In Their Own Words
Thomas Meyer's “Airs Waters Places”
AIRS WATERS PLACES
Aegyptian Love Song
I breathe the sweet breath which comes forth from thy mouth. I behold thy beauty every day. It is my desire that I may be rejuvenated with life through love of thee. Give me thy hands, holding thy spirit. That I may receive it and may live by it. Call thou upon my name unto eternity and it shall never fail.
When you come to a city
you've never been to before.
What do you see?
Dry flat hunks of clay
they might be words
pressed onto them.
To make an inventory
took seven hundred years.
Knowing things like this
finds out other things.
Summer or winter. Stars
rise and set. Such a one
knowing these things
in particular practices
Despite second thoughts.
The stars add an uncommon lot.
A city. Winter
Plenty of water
Cold winds in summer.
Gone blind. A long life nonetheless.
The city faces which way?
Water flows to the sun rising.
Clear, sweet smelling, soft.
Good to drink.
See it that way.
Scarcely touched. Cloudy ponds.
No direct sunlight.
yet cold breezes and heavy dew.
More like autumn.
Dawn and dusk
Rough, hoarse talking.
Summer marsh. Still waters. Fevers.
Or waters with frog eggs in them.
Those that flow from hills.
Sweet and clear.
Rain water. Snow melting.
Sun draws the light sweet water
that is rain. But all water
once ice never recovers.
When we drink from rivers
or streams or lakes
we drink all sorts of waters,
sweet, harsh, salt.
The north wind gives them their strength.
Autumn rain, mild winter.
Spring and summer seasonal.
Some fatal. Some pass away. Some change.
Study. Look and see.
Be careful when autumn changes to winter,
winter to spring, spring to summer.
A long story. Asia and Europe.
Courage, endurance, work.
Mild, beautiful, large.
the middle of sunrise.
To take great pleasure.
Difference of soil and seasons.
Difference of people living there.
Mountains, forests, plains, meadows.
Some places trees cover. Others
bare and dry.
This is the result of that
though no longer the case.
Want becomes need.
Fens, woods, warm, humid. Much
hard rain. All year round. Life
amid water. Rough speech
made so by breathing cloudy air.
Seasons lacking much difference
work against change and understanding.
Perhaps this is obvious. Maybe not.
Then there is the matter of undeciding.
The women ride horses, shoot arrows,
throw spears, and remain virgins
until they kill three enemies then
marry. All their strength depends upon
the fullness of their right arm.
Peculiar shape, not like anything else.
Prairie, rich meadows. Men live in wagons.
Houses on wheels. They eat boiled meat.
Cheese made of horses' milk.
Ice and snow provide drinking water.
What wild animals there are
are small and few.
Tawny from the cold, not the sun.
Soft, cold belly. Weak desire.
A slender body.
Nothing is any more divine
than anything else.
Tired and cold, desire disappears.
Height and shape owe
the seasons their changes.
Wild, alone, brave.
The captured heart
won't risk its love.
Rivers carry off still waters
and rain. How we are
is where we are.
Paraphrase. Parataxis. Praxis.
Its sweetness. Your breath takes away mine.
I look at your beauty every day.
I want loving you to give me a life.
Let me hold your hands, and your heart in mine.
To take it then live by it.
Say my name. This will last a long time.
On "Airs Waters Places"
Several years ago I read Thomas MacEvilley'sStructure of Ancient Thought. A book a friend gave me for Christmas. Not sure but think MacEvilley mentions there Hippocrates's "On Airs, Waters and Places." The title struck my ear, but got compressed. "Airs Waters Places." Eventually I did a "tracing" of it, a translation, sort of, all its simple, lovely pieces pared down, arranged with an occasional aside.
But this wasn't until early 2013 when Thomas MacEvilley died. For some reason thinking about Freud's Moses and Monotheism about the same time, I happened upon Alan Gardiner's translation of a love poem attributed to Akhenaton. It 'd been found wrapped inside a royal mummy. Papyrus flutters down upon the tomb floor...
But being an old fashioned modernist I felt it needed somehow to be recast, the Edwardian poetic diction dusted off, flattened, the deity made to triangulate the lovers rather than being one of them.
I too was in love. Or we were. MJW the dedicatee of "Airs Waters Places" was giving me our life, his sweet breath invents mine.
Why not start with the Gardiner translation and end with my revision, and in between put my Hippocrates cover version? As though one thing led to another.