42. Signs and Wonders - Marbles

September 1, 2017



Children's game, from plural of marble (n.); first recorded by that name in 1709 but probably older (it was known in 13c. German as tribekugeln) and originally played with small balls of polished marble or alabaster, later clay; the modern glass ones with the colored swirl date from 1840s.



The Marble Boy


Circles ago it started

when someone like me

first finger-scored a ring

in schoolyard dust.


A crab like construction

of striped jersey

and long legs

in concentrated company.


The small collection

of marbles in my

mother’s made, blue floral

draw-string bag.


A squat on thin haunches

the trigger and strike

of index and thumb

to the crack, ball


and sharp cannon

of glass.

Cradling afterwards

the tricolour cat’s eye


winking sun from a win.

How like the coil of years

to betray me now

to a past of play and chase


when a boy

who might have been me

held the game

above the prize.


Jeff Guess



How to Play Marbles:

  1. Draw a circle 3 feet (90cm) wide on a pavement in chalk, or make one out of string if you’re playing indoors on carpet.

  2. Choose your shooter marble- this should be bigger than any of your other marbles.

  3. Put 5 to 10 other marbles in the centre of the ring to play.

  4. When it’s your turn, kneel outside the ring and flick your shooter marble out of your fist with your thumb, trying to hit as many marbles out of the ring.

  5. If you knock any marbles out of the ring, keep them and have another turn.

  6. If you don’t knock any marbles out of the ring, leave your shooter marble in the ring until your next turn and the next player takes their turn.

  7. Continue until the ring is empty.

The winner is the person with the most marbles at the end of the game - you can then return your marbles to each other, unless you have agreed to play for keeps!




A Bag of Marbles is a Second World War autobiographical novel by the French Jewish author Joseph Joffo. It tells the story of his flight, as a small boy, with his brother Maurice to escape from Nazi occupied France to the Zone Libre. Joffo was refused by many publishers before being encouraged by the newly founded publishing house Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès to get the help of an editor to polish the text. The book was a phenomenal best-seller, being made into a major film two years later.


©Jeff Guess 2017


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