Thursday, July 10, 2014

Poetry in the Dark

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.”
Jeremiah 6:16 

     My friend, Rick Sullivan, teaches Latin. Recently he sent me this-

   You may remember a paper that I shared with you several years ago that had the following quote in it: 

'But why should people study ancient languages?  “I was four years old, and my young uncle was practicing his Greek on me.  He read me the Iliad and the Odyssey, translating as he went.  The unknown words poured over me like dark music, and when he turned to English it was always a letdown.  I was very glad to hear what was happening, and wanted to know what happened next — but still there seemed something missing, the golden hero voices, sea whispers, spear shock.  I had been bitten by poetry in the dark and didn’t know it.  Later, modeling myself after my uncle, I studied Greek and Latin and read the stories the way Hesiod told them; and Herodotus, Homer, Virgil, Ovid... and knew the old enchantment.  Then I went to them in their English versions, and again felt this terrible loss” (Bernard Evslin, Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths).  Evslin says that the translated version of the masterwork of an ancient writer can never have just the same effect on its reader as the original text, because a translator can only convert the meaning of words into another language, but not the feel and atmosphere that is connected to the original words.' 
 Anna Tagliabue, The Continuing Importance of Learning Ancient Languages

The quote from Evslin has ever haunted me to understand the languages as they are.  When I taught Caesar and Virgil this past year, I was so moved by the way they wrote.  The original language was both active and deeply moving.  I felt the "dark music" and "the old enchantment" and "was bitten by the poetry in the dark" but I KNEW it.  The students fell in love with Virgil.  We did a little Latin Vulgate and they wanted even more of both.


 Proverbs 25:2 tells us,

"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter." 

 I am grateful for teachers like Rick Sullivan- for the men and women who reveal to this generation of thinkers that the new is not always the better...  that there is 'poetry in the dark', yearning to be searched out.



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