Sunday, November 07, 2004

Richmond Lattimore

The old Bryn Mawr professor and still Homer's best translator was an underappreciated poet himself. I turned to this at random just now and thought it fit to post:

Elsie Campbell Sinclair Hodge, AB 1897.
Born Dec. 15, 1874. Died in the massacre of Christians
at Paotingfu, China, June, 1900.

This is the stone bench on the Bryn Mawr campus.
Sometimes in mild weather I teach classes
at the bench of Elsie, killed by Chinese Boxers.

Mobs, rage, weapons. The sleeping dragon shook
his scales between the spells before his last
awakening to red fire and howling guards.

The quaint and pretty graduation class,
round-eyed before the camera, gave her up
to her short duties, love, and violent death.

The Empress of India, small, yacht-prowed,
reeling in high waters off the Aleutians
(those stormy gray ships on the Eastern Grand Circle),

carried my parents, innocent and clever,
squeezed by hard means from their own academe,
to China, months and dollars away from home.

Where Elsie's blood was only six years faded,
at the hired temple, next the lily pond,
I was born in Paotingfu. The stars are joined.

All taught. It's in our blood, a hard gray strain
to discipline our little furies, knot
our stormy-colored lusts into cool form

until dragons shall dim their fires and smile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My Greek teacher, Graus Williams I used to call the long-suffering lady, had been a student of Lattimore's during her undergraduate days at Bryn Mawr. Quite often I would ask her to tell me what it was like being in his Greek classes. All she would ever say is that he would assign page after page of Herodotus -- he was an unyielding taskmaster!