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.

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