A Polish Poet Learns Latin

Zbigniew Herbert

Zbigniew Herbert

In my interest in Latin and my admittedly mediocre progress in that sphere there lay an element I might call personal. In the apartment building across the road from us there lived a young person, whose full shape, auburn hair, and dimples stirred my senses and gave me vertigo. She was the daughter of a Latin professor—not from our gymnasium, it is true, but known to us as the author of the book of adapted texts over which we labored; he also published articles in the monthly Philomat, to which Grzesio obliged us to subscribe through him. I used to sit on the balcony with my Auerbach & Dąbrowski Latin grammar and pretend that reading this exceptionally dull tome put me in ecstasy.

It was in fact an act of despair. If the object of my passionate feelings appeared on the balcony, it was not for my sake. She sometimes brushed me with a distracted look, as one glances at clouds moving across the sky. She was waiting for an older colleague of mine from the lyceum, a tall youth with a wavy blond crop, undeniably handsome (he was the standard-bearer of our school and wearing a sash and white gloves at celebrations he really did present well)—but I knew he could never make her happy. Every day around five in the afternoon she would leave the house with my mortal enemy and disappear around the corner into a little street shaded by chestnut trees, where (my feverish imagination told me) terrible things happened: he would take her arm (against the severest injunctions of the middle school rules) and perhaps press a fiery kiss on her silken glove. A storm of contradictory feelings in my tormented heart:

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

What did I think to achieve, holding my Auerbach & Dąbrowski Latin grammar on the balcony so that its cover would be visible from afar? I thought that one day her father—the classical philologist—would notice me and shout across to me: “I have been observing you for a while now, my boy. Your modesty and industry, your love for the Roman tongue are a warranty that you are a proper candidate for my daughter’s husband. I therefore grant you her hand.” And from then on things would proceed as in a fairy tale.

They didn’t. On the other hand, I learned many examples of the use of the more complicated grammatical forms by heart and was able to shine in class, even winning a cordial look from Grzesio.

We labored in the sweat of our brows. The time to reap drew near: the next year we were to proceed to the poetry of Catullus and Horace. But then the barbarians invaded.—Zbigniew Herbert, “A Latin Lesson,” Collected Prose

NOTE: Translated, the above Latin quote reads:

“I hate and I love. Why do I do it, perchance you might ask?
I don’t know, but I feel it happening to me and I’m burning up.”

The lines are from Catullus.

Right Wing Poster Boy Goes Bad

It Didn’t Take Long for Him to Show His True Stripes

It Didn’t Take Long for Him to Show His True Stripes

George Zimmerman has gone over to the Dark Side. Actually, I am of the opinion he was never far from it. His behavior since being acquitted in the “Stand Your Ground” murder of Trayvon Martin shows him to have been guilty—just like O. J. Simpson’s armed robbery in Las Vegas put the skids on any sympathy he may have gotten from his 1990s murder trial.

In the news today is word that the right wing poster boy is in custody after threatening his estranged wife with a gun. Shellie Zimmerman claims that her Georgie Boy was verbally abusive. And the misuse of guns appears to be a chronic problem with him.

I remember an ad that used to run on L.A. television stations years ago for a law enforcement school in which the first benefit listed was that graduates could “arrest offenders.” Or, in other words, carry a gun and feel a surge of power. Perhaps it is people like Zimmerman who should, at all costs, be kept away from firearms.

This is probably not the last we’ll hear of the Floridian neighborhood watch guy with the itchy trigger finger.