Come drown me in your sweet breath as it whispers from your lips
And blind me by your beauty in the light,
And poison me with poetry—for let me touch your soul just once
And I shall forfeit mine, yet be revived.
Call out my name at any point throughout eternity, my love,
And even after death I shall reply.
The poem that Merit composes for Smenkh-ka-re in The Scarab Heart is my reworking of one mentioned by the amateur archaeologist and controversial historian Immanuel Velikovsky (1895—1979) on page 137 of his 1960 book Oedipus and Akhenaten, in which he argued that the Oedipus legend was founded on the lives and tribulations of Akhen-aton and his family. Here is the poem as it appeared in his book; if you compare the two you should be able to see how I arrived at my version:
I inhale the sweet breeze that comes from thy mouth
I contemplate thy beauty every day.
It’s my desire to hear thy lovely voice like the north wind’s whiff.
Love will rejuvenate my limbs.
Give me thy hands that hold thy soul
I shall embrace and live by it.
Call me by name again, again, forever and never will it sound without response.
The trouble is Velikovsky did not make it clear on which gold foil the poem was supposed to be “scratched”. If he meant the gold sheets that covered the KV55 mummy in its casket, these were recorded as “uninscribed” by Gaston Maspero, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, at Edward Ayrton’s and Theodore Davis’s unwrapping ceremony in 1907. These sheets disappeared soon after, though some have since resurfaced and are now housed in the Cairo Museum in Egypt and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. However, if he meant the gold-leaf that adorned the foot of the coffin, this is in fact an embossed—not “scratched”—Atonist prayer. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate a suitable translation in order to make a comparison.
Velikovsky also failed to cite a translator, which might indicate that he wanted people to believe he translated it himself. It’s equally possible that it’s the work of Alan Gardiner, who in 1957 studied the inscriptions on the KV55 casket, and made the first weighty suggestion that its occupant was Smenkh-ka-re.
Despite the poem’s dubious provenance and its use of stilted, dated language, the last line struck me as being extraordinarily beautiful: a promise of love that defies even death. I read it and re-read it, and then suddenly had a eureka moment where I realized that The Scarab Heart needed to be a love story of operatic proportion.
The Scarab Heart owes much to Velikovsky, whose extraordinary—yet not entirely implausible—ideas led me to piece together its complex and fascinating plot.
To download a 300 DPI high resolution jpeg, which should print a poster of the poem quite happily up to 16”x20”, right click the image below and select "Save link as..." or "Save target as...". File size 2.49MB; 5:4 height to width ratio.