Longing for Memphis (Papyrus Anastasi IV)

Farewell, my thoughts! Absconded,
they race toward a place they know well,
Upriver bound to see Memphis, House of Lord Ptah.
(And I wish I were with them!)

But I idle here absent-minded, wanting my thoughts back
to whisper me news of the City.
No task at all now prospers by this hand —
heart, torn from its perch, just not in it.

(Come to me, Ptah! carry me captive to Memphis,
let me gaze all around…and fly free!)
I would spend my workday wakeful and dutiful,
but the will drowses, heart
Veers away, will not stay in my body;
all other parts of me sickened to ennui—

The eye heavy with staring and studying,
ear, it will not be filled with good counsel,
Voice cracks, and words of the recitation
tumble and slur.

O Lord of the City friendly to young scribes,
be at peace with me!
Grant me to rise above this day’s infirmities!


The speaker of this poem is an apprentice scribe weary of his schoolwork and daydreaming of the big city.
He prays to Ptah, god of Memphis, to help him concentrate on his lesson. The text is from a student’s‘ ‘miscellany’’ of New Kingdom date (ca.1550–1070 B.C.).

Quoted from: Ancient Egyptian Litherature – an anthology, translated by John L.Foster

Alternate translation:

See, my heart has slipped away,
It is hurrying to the place it knows,
it is traveling upstream to see Memphis,
But I sit at home, and wait for my heart,
It tell me about the condition of Memphis.
No task succeeds any more in my hands,
my heart has departed from place.

Come to me, Ptah, and take me to Memphis.
Let me see you as desired;
I am awake, but my heart sleeps.
My heart is not in my body,
and all my limbs are seized by evil.
My eye is weary from seeing,
my ear does not hear, my voice is raw,
and all my words are garbled.
Be gracious to me and let me recuperate.

(Caminos l954, 150-2)

Alternate translation:

See how my heart runs
It flies to a spot it knows,
Going upstream to see Memphis, House of the Spirit of Ptah –
and I wish I were with it!
But I sit here expecting my heart back
so it can tell me how it is in Memphis.

No work can be done by hand,
my mind cannot concentrate.
o come to me, Ptah, to carry me off to Memphis,
Let me look about unhindered!
I would spend the day properly
but my heart is listless;
My mind will not stay in my body,
and misery seizes all of my limbs!
My eye is exhausted with staring,
my ear, it will not be filled,
my voice is hoarse and words become tumbled.
O my Lord, be at peace with me!
Help me to rise above all these things!

Quoted from: John L.Foster, “Hymns, Prayers and Songs, an Anthology of Ancient Egyptian Lyric Poetry”, p.145-146

Russian translation