Nick Drake (poet)
The tale survives of two men
Who fell in love "at first sight";
Who shared everything
In unbounded intimacy
Including the pillow
And the red embroidered coverlet
Which had been in the family
Whether they had bad days,
Or inappropriate dreams
We do not know –
No doubt such burrs
Were worked away by time
Polishing its story;
How they found each other
And lived together all their lives,
And died on the same day,
And were buried by the grieving town
On Mount Luofo's peak
With their pillow and red coverlet;
And a pine tree grew
Out of the grave
Like the character for longevity
And true love.
Such is the legend.
I like to think of them,
Pan Zhang and Wang Zhangxian,
In the crowd of well-wishers
Waiting in the April sunshine,
Yes, under white cherry trees
In full bloom, for us
Here and now, on this day
Early in the century,
In our very best suits and ties,
With our new rings
Growing warm on our fingers
Like keepsakes of light
Saved from the stars.
- From the Song Dynasty
The Rahotep series
Book 2: Tutankhamun
- For as I grow older, life seems to me simply an endless succession of problems to be solved, rather than hours to be enjoyed.
- Ch 1
- For a world with so much sun we live in a dark place, in a dark time.
- Fear, that unknowable and all-powerful enemy, has invaded us all, like a secret army of shadows.
- Ch 2
- ‘Everything you say always sounds exactly right, my friend. You have the gift of turning confusion into an epigram.’ He smiled.
‘Yes, but it is a kind of tyranny with me, for I am far too neat for my own good. And life, as we know, is mostly chaos.’
- Ch 3
- You are like one of your bees, going from flower to flower, sampling the nectar of this and that.
- This world and the Otherworld are full of curiosities and mysteries. It would take many lifetimes to understand them all. And disappointingly, it seems to me we only have one.
- Rhetoric is a dangerous art. It is the manipulation of the difference, one might say the distance, between truth and image [...] And in our times, that distance has become the means by which power is exercised [...] Rhetoric has been a force for persuasion since man began to speak, and to convince his enemy that he was indeed his friend.
- Be careful, Rahotep, I know these writers, they say “borrow” when they mean “steal.” You will soon read your words coming back to you on some privately circulated scroll of new verse.
- Give me the taste of truth any day.
- ‘I am against change. It is overrated. It improves nothing,’ said Hor.
‘Come now, that is an absurd opinion, and goes against all sense. It is merely a sign of age, for as we get older, so we believe the world gets worse, manners decline, standards of ethics and knowledge are eroded—’ said Nakht.
- Even words are not perhaps safe in these times.
- ‘Perhaps it is the human imagination that is the monster,’ he said. ‘I believe no animal suffers from the torments of the imagination. Only man…’
‘The imagination is capable of enacting the very best in us, and the very worst,’ agreed Hor, ‘and I know what mine would like to do to some people.’
‘Your verse is torment enough,’ quipped the architect.
‘And that is why civilized life, morality, ethics and so on, matter. We are half-enlightened, and half-monstrous,’ said Nakht assertively. ‘We must build our civility upon reason and mutual benefit.’
Sobek raised his cup.
‘I salute your reason. I wish it every success.’
- And you must never speak of what I have just told you. For this is a great secret. And great secrets bring with them great responsibilities.
- Fear is a powerful enemy, but a useful friend.
- Ch 6
- Order is the priority of power.
- Ch 9
- Once wine was the means to artificial happiness; now things are much more sophisticated, and what was one of the great secrets of medicine has become the only bliss many find in this life.
- Ch 10
- But words are imperfect, and our system of writing, for all its great glories, has its limitations in terms of its ability to describe creation in all its manifest and hidden glories ... So we would have to invent another way of describing things.
- Ch 11
- ‘Perhaps our childhoods are buried inside all of us. Perhaps they set the pattern for our futures,’ I suggested.
‘In that case I am doomed by mine,’ she said without self-pity.
‘Perhaps not, for you are aware of it,’ I said.
- Ch 18
- In these dark times people prefer to look away from everything they would rather not see.
- Ch 20
Book 3: Egypt: The Book of Chaos (2011)
- Cruelty, rage, grief — and something others carelessly name evil — can reduce the strange collation of profanity and beauty which makes up each of us to an inanimate lump of decaying meat.
- Ch 1
- It would be another day ruled by this world’s new gods: gold and power.
- Ch. 1
- ‘There is no such thing as a cheerful poem [...] Happiness writes in water, not ink.’
- Ch 2
- ‘I see I have shocked you all a little. But to be a poet is to accept the responsibility of speaking the truth! No matter what the cost to my personal safety [...] in matters of men and this world. I’m a poet, not a complete fool…’
- Ch. 2
- The truth is always the truth.
- Ch. 2
- Do intellect and morality count for nothing in the way the future unfolds? [...] Greed is our king, and corruption is his servant.
- Ch. 2
- There is truth in what you say. Truth is a dangerous muse. One dies for the truth.
- Ch. 2
- I dislike talk of the Gods, who taunt us with their promises, and whose disappointments we must always accept.
- Ch 3
- Maybe I’ve finally learned the bitter truth that I can’t beat them, even if I’ll never join them. But I’m not going to lose the one thing I can still call my own: my life. And you should wise up and do the same, especially with a new child on the way.
- Ch 4
- My old friend. I know you see the reality of the streets, and the miseries of the people, and that is a valuable perspective. But remember the world of the wealthy, the priests and the nobles also suffers from dangerous tribulations. The two are not mutually exclusive.
- Ch 5
- We need strong, educated women to help us build a better world.
- Ch 6
- Conflict defines nations. Enemies justify armies. Wars glorify generals. Without his great enemy to give him purpose and meaning, he will be significantly diminished. He will have to come to terms with us.
- Ch 7
- A little distance had opened between us, almost unnoticed, rarely acknowledged. We made love infrequently. The couch was for sleep at the end of exhausting days. I confided in her less often. Perhaps that is the fate of all marriages.
- Ch 8
- ‘I suspect you are intent upon some sort of revenge, in response to this dreadful tragedy?’
‘And?’ I said.
‘Let me counsel you. In moments such as this, we are inclined to allow the animal aspect of our natures to take control. It is a mistake. ... Because revenge can destroy a man as surely as the plague. It seems like a god, so pure and true, and full of its sense of justice and entitlement. But it is truly a monster. It feeds perpetually upon its own pain, and upon any pain it can find. And it can never be satisfied until everything has been destroyed utterly.’
- Ch 11
- Death makes us strangers to ourselves ... Do not indulge yourself in a self-pitying, self-gratifying revenge. More than likely you would simply end up dead as well.
- I would much rather have a living husband with no job and no gold than a dead one.
- ‘These ambassadors are all the same. They have the eyes of Anubis. And they make me feel like a servant. Like a shabti in a tomb. “Here I am. I will do it!”’
- Ch 12
- 'Come on, Rahotep. How do you think Royal Envoy Nakht gets his information about events in the north, and in the war? The army has its intelligence, and the palace has its own, too. The days when an invasion or an attack took place and no one heard about it for months are long gone. This war’s all about speed and information, and you can be sure Nakht has a very efficient system. The problem is, each system is always trying to infiltrate the other. And there’s always the danger of spies.’
- My dear friend, the world is really one vast marketplace. No one cares where a man is from as long as he has gold in his pocket, or something you want. And the remarkable thing is this: the wars have only encouraged demand, trade has actually boomed in these difficult years. The ships are full, everyone is happy. War and politics are irrelevant, unless the great flow of trade is disturbed.
- Ch 17
- Can love communicate over great distance? I could only hope so.
- Ch 20
- Hunger is no respecter of disaster.
- Ch 29
- ‘I don’t think he’d ever have made a strong king. He was weak as water. Can you imagine him smiting the enemy? Destroying them in battle? Having the guts to execute the opposition?’
‘Perhaps it’s time we had a king who didn’t do that. Perhaps it’s time we had a king who had other values on his mind,’ I said, playing nervously with my dagger to calm the growing anxiety inside me.
‘Reform of corruption. Civil order to prevent the abuses of power. Justice.’
- Ch 36