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Latin Haiku

My students really enjoy composing their own original works of Latin.  Such assignments allow them to apply some colorful creativity to the routine of grammar.  The exercise also proves a wonderful way to reinforce lessons in Latin grammar and syntax.  I have incorporated some of these composition assignments into Latin Alive, Book 3. One such lesson is the Latin Haiku.

The Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry, is among the shortest of literary genre.  It is known for its compact yet powerful means of expression.  The Haiku should consist of three lines, 17 syllables in toto.  The first line should consist of only 5 syllables, the second line has 7 syllables, and the third line another 5 syllables.  This is a wonderful way to begin exploring Latin poetry, as the Romans wrote their poetry with regard to the number and rhythm of syllables as opposed to rhyme.   The Haiku typically contains themes related to nature or emotion, but you may write a bit of poetry to commemorate a person as Ennius does in the chapter reading.

Below are four examples of Latin Haiku composed by members of my 8th grade class at Grace Academy of Georgetown.

 

Ferus equus

In magna silva vivit

Totus sed solus

 

Canis effugit

Periculum nocte sed

Cadit in die

 

Offa suavis

suci plena rubraque

cocta perfecte

 

Avis non volat

Struthiocamelus est

Currit sub sole

Mother Moo’s Nursery Poems

In a recent post titled Texan Eclogues I reminisced over my first poetry composition assignment, one that involved the imitation of a distinctly classical poetic style. By that I mean involving the meters and literary style of those poets from the Golden Age of Latin Literature. In that assignment I asked my students to imitate Vergil’s pastoral poems. In this assignment we put a modern twist on classical style. I have been given the sweet appellation of Mother Moo by my Latin students. It is a title I treasure for many of these students I have known since their grammar school days. They have been my students and my daughter’s friends for many years. So as is not uncommon with teachers, they become “my kids” and I become a bit of a mother hen, or rather a mother goose. During the course of the year they asked me if they could compose a little book of Mother Moo’s Nursery Rhymes (reminiscent of Mother Goose).  While Latin poetry doesn’t exactly rhyme, I loved the idea. So with great delight I am able to present in this blog post the first edition of Mother Moo’s Nursery Poems.

 

Before you enjoy the poems, however, here are the parameters of the assignment:

  1. Poem must be a minimum of 4 lines long.
  2. Standard spelling and grammar rules apply (always).
  3. Poem must be composed in one of three Latin meters:
    • dactylic hexameter
    • elegiac couplet
    • hendecasyllabic
  4. Each poem is allowed 1 example of hiatus without penalty (the deliberate avoidance of an elision).
  5. Poem must include at least one rhetorical device (hiatus is not included).
  6. Poem must be based on a classic nursery rhyme such as those found in the canon of Mother Goose.

 

Poetry Preparation:

  1. The poetry composition assignment is given at the end of a semester on poetry study. Students have by this time read numerous Latin poems, both Classical and Medieval, using the meters listed above.
  2. Students have also learned how to scan all three metrical styles.
  3. Students have by this time been studying rhetorical devices in both their English Literature and Latin Literature classes. They are well versed in the most common devices. For an excellent list with copious examples visit University of Kentucky Glossary of Rhetorical Terms.
  4. For this project I place the students in pairs and together they select a short nursery rhyme.  The project takes approximately one week.

After reviewing all of the above it is important to remind the students that we are not translating so much as interpreting a classic English poem into a classical Latin poetic form. We cannot do that with a literal translation style. Instead, we ought to focus on transferring meaning from one art form into another. That means we have to break a few perceived rules (such as rhyme) in order to achieve our creation. Or in the case of Humpta Dumpta, we break a few eggs. The result is delightful. The students begin with a great excitement to engage with childhood nostalgia. Excitement becomes a frustrated determination as they encounter the difficulties presented in ancient meter. Determination through these difficulties gives way to triumph as their work takes shape. At last, when their little poems are finally complete, they gain a real sense of awe as they gain a deeper appreciation for the skill of poets such as Vergil and Ovid who wrote entire epics in this beautiful art form. They are very proud of their little poems, and so is Mother Moo.

 

I. Parva Stella (hendecasyllabic)

Parva stella mica, mica supra me

Nescit mens meus ipse cuius heu fis

Supra terram et ultra mollem album

non diversus abiecta gemma caelo

Parva stella mica mica supra me

Nescit mens meus ipse cuius heu fis

Translation
Twinkle, twinkle little star above me
Alas my mind itself does not know of what you are
Above the earth and beyond the fluffy white
not unlike a gem thrown in the sky
Twinkle twinkle little star above me
Alas my mind itself does not know of what you are

 

* * * * *

 

II. Cimex Parvissima (dactylic hexameter)

Presterem cimex grandem parvissima scandit

Imber aesuper interdum abluet evenit cimex

Sol exit, pluviam interdum restinquet totam

Presterem cimex rursus parvissima scandit.

Translation
The smallest bug climbs the bit waterspout
The rain comes forth from above and then washed out the bug
The sun comes out, meanwhile it quenches all the rain
The smallest bug climbs the waterspout again.

 

* * * * *

III. Humpta Dumpta (hendecasyllabic)

Humpta Dumpta sedet vertice muri

Humpta Dumpta cadit vertice muri

Toti huius equi virique regis

Humptam ponere possunt una rursus

Translation
Humpty Dumpty sits on top of the wall
Humpty Dumpty falls from the top of the wall
All of the king’s horses and men
are not able to put Humpty as one again

 

For additional posts on Latin poetry visit:

Texan Eclogues

Latin Haiku

Texan Eclogues

Nearly a decade ago I issued my first poetry composition assignment. This assignment was to reflect the culmination of Latin poetry studied that year. We had looked at poems short and long by the poets from the Golden Age of Latin Literature: Horace, Vergil, Catullus, and Ovid. Among these works we read a couple of Vergil’s Eclogues, beautiful pastoral poems that pre-date his magnum opus, Aeneid. We used Vergil’s pastoral style to inspire our own bucolics on the fields of Texas.  Over the years I have found no better way of instilling a deep appreciation for both the beauty and labor of Latin poetry than through a bit of imitation in writing. The assignment can, however, be a bit overwhelming. After all, I am asking my students to imitate the most “epic” of poets. The assignment was 5-10 lines of dactylic hexameter on a pastoral theme. Students were to be mindful of elisions and incorporate at least one rhetorical device.* I titled the collection Texan Eclogues since these eclogues were composed by young Texans.  This collection can be found in the first edition of The Vates Anthology of New Latin Poetry. I encourage readers to take a look at Vates where you will find a new age of Latin poets carrying on the craft and the tradition begun in that once Golden Age of Latin Literature.

I

upilio in pratum pulcherrimum agens gregem omnem.
laetificum carmen affirmanti uoce cantat:
‘o mi lanigeri amici cessate libenter
tempestiuo mane quod largiuntur gaudete
liberali di. dissoluunt hiemem radio auri
ueremque spargiunt ad agros artusque trementes.
Ver uerrit patulis pennis alarum auium horum.’

Translation:
A shepherd leading his whole flock into a most beautiful
meadow, sings a joyful song with reassuring voice:
‘O my fleecy companions linger freely. Rejoice in
the ripe morning which the generous gods bestow.
They melt the winter with ray of gold and
spread the spring to trembling fields and bodies.
Spring sweeps with the outspread feathers of the wings of these birds.’

* * *

II
dic musa, spumo de Oceano Apollo quo
aethere transcenso ut aquae se submergit currus
bullent. dic insulam rauam luxuriosam.
Nymphae currunt saltant saxa et herbam in ora.
est hoc asylum et regia uxoris Hectoris feri.

Translation:
Speak muse, concerning frothy Oceanus in which Apollo, after
The ether had been crossed, submerges his chariot, so that the waters
bubble themselves. Speak of a lush grey island.
Nymphs run over the rocks and grass, they dance on the shore.
This is the sanctuary and palace of the wife of fierce Hector.

* * *

III
nunc in caelo clar’ Aurora celeriter surgit.
aduocat iter in agrem rediret muner’ agere.
ingens pello canis prope me ad pascula currit,
ualde pecumque salutamus, illos congregarimus.
hos potantes aquam placid’ obseruo otiantes.

Translation:
Now Aurora rises quickly into the clear skies.
She calls again to return into the field and to do [my] duties.
My huge dog with his pelt runs alongside me to the pastures,
And we greet the herd immensely; we herd them.
I watch these, relaxing, drinking the water peacefully.

* * *

IV
papilliones pulchras fructices bacas circum uolant.
siluam per incendo pluit atque et caelum cantat.
de caelo imber re faciens cadit musicam
incurrit. incurrit in uirides arbores fragilesque
flores. spissus poculum imber Proserpinum fundet.

Translation:
The beautiful butterflies fly around the berry bush.
I am walking through the forest and it rains and the sky sings.
Rain falls from the sky making music with the objects it strikes.
It strikes against green trees and soft flowers.
The heavy rain fills the cup of Proserpina.

 

*Readers, please kindly consider that these are novice poets. Their work is very good, but not perfect. Do not allow the rare metrical error to take away from the craft.

For more on Latin poetry composition visit the post Latin Haiku.

Imitation in Writing through Latin

l believe the purpose of learning the Latin language is in order to study Latin literature. By studying Latin literature, I mean studying the Great Books. These are great pieces of literature of outstanding merit that have stood the test of time. Such works reflect the worldview of the culture and time in which they were written. Such works have often influenced not only the people of their own time, but the people of times that would follow. Such works should demonstrate some combination of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. By studying such works we better understand the flow of human thought over the course of history. We better understand our civilization when we know from whence it came. We better understand what is truly great literature. By studying Latin literature, I mean Read the rest of this entry »

Vates: The Journal of New Latin Poetry

The first issue of VATES, the brand-new (and free!) publication devoted to the art of writing Latin verse is now available! This post provides a link to the journal in which you can read Latin poetry of all forms from dactylic hexameter to haiku. Read the rest of this entry »