Fragment of a didactic poem on the Latin grammar

A. E. Housman (1859 – 1936) was one of the best classisits of his time. For most of is life he was a professor of Latin and Greek at Cambidge, specializing in poetry and textual criticism. I was unable to find this text online, but it should definitely be in public domain, as it was first published in 1899. If you have never read this before, keep in mind that the poem gets really good closer to its middle. I have actually seen it circulate in and abridged form, beginning with line 30 ("Companions in adventure, Jack and Jill"). This is a truly delightful piece of Housman's humor, sure to gladden any classicist's heart.

A. E. Housman
Fragment of a didactic poem on the Latin grammar.

See on the cliff fair Adjectiva stand,
Roll the blue eye and wave the ivory hand;
Her amber locks resplendent rubies deck
And orient emeralds wind her whiter neck.
She marks afar the much-loved youth pursue
O'er verdant meads the bounding kangaroo.
"'Tis he! 'tis he! your wings, ye Zephyrs, give!
Waft, waft me, breezes, to my Substantive!"
She speaks, and, headlong from the dizzy height,
Prone to the plain precipitates her flight.
Three Nymphs attend her in the airy chase,
The Nymphs of Number, Gender, and of Case;
The vine, the myrtle, and the rose they twine
To bind thy victims, Concord, to the shrine.
The startled youth, in momentary dread,
As the fond fair descends upon his head,
Shouts: the high rocks his vigorous outcry swell
And teach the obedient echoes how to yell.
From distant seas emerge the finny tribe
And in the air parabolas describe;
Barks the pleased hound, spectator of the sport,
And hippopotami forget to snort.
On dove-borne car descends the Paphian queen,
And hovering Cupids vivify the scene.
The clasping pair confess their mutual flame,
In gender, number, and in case the same;
Embowering roses screen their transports fond,
And simpering Syntax waves her jewelled wand.
So, up the steep side of the rugged hill,
Companions in adventure, Jack and Jill
With footing nice and anxious effort hale
To the moist pump the necessary pail.
The industrious pair their watery task divide,
And woo the bashful Naiad side by side.
The sturdier swain, for arduous labour planned,
The handle wielding in his practised hand,
With art hydraulic and propulsion stout
Evokes the crystal treasure from the spout.
The maid, attentive to the useful flow,
Adjusts the apt receptacle below;
The gelid waves with bright reflections burn,
And mirrored beauty blushes from the urn.
Now down the hill their hands, in triumph gay,
The liquid plunder of the pump convey,
And seek the level land: incautious pair!
Too soon, alas, too soon shall ye be there.
The hero first the strong compulsion feels,
And finds his head supplanted by his heels;
In circles whirled he thunders to the plain,
Vain all his efforts, all his language vain,
Vain his stout boots and vain his eyebrows dark,
And vain, oh vain, his vaccination-mark.
The inverted pail his flying form pursues,
With humid tribute and sequacious dews
(So, through affrighted skies, o'er nations pale,
Behind the comet streams the comet's tail).
The prudent fair, of equilibrium vain,
Views, as he falls, the rotatory swain.
Exhilaration heaves her bosom young,
Tilts the fine nose, protrudes the vermeil tongue,
Bids from her throat the silvery laughters roll
And cachinnations strike the starry pole.
Gnomes! her light foot your envious fingers trip
And freeze the titter on the ruby lip.
The massy earth with strong attraction draws,
And Venus yields to gravitation's laws;
From rock to rock the charms of Beauty bump,
And shrieks of anguish chill the conscious pump.

  • #history
  • #poetry
  • #latin language