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Reader Mail "Shall I Compare Thee to a Backfill Pile?"
April 27, 2000


In reference to Shelley's irony, I do not know who to credit, but the verse

The sword of Charlemagne
of the mighty thrust,
Is now ferrous oxide,
known as rust.

rates consideration.


--Name not germane


At the end of the article, "Poetic Visions of the Past," Mr. Wiseman asks if there is another poem that deals with the ravages of time with such perfect irony as Shelley's "Ozymandias." I offer this poem. I found it about 35 years ago in a sci-fi magazine.

E=MC2 by Rosser Reeves

Some day, perhaps, some alien eye or eyes,
Blood red in cold and polished horny lids,
Set in a chitinous face
Will sweep the arch of some dark, distant sky
And see a nova flare,
A flick of light, no more.
A pinpoint on a photographic plate,
A foot-note in an alien chart of stars
Forgotten soon on miles of dusty shelves
Where alien beetles feed.
A meal for worms,
Sole epitaph
To mark the curious end of restless man,
Who for a second of galactic time
Floated upon a speck of cosmic dust
Around a minor sun.

Anyone still feel important????

Pat Sherman
Southwick, MA


I have greatly enjoyed your two articles on archaeology and poetry. Great stuff! I was surprised in our most recent article that although you mentioned Seamus Heaney, you left out a number of poems that he has written about archaeology. In fact, many if not most of the poems in his volume North deal directly with archaeology or with themes of antiquity and archaeological sites. His poem "Belderg" is written in honor of Seamus Caufield (University College Dublin) and his excavations in County Mayo of Neolithic landscapes sealed beneath the bog. The poem begins:

They just kept turning up
And were thought of a foreign'-
One-eyed and benign
They lie about his house
Quernstones out of a bog.

Other poems in this volume on archaeology include: "Viking Dublin: Trian Pieces," "The Grauballe Man," and others. Enjoy!

Best regards,

James P. Gallagher
Executive Director/Professor of Archaeology
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
La Crosse, WI

For Heaney's "Tollund Man," see the Internet Poetry Archive.

For more on the bog people, see the Silkeborg Museum Website and "Bodies of the Bogs," ARCHAEOLOGY Online, December 10, 1997.


What a wonderful departure from the humdrum were James Wiseman's reflections on poetry and archaeology! His observations led me back to a scrapbook which I had begun in 1949, about the time ARCHAEOLOGY first appeared.

In its fragile pages are two poems by New Englander Frances Minturn Howard. The first, "To an Unborn Archaeologist," appeared in the Saturday Review some time in the 1950s. The second, "Delos," was printed in the Christian Science Monitor of April 10, 1980.

Howard's economy of language nicely communicates her love of antiquity and her sympathy with the ordinary and extraordinary men and women who fashioned what was best of our legacy from the world of Greece and Rome. And in the first of the two poems she also reflects on how our achievement may be seen by the men and women of futurity.

The two call to mind Virginia Woolf's remark: "All the centuries seemed lit up, the past expressive, articulate; not dumb and forgotten; One had a sense of links fished up into the light which are usually submerged."

Such at any rate is the sense stirred by her lines in this writer.

Of the poet I have been able to find nothing biographical except for a note that she calls Andover, Massachusetts home. In the 1950s E.P. Dutton and Company published two anthologies from her pen:

All Keys Are Glass, 1950
Sleep Without Armor, 1953

Anyway, perhaps you may find it worthwhile to share one or perhaps both of these fine verses with ARCHAEOLOGY's readership, feeling, as I do, that they deserve a wider audience.

Best wishes as your 50th Anniversary year unfolds. May there be at least another fifty!

Alexander Cutrules
Tucson, AZ

Introduction | "The Muse Within Us" | "Poetic Visions of the Past" | Reader Mail | Poetry

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America