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Featured Poem: Epigram by Thomas Bastard

Written by The Reader, 23rd July 2012

This week's Featured Poem is the selection of Megg Hewlett, Get Into Reading Project Worker for Kensington and Chelsea - one which considers something quite crucial in shared reading: the testing out of words, language, and gradually, ideas.

Speech is something as adults most of us take for granted. We don't think about it much, if at all, we just do it. The process of learning to do it is largely a mystery to me. I certainly don't remember learning, I can't remember not being able to speak. My one conscious memory of the experience of the process of forming words occurred when I was attempting to pronounce a word in another language and was finding it very difficult to make the right sounds. I particularly remember being very frustrated that my mouth would not perform the sort of gymnastics that I wanted it to. It couldn't be that hard surely!

When I met this poem for the first time I was struck by the knowledge of just how complex learning to speak is, and that babies and children are constantly involved in that process for a long time. I was reminded of seeing children play with words and delight in the sounds and excitement of the new. I particularly remember a younger sibling - they were all younger! - learning the word 'actually' for the first time and prefacing almost every sentence for a week or two with 'actually'. She really did 'rock' every syllable in her mouth, obvious delight evident, not only at the meaning but also at the pleasure of the sound.

Epigram had quite an impact in a group I read it with. There was that wonderful silence that occasionally happens after the reading has happened, which brings with it the sense that everyone in the room is having their own very personal and inward response and no one is ready or keen to be the first to speak and break it just yet. When this occurs in a group there is a sense that magic is happening; we are all sitting around the table alone in our thoughts, together. Eventually someone says something and we slowly come out of our own process to share our responses and read it again. And most likely again.


Methinks ’tis pretty sport to hear a child
Rocking a word in mouth yet undefiled;
The tender racquet rudely plays the sound
Which, weakly bandied, cannot back rebound;
And the soft air the softer roof doth kiss
With a sweet dying and a pretty miss,
Which hears no answer yet from the white rank
Of teeth not risen from their coral bank.
The alphabet is searched for letters soft
To try a word before it can be wrought;
And when it slideth forth, it goes as nice
As when a man doth walk upon the ice.

Thomas Bastard

2 thoughts on “Featured Poem: Epigram by Thomas Bastard

Vic says:

Thanks for this Megg! Not read this before, I’m already thinking of what I could read alongside….

Angie says:

If you would like to read more on this poem, Brian Nellist writes about it in The Reader magazine, (issue 43, Spring 2011), in his ongoing feature ‘The Old Poem. The Reader is a great resource for poems, stories, ideas and inspiration.

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