To A Mummy- Arrigo Boito, translated from the Italian by Andra Bailard ’16

Oh Mummy, bound in tired,
Lavish papyrus,
Glorified mummy
Upon your shroud,
Forgive your descendants,
More learned than devoted,
For such mistreatment
Of your frail figure.

Born in the sun, your desert’s
Radiant sun,
In the searing, freeing breath
Of an open horizon,
You didn’t expect
The Romans to put you
On display one day
In cool, humid air.

Oh, incense’s scent!
Oh, wet nepenthe!
Profound, placid shadow
Of our monuments!
curious science pilfered
Powerless you
From such beautiful peace.

And like a dying blister
Emerges in the putrid mire,
You appear, to the public’s
Avaricious wonder;
The uncivilized world
Pointed a finger at
Such precious, orderly
Sepulchral relics.

The paleontologist approaches,
Diviner of symbols,
To interpret lineage from kings’
Initials upon your sarcophagus;
Your tomb’s mystery
Was wholly violated;
They stroked your hair
And called you by name.

Now, in this repository
Of great erudition,
Greedy museum guides
Install workshops and cathedrals,
Recount your tale to Englishmen
(To pay their dues)
Mangling the names (for shame!)
Of your mother tongue.

While gazing upon you
A child cowers in fear,
Wakes from nightmares
Of your horrible shape.
You rouse laughter on the lips
Of cynical Narcissus;
No one comes to you to pray
For mercy upon his soul.

Though you shut your soul away
In that deaf head,
I sense it, evidenced
Upon your gloomy brow,
But you can hear my heart
Leaping out with love,
But you feel the bite
Of tears and regret.

Better that your clay
Turn back into dust,
With such careful studies
Of your dear bindings;
That you fly towards the sun
As a violet perfume or as sand,
Riding the wind’s shoulders
Across vast heavens.

Better that, between the ocean’s
Turbid furies,
Amidst the whirlwinds,
You overcome the hurricane,
Then dwell in dales
Of pearls and coral
And probe the depths
Of an extraordinary earth.

Resting there for centuries
Will not change your fate,
You will see new people,
Dead, with sunken eyes
And Time, which ransacks them,
Will not leave a wrinkle
Upon your brow, bony
And cold as marble.

But a new day will come
When we tumble, trembling, pale,
Upon a somber valley,
Our errors at our backs,
And hear the trumpet
That will splinter every tomb.
Mummy, on that morning
You will shatter your case.

Turin, Egypt Museum, 1862.


Image: British Museum, Egypt mummies closeup by Marlo Sanchez Prada