Deir El Bahari: Temple of Hatshepsut

How did she come here, when it was new and sparkling,
White and immaculate against the huge and spongy cliffs,
The great Queen, how did she come, in the cool of winter,
To review her voyages, perhaps, or admire her politics?
Not like the tourist, with his camera and serious weary step,
Not like the dragoman, with his sideways twist, poised in a revelatory date,
Not like the archaeologist, brisk, with a fly whisk . . .

Grand destination, deserving a green and pleasant air-field,
Or a royal station, garnished with banners and carpets–
How did she arrive, the peaceful Queen, to smile discreetly over her portraits–
Her masculine beard, being man, or her marvellous birth, being god?
To study her exotic wonders, the Red Sea fishes, the fat queen of Punt?
Not like the tourist, homesick on a hell-bred donkey,
Not like the dragoman, informed yet obsequious,
Not like the archaeologist, in a jeep, with new theories . . .

How did she reach here? Kohl-eyed and henna-stained?
Across her breast the whip and the crozier? The desert
Is old and democratic, rude and unpolished the rocks.
The figures of this landscape? During the season,
Gentlemen in shorts and sun-glasses, ladies with tweeds and twisted ankles,
And all the year, the little denizens, with leather feet and tattered gallabiehs,
The wide-striding village women, their drab and dusty dress . . .

But what of a Queen, and one who built this temple, so clean and deep and sure,
Curling inside the clenched and hanging cliff? What magic carpet
Drawn by bright and flying lions? What cloudburst of gold dust?
Between her treasures, incense trees and ivory, panther skins and ebony–
What laid her gently upon those sculptured steps?

D. J. Enright. From The Laughing Hyena and Other Poems (1953), available in Collected Poems 1948-1998 (Oxford University Press, 1998)


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