The poetry of the Egyptians is wholly unlike that of western nations, but closely resembles the rhythmical compositions of the Hebrews, with their parallelism of members, with which we are all familiar in the Book of Psalms, the Song of Solomon, &c. The most important collection of Egyptian Songs known to us is contained in the famous papyrus in the British Museum, No. 10,060, more commonly known as "Harris 500." This papyrus was probably written in the thirteenth century B.C., but many of the songs belong to a far earlier date. Though dealing with a variety of subjects, there is no doubt that all of them must be classed under the heading of "Love Songs." In them the lover compares the lady of his choice to many beautiful flowers and plants, and describes at considerable length the pain and grief which her absence causes him. The lines of the strophes are short, and the construction is simple, and it seems certain that the words owed their effect chiefly to the voice of the singer, who then, as now, employed many semitones and thirds of tones, and to the skill with which he played the accompaniment on his harp. A papyrus at Leyden, which was written a little later than the "Love Songs," contains three very curious compositions. The first is a sort of lament of a pomegranate tree, which, in spite of the service which it has rendered to the "sister and her brother," is not included among trees of the first class. In the second a fig tree expresses its gratitude and its readiness to do the will of its mistress, and to allow its branches to be cut off to make a bed for her. In the third a sycamore tree invites the lady of the land on [242]which it stands to come under the shadow of its branches, and to enjoy a happy time with her lover, and promises her that it will never speak about what it sees.

More interesting than any of the above songs is the so-called "Song of the Harper," of which two copies are known: the first is found in the papyrus Harris 500, already mentioned, and the second in a papyrus at Leyden. Extracts of this poem are also found on the walls of the tomb of Nefer-hetep at Thebes. The copy in the papyrus reads:

The Poem that is in the hall of the tomb of [the King of the South, the King of the North], Antuf,[1] whose word is truth, [and is cut] in front of the Harper.

O good prince, it is a decree,
And what hath been ordained thereby is well,
That the bodies of men shall pass away and disappear,
Whilst others remain.

Since the time of the oldest ancestors,
The gods who lived in olden time,
Who lie at rest in their sepulchres,
The Masters and also the Shining Ones,
Who have been buried in their splendid tombs,
Who have built sacrificial halls in their tombs,
Their place is no more.
Consider what hath become of them!

I have heard the words of Imhetep [2] and Herutataf,[3]
Which are treasured above everything because they uttered them.
Consider what hath become of their tombs!
Their walls have been thrown down;
Their places are no more;
They are just as if they had never existed.

Not one [of them] cometh from where they are.
[243] Who can describe to us their form (or, condition),
Who can describe to us their surroundings,
Who can give comfort to our hearts,
And can act as our guide
To the place whereunto they have departed?

Give comfort to thy heart,
And let thy heart forget these things;
What is best for thee to do is
To follow thy heart's desire as long as thou livest.

Anoint thy head with scented unguents.
Let thine apparel be of byssus
Dipped in costly [perfumes],
In the veritable products (?) of the gods.

Enjoy thyself more than thou hast ever done before,
And let not thy heart pine for lack of pleasure.

Pursue thy heart's desire and thine own happiness.
Order thy surroundings on earth in such a way
That they may minister to the desire of thy heart;
[For] at length that day of lamentation shall come,
Wherein he whose heart is still shall not hear the lamentation.
Never shall cries of grief cause
To beat [again] the heart of a man who is in the grave.

Therefore occupy thyself with thy pleasure daily,
And never cease to enjoy thyself.

Behold, a man is not permitted
To carry his possessions away with him.
Behold, there never was any one who, having departed,
Was able to come back again.

[1] He was one of the kings of the eleventh dynasty, about 2700 B.C.

[2] A high official of Tcheser, a king of the third dynasty.

[3] Son of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid (fourth dynasty.)