Finest: Mark Totterdell – “Amber Dagger Pommel”

Mark Totterdell Finest

Amber Dagger Pommel

There was a tree that shed a tear of flame
which dropped onto the earth, where it set hard.

There was a hand that shaped it like an eye
and pierced it with a hundred points of gold

and made of it, with wooden hilt and blade
of bronze, a thing fit for some lord of war.

There was a mound of earth, bone-ash and stone
where it lay long unseen, unthought-of, cold.

There was a mind that sought, and delved, and found,
and set it proudly in a case of glass.

There was a fire that fell out of the sky
and blitzed it back into cold earth again.

This poem first appeared in South and is also in Mollusc, Mark’s new collection from The High Window Press.

“Having been writing poems largely inspired by aspects of the natural world for over ten years, I am resigned to being labelled as a nature poet, but I have always occasionally found a spark from elsewhere.

“I had been fascinated for years by the story of the excavation of a spectacular dagger pommel, studded with gold, from a Bronze Age barrow on Dartmoor. Photos of it exist, but it was destroyed during a Second World War air raid on Plymouth.

“I liked the poignancy of an ancient weapon being discovered, then lost again during an unimaginably different conflict.

“I tried to put enough of the details into the poem to draw the reader in, but I didn’t want to spell things out too much or give places or dates. I wanted it to read as a fable, something universal as well. Although this poem doesn’t rhyme, I wanted the metre and the repeated phrase to give it a kind of ballad or nursery-rhyme quality. I hope it works. It’s very short, as most of my poems are.

“Thanks to Ben for giving me an opportunity to try to say something about a poem.”

Mark Totterdell’s poems have apeared widely in magazines. His collections are This Patter of Traces (Oversteps Books 2014), Mapping (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2018) and Mollusc (The High Window Press, 2021).

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