Friday, July 24, 2015


You Teach Greek Verbs and Latin Nouns

Padraic Colum (1881-1972), "A Poor Scholar of the Forties," The Oxford Book of Irish Verse. XVIIth Century-XXth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), pp. 198-199:
My eyelids red and heavy are
With bending o'er the smould'ring peat.
I know the Aeneid now by heart,
My Virgil read in cold and heat,
In loneliness and hunger smart.
    And I know Homer, too, I ween,
    As Munster poets know Ossian.

And I must walk this road that winds
'Twixt bog and bog, while east there lies
A city with its men and books;
With treasures open to the wise,
Heart-words from equals, comrade-looks;
    Down here they have but tale and song,
    They talk Repeal the whole night long.

'You teach Greek verbs and Latin nouns,'
The dreamer of Young Ireland said.
'You do not hear the muffled call,
The sword being forged, the far-off tread
Of hosts to meet as Gael and Gall—
    What good to us your wisdom-store,
    Your Latin verse, your Grecian lore?'

And what to me is Gael or Gall?
Less than the Latin or the Greek.
I teach these by the dim rush-light,
In smoky cabins night and week.
But what avail my teaching slight?
    Years hence, in rustic speech, a phrase,
    As in wild earth a Grecian vase!
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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