"…the student of Latin, as of any considerable dead language, must constantly be trying to choose the right word to give the meaning of a Latin expression in English or an English expression in Latin. And if the writing of English generally is in decline, as many would say it is, we may be tempted to say that people no longer try to choose the right word as they once did. They often got it wrong, but they tried. Do they now?
Something like the foregoing sketch might be developed to accompany an analysis of English poetry as written over the last fifty years or so. If this is seen as having become not only less formally organised but less exact in its expression, then the loss of Latin has surely had a hand in the matter somewhere. Again, I do not simply mean that an acquaintance with Propertius or Catullus in the original is beneficial to any sort of poet, though I think I do think so, but just as simply that translation into and out of Latin verse calls for exactness, and that that quality is demanded in the writing of poetry as nowhere else. Exactness, by the way, is to be understood as applying to more than denotation: a word or phrase must be suitable to its context, so that a dialectal or slang term, for instance, is on the whole unlikely to fit well into a passage of high seriousness — except for special effect, as teachers used to add."
Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), “Disappearance of Latin,” in The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), pp. 51-56 (at 51-52). Many thanks to Michael Gilleland for sharing this!
I don’t agree with everything that Amis writes in the stretch that Gilleland quotes on his site, but in what I’ve reblogged here, there is ample encouragement for the student of Latin verse composition.
This past semester, in Ave Maria’s first ever course on Latin verse composition, I saw my students take up this challenge of finding the right Latin word for a given English expression, constrained not just by the requirements of meaning, but also by the exigencies of the meter. Verse composition forces the student to investigate Latin words to a much greater extent than what typically happens in a readings course when a glance at the dictionary often suffices to move on. We explore the hidden corners of the language, and its less frequently encountered vocabulary becomes intimately known.