“O Shabti” by Laurie Atkinson

Upon the earth in man’s domain
Divinity is easily bought,
For the living other’s claims
Can quell the troubles in their thoughts.
Yet as his words build mighty beacons
Cast to clasp hands with the sky,
In time the arm that beckons weakens,
Even Gods must surely die.
Though his monuments and altars
May forever, defiant stand,
When the wealthy body falters
Tiring of those it commands,
Mortal thoughts become alarming
’Neath even the deity’s brow,
As he who is in the place of embalming
Seems not so very distant now.

But fear not for when framed, anointed,
Seasoned, bottled, properly sealed,
Osiris leaves not disappointed
Those who know not how it feels.
Around the corpse’s faithful lie,
Bound with him for after life.
Given birth in their reply,
Given strength to bear his strife.
The kingdom calls out, fertile for them,
Fallow fields awaiting seed,
Plaster limbs will soon erupt when
Comes alive the master’s need.
For as on earth this cohort serves him,
Flesh no longer need obey,
For though time may poor preserve him,
She is kind to men of clay.

To live on, whilst the craftsman’s fingers
Wither beneath sand and feet,
Forgotten though his casting lingers,
To bear his tasks still incomplete.
Toys, no more, with garish faces,
No heart to weigh but, these tools, these hands
Crudely daubed, they take their places,
Gazing up to the beak nosed-man.

“Behold my barge, as that of Ra,
But who will pull the oars for it?
Oh Shabti, I know not where you are,”
“Here I am, I shall do it.”

“Shabti” was the name given in ancient Egypt to the servant figures made of plaster and clay placed in the tombs of the dead. In the afterlife the Pharaoh, or whichever prominent Egyptian the tomb belonged to, could call upon these followers by saying “O shabti” and then they would come to life to do their master’s bidding.