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Poem introduction

I think I've said already that I feel myself that I'm an archaeologist manque - certainly I'm terribly keen on picking things up off the ground, particularly interested in pottery, and the next poem is about picking up a piece of pottery, but it's also I think about the past and ones fascination with the past and the strange continuities of things. It's called 'Sigma', as in the Greek letter of the alphabet. By the way, I pronounce the word S H E R D S "sherds"; some people say "shards", but you can distinguish your real archaeologist from your amateur person because a real archaeologist talks about sherds, not shards.

Sigma

Sigma

Unable to get on with anything,
Throwing out papers, fiddling with piled mess,
I pull a box of sherds out, stacked up here
Among the whole accumulation, less
Because I want to but because it's there -
A scattering of pottery I picked up
Among the Libyan middens I knew once,
And rake it over, chucking out here a cup-
Handle, broken, and a flaking rim:
And, in among it all, there's suddenly
This scrap that carries a graffito - Σ
A sigma, a scratched ess; and try to tell
Where it once fitted - as beginning or end,
As some abbreviated syllable,
Or sign of ownership, or just a scribble
Made on a day in 450BC
By someone else who messed about like this,
Unable to get on with anything,
But made his mark for someone else to see.


from Selected Poems (Enitharmon, 1997), copyright © Anthony Thwaite 1997, used by permission of the author

Recordings

Anthony Thwaite Reading from his Poems

1Monologue in the Valley of the Kings

2By the Sluice

3A Girdle Round the Earth

4For Louis MacNeice

5Called For

6At Marychurch

7Shock

8Imagine a City

9The Return

10Cockroach Story

11Together, Apart

12Sigma

13Potter

14Memoir

15Snakes

16Philip Larkin in New Orleans

17Elegiac Stanzas

18In 1936

19My Father's Poems

20Archaeology

21Watching

22Worst Words

23The Message

24A Crack of Air

25Doing Business

27Tune

27How to Behave

28Epiphany

29Movements

30Simple Poem

Books by Anthony Thwaite