"They hunt all summer long the long interred, "
- Ernest Hilbert
And I thought what's the point of doing what we do? What's the purpose of our toiling. I was reminded of this and also an old Hindi phrase that I learned growing up -- "gade murde kyon ukhad rahe ho?" -- "why are you excavating buried bones." I was also reminded of Aeosop's famous fable of "The ant and the grasshopper."
But in a way the archeologists are different from the grasshopper who was just lazy. The archeologists are milling about at a conference in Ernest's poem. They seem very busy doing about their job. They are trying to build their careers by excavating remains of famous people. But what will happen in the end, the poet ponders. In the end the best of these archeologists will end up in graves that will then be excavated for things like "smashed shields" and "pry seals" that will have very little to do with them.
The archeologists aren't lazy. They just don't seem to have a purpose. They are going around in circles. This reminds me of a point in my life when all I was doing was trying to get ahead in life by working hard, day and night. Life was trapped between going to work and coming home. Chained by greed, I was the victim of a similar ingratitude.
I was reminded by the poem that freedom comes from an activity that you love and those surrounding you love as well. An act of oneness. The singing of oneness. Freedom starts with the realization that the purpose of life is to sing.
The poem itself seems somewhat egotistic -- having a high opinion of poets (the poets own profession) and a very lowly opinion of archeologists (which I found out was the poets wife's opinion). But I think the poet is trying to show exactly that -- how pompous and ungrateful we remain as long as we are living in the past, excavating bones. Here is the poem:
At the Archaeological Institute of America's Annual Meeting
O, ungrateful hordes! Archaeologists
Mill through the hotel lobby, like jammed cars,
Clogging doorways, aiming all ways, vaguely
Swerving clots of unflappable classicists.
While elsewhere, their counterparts, undertakers,
Are busy burying, they burrow to see
What's still down there. To think, such an awkward
Set of characters would meddle with tombs
Of emperors, queens, and epic poets!
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.
All of You on the Good Earth