse than crocodiles smell

worse than a muddy bank where crocodiles lie and shit

 

Let my name stink

worse than that of a wife

about whom lies are told to her husband

 

Let my name stink

worse than that of a sturdy boy

who belongs to someone who disowns him

 

Let my name stink

worse than a king’s town

which plots treachery behind his back.

 

2

Who shall I talk to today?

Brothers are mean

friends I once had don’t love me anymore

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Hearts are greedy

everyone robs his neighbour

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Kindness has perished

insolence assaults everyone

 

Who shall I talk to today?

People are content to do evil

while goodness is cast on the ground

 

Who shall I talk to today?

He who should enrage men with his crimes

—everyone laughs at his daring

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Men plunder;

they seize their neighbour’s goods

 

Who shall I talk to today?

The reprobate is honoured

while the brother with whom I worked is now an enemy.

 

Who shall I talk to today?

No one remembers the past;

no one helps the one who helped them before

 

Who shall I talk to today?

My fellows are evil;

one has to ask strangers for affection

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Faces are blank

everyone turns away

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Hearts are greedy;

no-one can be trusted

 

Who shall I talk to today?

There are no righteous men;

the land belongs to those who do wrong

 

Who shall I talk to today?

I have no friends;

I complain uselessly to strangers

 

Who shall I talk to today?

No one is happy;

the one I used to walk and talk with is gone

 

Who shall I talk to today?

I am burdened with grief

for lack of a friend

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Error is everywhere

and there is no end to it.

 

3.

Death is before me today

like a sick man’s recovery

like freedom after being locked up

 

Death is before me today

like the fragrance of myrrh

like sitting beneath a canopy on a windy day

 

Death is before me today

like the fragrance of lotus

like reclining on the shore of drunkenness

 

Death is before me today

like a well-trodden road

or a man coming home from war

 

Death is before me today

like a rainy sky clearing

like a man remembering something he had forgotten

 

Death is before me today

like a longing for home

after years spent in slavery.

 

4.

Truly, he who is yonder is the living god

punishing the criminal’s transgressions

 

Truly, he who is yonder will stand on the ship of the sun

and cause richness to flow into the temples

 

Truly, he who is yonder is a wise man

and will be heard by Ra when he speaks.

 

Part Four

What my soul said to me:

Now throw your complaining

on the woodpile

my comrade, my brother

 

Whether you offer yourself up on the brazier

whether you bear down on life

as you say you will

love me here when you have set aside the West!

 

But when you attain the West

when your body joins the earth

after you have become weary

I shall alight

and then we shall dwell together again!

 

Colophon

It is finished

from beginning to end

as it was found in the writing.

adapted from a ms from the 12th Dynasty, in Ancient Egyptian Literature; vol. 1: The Old & Middle Kingdoms; ed. Miriam Lictheim; UCP, 1975
image: Min receiving the Eye of Horus, Temple of Hathor, Deir-el-Medina, near Thebes
the soul addressed is the Ba
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