In Praise of Latin Casually browsing the declensions In middle age, I can almost smell the wooden desks Of the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, Where Toffee Gleve Failed to instil in us A love of Augustus Or a proper respect for the ablative absolute, And where we failed to parse Even the simplest of constructions, Hampered by an almost total lack of vocabulary And the rudiments of grammar. I had no sympathy then For Cicero, His head and hands hacked off And shown on the Rostra, For Ovid exiled, For Spanish Lucan and Seneca, Victims of Nero, For stylish Petronius Fearing the Emperor's displeasure, Talking of trifles While bleeding himself to death in the bath, For Boethius at the bottom of Fortune's wheel, Soon to be martyred as Saint Severinus. An entire canon Butchered by gangsters. Yet here I am After many vicissitudes, Years spent in the dregs of the contemporary, Stretching a hand To a language and a history, To the culture of creation and revolt, To Landor and Milton, Denouncers of kings, To Jacopo Sannazaro and his piscatorial eclogues, To the erotic elegies of Beccadelli and Pontano, To the love songs and the drinking songs of Carmina Burana, To the hymns of Thomas Aquinas, And the pagan Pervigilium Veneris, To subversive Vergil and the gates of ivory, All the way back to Catullus And his passionate Italian Da mi basia mille.
If you've any comments on this poem, K.M.Payne would be pleased to hear from you.