Isis: Dorothy Eady, 1924

Original Text: 
© Bethlehem in Broad Daylight: Poems by Mark Doty (Boston: David R. Godine, 1991): 19-20. PS 3554 O798B48 1991 Robarts Library
2I don't know if anyone can see how much more
3I've become tonight, when the boys
5    and another girl and I,
6  in simple white robes tied with golden sashes,
8in the Andrew Long translation:
9  Sing we Osiris dead, soft on the dead
10    that liveth are we calling.
11  The scene represents dawn,
12and before the painted canvas riverbank
13we are kneeling over the void
14  left by my husband the God.
15    Dorothy, my friend said,
16  how should I pose? I told her
17to bend as though we were mourning
18the world's first grief, though of course
19  there is no body, since God
20    has been torn to pieces
21  and I am to spend an eon
22reassembling him. In the floodlamps
23she speaks the text in her best elocution,
24  fixed in a tragic tableau,
25    and she makes no mistakes,
26  though she brushes the fringe
27of the dropcloth once and for an instant
28Egypt ripples. And though this pageant
29  on the stage of my father's theatre
30    isn't any more than prelude
31  to the cinema, I live my role,
32the world I remember -- I do remember --
33restored to an uncompromised luster,
34  not a single figure defaced
35    on the wall of anyone's tomb.
36  He was my husband,
37and I know he had to break apart,
38in the ancient world, and tonight,
39  so that in thousands of years,
40    in the intimacy of dreams,
41  the pageant's trance,
42I could reconstruct him
43bit by bit, like so many shards.
44  Anything can be restored,
45    even his golden hands.
46  There is no time here,
47where I am, on the stage of the Plymouth Theatre,
48reciting the lament the people used to walk
50    rendered into English verse wrongly,
51  though the audience accepts it,
52as they always have, and are moved.
Copyright 1991 Bethlehem in Broad Daylight: Poems by Mark Doty David R. Godine
Digital Facsimile of Original Pages


1] Mark Coty writes that "The poem is based on material from Jonathan Cott's book, THE SEARCH FOR OM SETY, which chronicles Dorothy Eady's life as an Egyptologist who believed herself the reincarnation of the mistress of an ancient Egyptian pharoah. As a teenager, she performed Andrew Lang's translation of an Egyptian poem as a kind of dramatic interlude on the stage of her father's movie theatre in Plymouth, England. In my poem I imagine that her experience of reciting the poem suddenly becomes a reality for her, one in which she completely identifies with the ancient world" (e-mail to the Editor, Dec. 14, 2000). Eady (otherwise known as Omm Sety, "mother of Seti"; 1904-81), an English woman, believed that she lived in a former life as Bentreshyt, an Egyptian priestess at the temple of Abydos who became the mistress of Sety I, pharoah, about 1300 B.C. Eady visited Egypt in the 1930s, married there and did research on the Temple of Isis at the Egyptian Antiquities Service, eventually becoming keeper of the temple. She co-authored with Hanny El Zeini Abydos: the Holy City of Ancient Egypt (Los Angeles: LL Company, 1981). Back to Line
4] Nubians: natives of Nubia, a north Africian land. Back to Line
7] Nephthys was the sister of Osiris, Isis, and Set, and the wife of Set. She and Isis, also Osiris's wife, reassembled his body after his murder by Set. Osiris then became the god of the dead. Back to Line
49] Thebes: an Egyptian city on the Nile near modern Qena, just north of Abydos. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.
Special Copyright: 

This poem cannot be published anywhere without the written consent of Mark Doty.