Original poem reprinted online here: "At the Archaeological Institute of America's Annual Meeting" by Ernest Hilbert
Originally read: May 25, 2013
More information about the Poet: Ernest Hilbert
So I didn't know this was a variation on the sonnet form until I read his bio. Then I scanned the poem, and saw how the variations fit with the idea of the poem -- a sort of befuddled chaos of a colony of academics trying to figure out their place in history, "O, ungrateful hordes! Archaeologists / Mill through the hotel lobby".
Well, maybe not as grandeur, but the form (which I think resembles an Elizabethan sonnet because of the couplet at the end) shows the attempt to contain the humor and seriousness of the situation of "metaphorical action to stay in Academia, parallel to the work Archaeologists should be doing."
Past me put down basically, "archaeology should be doing" because their action is compounded with the accenting verbs to create a sense of importance in the line, but the actions are so trivial, "Clogging doorways, aiming all ways, vaguely / Swerving clots of unflappable classicists" (bolding mine) Even though the lines create humor due to the language ("unflappable classicists" sounds nice sonically, and act contrary to the scene), there the sense of the lost here -- regardless if there's grace under pressure or prestige from the ivory tower.
The transition of "while" in the next line refocuses the chaos to the "counterparts," "[...] undertakers / Are busy burying, they burrow to see / What's still down there. "Note that this is the perspective of someone in the field. How observant the undertakers are, well they actually "think" rather than just be "like jammed cars."
So what do the undertakers think of Archaeologists? "Set of character would meddle with tombs / Of emperors, queens and great poets!" The diction here is precise. When the speaker mentions "great poets" the door constricts by adding the literary academia into the poem -- more congestion into traffic.
The last five lines shows the actions of the "Archaeologists" judged from the perspective of undertakers:
They hunt all summer long the long interred,
Gather smashed shields, pry seals from anterooms,
Blow dust from sherds, dive to black ships.
Veering, talk to talk, they discuss ancient glory,
Building careers, then joining their quarry. (bolding mine).
Once again the actions the archaeologists take are accented at the beginning of the line as though to bring attention and importance to what they do. I feel the accented first lines also change the humor from a distanced humor based on perpendicular thoughts, to the classic definition of comedy when
the tragic goes full circle.
Look at the actions of the "archaeologists," "gather," "blow," and "veer" in which the actions are meant to preserve items and themselves. What about the verbs like to "think" like the undertakers do, or better yet "explore," or worse, "learn." These are actions not taken.
Instead with the sherds (fragments) they collect, they build their own careers their "glory," yet in doing so so they are as ineffective as their "quarry" -- yes the rhyme emphasizes the connection there of the disconnect between the past discards and future immortality.