Thursday, March 14, 2013

Address to the Mummy in Belzoni's Exhibition

And thou hast walked about (how strange a story!)
In Thebes' streets three thousand years ago,
When the Memnonium was in all its glory'
And time had not begun to overthrow
Those temples, palaces, and piles stupendous,
Of which the very ruins are tremendous!

Speak! for thou long enough hast acted dummy;
Thou hast a tongue, come, let us hear its tune;
Thou'rt standing on thy legs above ground, mummy!
Revisiting the glimpses of the moon.
Not like thin ghosts or disembodied creatures,
But with thy bones and flesh, and limbs and features

Tell us - for doubtless thou canst recollect -
To whom should we assign the Sphinx's fame?
Was Cheops or Cephrenes architect
Of either pyramid that bears his name?
Is Pompey's pillar really a misnomer?
Had Thebes a hundred gates, as sung by Homer?

Perhaps thou wert a mason, and forbidden
By oath to tell the secret of thy trade,-
Then say, what secret melody was hidden
In Memnon's statue, which at sunrise played?
Perhaps thou wert a priest,- if so, my struggles
Are vain, for priestcraft never owns its juggles.

Perchance that very hand, now pinioned flat,
Has hob-a-nobbed with Pharaoh, glass to glass;
Or dropped a halfpenny in Homer's hat,
Or doffed thine own to let Queen Dido pass,
Or held, by Solomon's own invitation,
A torch at the great Temples dedication.

I need not ask thee if that hand, when armed,
Has any Roman soldier mauled and knuckled,
For thou wert dead, and buried, and embalmed,
Ere Romulos and Remus had been suckled:
Antiquity appears to have begun
Long after thy primeval race was run.

Thou couldst develop, if that withered tongue
Might tell us what those slightest orbs have seen,
How the world looked when it was fresh and young,
And the great deluge still had left it green;
Or was it then so old, that history's pages
Contained no record of its early ages?

Still silent, incommunicative elf !
Art sworn to secrecy? then keeps thy vows;
But prithee tell us something of thyself;
reveal the secrets of thy prison house;
Since in the world of  spirits thou hast slumbered,
What hast thou seen,- what strange adventures numbered?

Since first thy form was in this box extended,
We have, above ground, seen some strange mutations;
The Roman empire has begun and ended,
New worlds have risen, - we have lost old nations,
And countless kings have in dust been humbled,
Whilst not a fragment of thy flesh has crumbled.

Didst thou not hear the pother o'er thy head,
When the great Persian conqueror, Cambyses,
Marched armies o'er thy tomb with thundering tread,
O'erthrew Osiris, Orus, Apis, Isis,
And shook the pyramids with fear and wonder,
When the gigantic Memnon fell asunder?

If the tomb's secrets may not be confessed,
The nature of thy private life unfold:
A heart has throbbed beneath that leatheren breast,
And tears adown that dusky cheek have rolled:
Have children climbed those knees, and kissed that face?
What was thy name and station, age and race?

Statue of flesh, - immortal of the dead!
Imperishable type of evanescence!
Pasthumous man, who quittest thy narrow bed,
And standest undecayed in our presence,
Thou wilt here nothing until the judgment morning,
When the great trump shall thrill thee with its warning.

Why should this worthless tegument endure,
If its undying guest be lost forever?
O' let us keep the soul embalmed and pure
In living virtue, that, when both must sever,
Although corruption may our frame consume,
The immortal spirits in the sky may bloom.

Horace Smith

The Universal Anthology, Edited by Richard Garnett, The Clarke Company Limited, London. 1899

1 comment:

Andie said...

I've never seen this poem before, Tim, and it's really fun! Thank you very much for posting it.