The Best Foreign Language for Writers
By Maxine Kumin
I am grateful to the late Thomas (Tommy) Kuhn, a famous physicist and philosopher, who was the pal of my older brother. The two of them were college students, wise and worldly. I was about to transfer from the small, snug environment of grammar school to the big, heterogeneous student body of high school. This involved changing classrooms and selecting “electives.”
“Never mind choosing between French and Spanish,” Tommy said. “Take Latin, straight through; you’ll never be sorry. Four years of Latin will do you more good than 14 of any other subject.”
He was right. Latin syntax is precise, its vocabulary comprehensible. Those four years, plus an elective my senior year spent translating stories from Ovid’sMetamorphoses, gave me the courage to begin writing my own poetry. I’ve never looked back.
Maxine Kumin won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was the Library of Congress poet laureate in 1981-82. Her 17th collection, Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, won the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 2011.
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Man has called himself (among other things): the rational animal; the moral animal; the consciously choosing animal; the deliberately evil animal; the political animal; the toolmaking animal; the historical animal; the commodity-making animal; the economical animal; the foreseeing animal; the promising animal; the death-knowing animal; the art-making or aesthetic animal; the explaining animal; the cause-bearing animal; the classifying animal; the measuring animal; the counting animal; the metaphor-making animal; the talking animal; the laughing animal; the religious animal; the spiritual animal; the metaphysical animal; the wondering animal… Man, it seems, is the self-predicating animal.
– Raymond Tallis, The Explicit Animal
My 5 yr old daughter at the supper table: “I’m allergic to ice cream, tall grass and beets.”
Me: “beets? I thought you loved beets.”
Her: “yep. I like beets. And shredded wheat.”
How much can we reasonably expect from citizens who live busy lives, who must depend on distant sources for crucial information about the world where they live, and whose preparation for interpreting information is necessarily limited by time, skill, and training?</
The London Daily Telegraph reports that
“a late-night reveller caught urinating in the street was told by the judge: ‘This isn’t France, you know.”
From First Things, December 2012, pg 67