The Coming Forth by Day of Osiris Jones
Conrad Aiken’s beautiful and haunting little book of poems uses E. A. Wallis Budge’s translation of the Egyptian Book of Going Forth by Day, popularly known as the Book of the Dead, as a framework for exploring that which is eternal in the light of individual, transitory experience.
While the Book of the Dead instructs souls journeying to the afterlife on the visions they will see and the trials they must pass, Aiken makes an afterlife of this very world, giving voice to chairs, rooms, mirrors, and various other objects and allowing them to bear witness to the life of its titular character. They speak from a perspective strangely outside of time, giving an impression something like hieratic Egyptian figure drawings.
It is a stage of ether, without space, —
a space of limbo without time, —
a faceless clock that never strikes;
and it is bloodstream at its priestlike task,–
the indeterminate and determined heart,
that beats, and beats, and does not know it beats.
Or take this bit from “Mr. Jones Addresses a Looking-Glass,” possibly an echo of the classic Egyptian text “Dialog between Self and Soul”:
how can you know what here goes on
behind this flesh-bright frontal bone?
here are the world and god, become
for all their depth a simple Sum.
well, keep the change, then, Mr. Jones,
and, if you can, keep brains and bones,
but as for me I’d rather be
unconscious, except when I see.
Voices speak with a curious lack of interiority, and the effect is one of depersonalization, and of dawning awareness of a more transcendent movement passing through life.
and it is life, but it is also death,
it is the whisper of the always lost
but always known, it is the first and last
of heaven’s light, the end and the beginning,
follows the moving memory like a shadow,
and only rests, at last, when that too comes to rest.
A fascinating read, but sadly, rather difficult to find.