Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School
by Christopher Bursk
Because one day I grew so bored
with Lucretius, I fell in love
with the one object that seemed to be stationary,
the sleeping kid two rows up,
the appealing squalor of his drooping socks.
While the author of De Rerum Natura was making fun
of those who fear the steep way and lose the truth,
I was studying the unruly hairs on Peter Diamond’s right leg.
Titus Lucretius Caro labored, dactyl by dactyl
to convince our Latin IV class of the atomic
composition of smoke and dew,
and I tried to make sense of a boy’s ankles,
the calves’ intriguing
resiliency, the integrity to the shank,
the solid geometry of my classmate’s body.
Light falling through blinds,
a bee flinging itself into a flower,
a seemingly infinite set of texts
to translate and now this particular configuration of atoms
who was given a name at birth,
Peter Diamond, and sat two rows in front of me,
his long arms, his legs that like Lucretius’s hexameters
seemed to go on forever, all this hurly-burly
of matter that had the goodness to settle
long enough to make a body
so fascinating it got me
through fifty-five minutes
of the nature of things.
I'm not crazy about non-rhyming poems, but I made an exception because I can't recall, offhand, a poem that so accurately captured exactly what something is like, in this case, that feeling of time stretching out endlessly, of something being so boring that your attention can focus on the most minute detail and expand on it endlessly...and not only does this poem do that, but it makes its point admirably: that perhaps the mind's wandering to focus on something, anything, other than what we are being taught is not, always, a bad thing, that 55 minutes focusing on Peter Diamond's right leg might be more valuable in some ways than 55 minutes of Latin.