Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School

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.

 
From The Improbably Swervings of Atoms by Christopher Bursk © 2006. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Poems by This Author

My love is as a fever, longing still by Christopher Bursk
It didn't take a Harvard Medical School degree
Your Father Sunbathing by Christopher Bursk
Sundays, your father climbs out a window


Further Reading

Back to School Poems
Apples
by Grace Schulman
Being Jewish in a Small Town
by Lyn Lifshin
Evening Walk as the School Year Starts
by Sydney Lea
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Gradeschool's Large Windows
by Thomas Lux
In Michael Robins’s class minus one
by Bob Hicok
M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit 1942
by Philip Levine
Mary's Lamb
by Sarah Josepha Hale
Niggerlips
by Martín Espada
Nonsense Alphabet
by Edward Lear
One A.M. [excerpt]
by David Young
Panty Raid
by Terri Ford
Pledge
by Elizabeth Powell
Sentimental Education
by Mary Ruefle
Sick
by Shel Silverstein
The Hand
by Mary Ruefle
The High-School Lawn
by Thomas Hardy
The Junior High School Band Concert
by David Wagoner
The Testing-Tree
by Stanley Kunitz
Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
You and Your Ilk
by Thomas Lux
Essays About Teaching
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? [excerpt]
by Kenneth Koch
The Read-Aloud Handbook [excerpt]
by Jim Trelease
A Treasury of Read-Alouds: Poetry for Children
by Jim Trelease
Can Poets Teach?: On Writers Teaching Writing
by Joan Houlihan
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Poetry
by Bill Zavatsky
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Gimmicks
by Ron Padgett
How I Teach Poetry in the Schools
by Jack Collom
Kindness
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Serious Play: Reading Poetry with Children
Teaching Poetry: Accurate Songs, or Thinking-in-Poetry
by Eleanor Cook
The Accomplished and the Insufficient: What Readers Should Ask From a Poem
by Thom Ward
The Hand
by Mary Ruefle
The Teacher
by Hilarie Jones
With Tenure
by David Lehman
You Begin
by Margaret Atwood