To An Egyptian Mummy

Horace Smith

AND thou hast walked about—how strange a story!—   
  In Thebes’s 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 mysteries 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,           
  Hath 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 temple’s 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 Romulus 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 sightless 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 keep 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 into dust been humbled,   
While 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 hath throbbed beneath that leathern breast,   
  And tears adown that dusty 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!   
Posthumous man, who quitt’st thy narrow bed,   
  And standest undecayed within our presence!           
Thou wilt hear nothing till 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 spirit in the skies may bloom!

On the first floor, the British Museum in London has a remarkable collection of Egyptian mummies from all periods of Ancient Egypt.

Horace Smith's speciality was writing poems about Ancient Egyptian relics in the British Museum. His most famous effort was 'On a Stupendous Leg of Granite' written in competition with his friend Percy Shelley about fragments of a statue of Ramasses II. In a few dashed-off lines, Shelley trumped Smith's effort for eternity with his magnificent 'Ozymandias'.