Simon Collings




In Syracuse

Yesterday evening Archimedes came round
for a bath. He was ages about it
and afterwards he said he’d been thinking
about the relationship of mass to volume
the mathematics of bodies and cooling bath water.

I said I hoped he had not been disturbed
by the drumming from across the street
nor by the neighbour’s raucous singing
(accompanying their new karaoke machine.)

He said on the contrary he’d watched through the window
the light pass from orange to pink and the swifts
criss-crossing like the threads of his thought.
He was seeking he said an equation
with the elegance and clarity of the early evening light.

Somewhere a dog began to yap and Archimedes
chewed at the ends of his beard. So far the bath problem
had eluded him.

You asked him to supper but he wouldn’t stay.
‘I bought fresh fish at the market,’ you said,
‘a wonderful cheese, such juicy blood red oranges
and wine.’ But he would not be tempted. He said
he was working on something to do with calculating
the earth’s circumference and wanted to get a letter off
to his friend Eratosthenes. It seemed
they were onto something big.

Simon Collings has been writing for 35 years – stories, reviews, poems, journalism. He lives in Oxford in the UK and works in London. He was with Oxfam for 16 years where he was Fundraising Director. After leaving Oxfam Simon was CEO of a small non-profit providing training in fundraising. He now works for an organisation which advises renewable energy businesses in Africa. For more information see

In Syracuse  has been set to music by the composer Laura Jurd. The piece, scored for string quartet and soprano, will be performed by the Ligeti Quartet later this year.

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