These poems only survive on papyrus scraps, bits of pottery, and flakes of limestone from the later part of the New Kingdom, though they must have descended from an oral tradition. From the decorations on the tomb walls, with nearly nude girls singing and dancing, we can assume that these songs were performed with music and dance at banquets and festivals.
They often use the term “brother” and “sister,” which in ancient Egyptian are terms of endearment, as we would call a person “baby” or “honey”. Many poems imagine situations in which the lovers might meet. The boy might wrestle a fish from the water (an erotic symbol in Egyptian times). The girl would make her dress transparent and expose her charms to entice the boy.
Am I Not Here With You?
Am I not here with you?
Then why have you set your heart to leave?
Why don’t you embrace me?
Has my deed come back upon me?
If you seek to caress my thighs.
Is it because you are thinking of food
that you would go away?
Or because you are a slave to your belly?
Is it because you care about clothes?
Well, I have a bedsheet!
Is it because you are hungry that you would leave?
Then take my breasts
that their gift may flow forth to you.
Better a day in the embrace of my beloved
than thousands on thousands anywhere else!
I Wish I Were Her Nubian Maid
I wish I were her Nubian maid,
her attendant in secret,
as she brings her a bowl of mandragoras.
It is in her hand,
while she gives pleasure.
In other words:
she would grant me
the hue of her whole body.
I wish I were the laundryman
of my beloved’s clothes,
for even just a month!
I would be strengthened
by grasping the garments
that touch her body.
For I would be washing out the moringa oils
that are in her kerchief.
Then I’d rub my body
with her castoff garments,
and she . . .
O how I would be in joy and delight,
my body vigorous!
I wish I were her little signet ring,
the keeper of her finger!
I would see her love
each and every day,
And I would steal her heart.
I Passed Close By His House
I passed close by his house,
and found his door ajar.
My beloved was standing beside his mother,
and with him all his brothers and sisters.
Love of him captures the heart
of all who walk along the way—
a precious youth without peer,
a lover excellent of character!
He gazed at me when I passed by,
but I must exult alone.
How joyfully does my heart rejoice, my beloved,
since I first saw you!
If only mother knew my heart
she would go inside for a while.
O Golden One, put that in her heart!
Then I could hurry to my beloved
and kiss him in front of everyone,
and not be ashamed because of anyone.
I would be happy to have them see
that you know me,
and would hold festival to my Goddess.
My heart leaps up to go forth
that I may gaze on my beloved.
How lovely it is to pass by!