• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light

April is National Poetry Month, brought to you for the 13th year by the Academy of American Poets.

Why poetry? Because, as Dylan Thomas wrote in

Notes on the Art of Poetry

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

New to me, Poetry Web Resources. Something for everyone.

Coming Tuesday, April 1st, and just in time for the big monthly shindig, is PBS’ new website, Poetry Everywhere (not yet working at this typing but my fingers are crossed). Also from PBS in April, on the 14th, is the new “American Experience” biography of Walt Whitman

Harcourt Children’s Books is generously offering an assortment of goodies “Free for Teachers” (and Harcourt has a wide definition of teachers, for which I’m grateful):

The items on this page are available free to teachers, school and public librarians, reading specialists, PTA members, homeschoolers — anyone involved in the educational needs of children. You’ll find a variety of materials suitable for classroom or library use for children in grades Pre-K through 12.

Materials are available while supplies last, and only one request for each kit will be honored per user. Allow 2-4 weeks for delivery. New items will be made available on a regular basis, so be sure to check back with us periodically. We also make available downloadable versions of materials in Adobe Acrobat format (PDF) wherever possible. …

You can also visit our Teacher Tools page for more downloadable items such as teacher guides, activity kits, sticker sheets, and more.

Among the goodies:

New! Celebrate National Poetry Month and Young People’s Poetry Week 2008!
Welcome, teachers and librarians! We’re delighted you’re interested in celebrating National Poetry Month and Young People’s Poetry Week (April 14-20, 2008) with our free classroom kit. …

More free poetry curriculum for your classroom! Our kits from 2007 [featuring Douglas Florian] and 2006 [featuring Mary Ann Hoberman] are still available …

The Academy of American Poets, also known as Poets.org, is taking a leaf from New York City’s poetry book and celebrating the first national Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 17th; the Big Apple has been at it, inspired by the poem below I’ve loved for many years, since 2002:

Keep a Poem in your Pocket
by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers (1914-2000)

Keep a poem in your pocket
and a picture in your head
and you’ll never feel lonely
at night when you’re in bed.

The little poem will sing to you
the little picture bring to you
a dozen dreams to dance to you
at night when you’re in bed.

So —
Keep a picture in your pocket
and poem in your head
and you’ll never feel lonely
at night when you’re in bed.

You’re supposed to pull the poem out to share it with others. If you’re up for newfangled poetry in your pocket, try Poets.org’s MobilePoets.org: “The entire collection of over 2,500 poems on Poets.org, as well as hundreds of biographies and essays, is also available in a mobile format which provides free and direct access to poetry in the palm of a hand”.

Luddite that I am, I rather like this more old-fashioned method — free printable stationery from Scholastic so you and your child can copy out a favorite poem to keep in your pocket. Or order some bookmarks to share from Owl Square Press, such as “Rise Up Reading”, with a poem by Pam Muñoz Ryan and artwork by Jim Ishikawa,

My old Cybils friend, Sylvia Vardell, has the wonderful resource, the Poetry for Children blog

Speaking of the Cybils awards, the recent lists of 2007 Cybils poetry nominees and finalists are handy for library browsing and bookstore shopping.

The Poetry Foundation has a nifty children’s page, full of kidlit names you will likely know

The folks at Crayola are celebrating, and have some projects for your children, from Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe coloring pages (I kid you not), to Crayola poetry (a version of the Magnetic type), and lesson plans (25 of them).

April is Poetry Month in Canada, too, and includes Young Poets as well, who get their own week April 7-13.

The Children’s Book Council has a PDF of 2007-2008 Poetry Books for Young People. One of the few things at the CBC I don’t like is the suggestion to “Host a Bad Poetry Reading“. If there’s a worse way to inspire a love of poetry, especially good poetry, in children, I can’t think of it.

If you look at the very top of this blog, you’ll see a green tab labeled “Poetry”. Most of my general poetry posts (not the Poetry Friday ones, though) are there, including

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (March 2006)

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli (aka “Poetry as broccoli, and a wrap-up for National Poetry Month”, March 2006)

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources (April 2006)

Poetry sings (February 2006)

A man and his wolf

There’s a new BBC2 documentary, part of the “Natural World” series, about Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) and his wolf Lobo, one of the subjects of Seton’s Wild Animals I Have Known. The new documentary isn’t to be confused with the 1962 Disney live action movie, “The Legend of Lobo”.

In The Telegraph, Steve Gooder, director of the new production “Lobo: The Wolf that Changed America” (airing in the UK on April 2nd and again on April 6th), a BBC/WNET Thirteen production narrated by David Attenborough, writes about the documentary and an appreciation of Ernest Thompson Seton:

It was the moment Ernest Thompson Seton had been waiting for. After months of frustration, the professional wolf hunter finally had his quarry in his sights.

He raised his Winchester rifle and prepared to put a bullet between the eyes of “Old Lobo”, a notorious wolf that had killed hundreds of cattle.

But, face to face with his adversary for the first time, something deep within the hunter changed. He slowly lowered his gun and decided to take Lobo back alive.

The year was 1894 and it was a moment that would prove a crucial turning point, not just for Seton, but also for the fate of America’s wilderness and its wild creatures.

British-born Seton had grown up with wolves on the Canadian frontier and written the definitive manual on how to catch them. More than two centuries earlier, his Scottish ancestors had helped wipe out the last of Britain’s wild wolves.

Yet there was another, less bloodthirsty, side to Seton. His backwoods childhood had left him with a real love and fascination for nature and he would eventually go on to become both a leading light in America’s emerging conservation movement and a tireless advocate for the protection of wolves.

It should be on WNET Thirteen and other PBS stations later one, but didn’t have much luck finding any particulars.

It strikes me that the documentary would be well paired with the Library of Congress’s collection on The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.

We’re big fans Ernest Thompson Seton, who was a naturalist, author, wildlife artist, and founder of the Woodcraft Indians organization as well a founder and first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America. Some of our favorite ETS books from the Farm School bookshelf:

Wild Animals I Have Known, which includes the story of Lobo, the King of Currumpaw (also available free online at The Baldwin Project)

Woodcraft and Indian Lore: A Classic Guide from a Founding Father of the Boy Scouts of America

Art Anatomy of Animals

Two Little Savages

Rolf in the Woods: The Adventures of a Boy Scout With Indian Quonab and Little Dog Skookum

* * *

More Ernest Thompson Seton links:

The Ernest Thompson Seton Pages, maintained by Ron Edmonds; including his biography and also the Blue Skies Today blog, an online journal “designed to provide a community for all people interested in the life, works and philosophy of Ernest Thompson Seton and Woodcraft to share thoughts, writings, poetry, questions and information.” Ron Edmonds at Blue Skies also points you to this audio download of Seton’s “The Wolf That Talked Too Much”.

Works by ETS at Project Gutenberg, including The Arctic Prairies : a Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles in Search of the Caribou; Being the Account of a Voyage to the Region North of Aylemer Lake. So far, nothing yet online at LibriVox.org.

Online edition of ETS’s The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indian League of America

The Philmont Museum and Ernest Thompson Seton Memorial Library at the Philmont Scout Ranch (owned by the Boy Scouts) in Cimarron, New Mexico. Seton’s widow Julia donated his personal library and many works of art, including Seton’s painting, Triumph of the Wolves, and also Lobo’s pelt.

Manitoba Author Publication biography

The Seton Centre in Carberry, Manitoba; Seton and his brother lived on a homestead near Carberry in the 1880s and 1890s, and it was here that he began to write. The Mammals of Manitoba was published in 1886, followed by The Birds of Manitoba in 1891. The following year he was appointed Provincial Naturalist.

The Academy of the Love of Learning has a connection to Seton. From the website: “The mission of the Academy for the Love of Learning is to awaken, enliven, nurture and sustain the natural love of learning in people of all ages. We seek to encourage and cultivate the powers of critical thought, imagination, curiosity, innate sense of purpose, wonder and inspiration, and an ongoing awakening of the heart.”

In 2003, the Academy purchased the old Seton Castle, the last residence of ETS, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here’s the link to the online Seton Art Exhibit, planned, it sounds, for later this year; the page does have one work, Seton’s “Sleeping Wolf” painting.

Seton’s biography from the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; with some of his chipmunk illustrations

Paul Giambarba‘s 100 Years of Illustration blog has several recent posts featuring Seton’s artwork: Ernest Thompson Seton’s The American Bison or Buffalo; Ernest Thompson Seton — 2; Ernest Thompson Seton — 3

And, on film:

“The Legend of Lobo”, Walt Disney, 1962; on DVD once upon a time. Check your local library.

“King of the Grizzlies”, Walt Disney, 1970; available on DVD. Based on Seton’s The Biography of a Grizzly (1900, here at Gutenberg).

“Chico, the Misunderstood Coyote”, Walt Disney, 1961; apparently not generally available in any format

And while CBC Television has produced two shows about Seton — “Ernest Thompson Seton, Keeper of the Wild” (1974) and “Seton’s Manitoba” (1984), both of which seem to have sunk into vaults without a trace — the National Film Board of Canada seems to have ignored him completely. Curious.

Our Maggie and Our Anne

Still plowing through weekend papers:

In The Guardian, Margaret Atwood’s salute to Anne of Green Gables and “Annery”:

Nor is this process at an end: from the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority that gives the nod to all collateral products, expect more Anne boxed sets, Anne notepaper and Anne pencils, Anne coffee mugs and Anne aprons, Anne candies and Anne straw hats, and Anne — well, what else? Anne lace-edged pantaloon underclothing? Anne cookbooks — oops, we already have those.

Past the Annery is a moving tribute not just to Anne and L.M. Montgomery but to Marilla Cuthbert, too:

There’s another way of reading Anne of Green Gables, and that’s to assume that the true central character is not Anne, but Marilla Cuthbert. Anne herself doesn’t really change throughout the book. She grows taller, her hair turns from “carrots” to “a handsome auburn”, her clothes get much prettier, due to the spirit of clothes competition she awakens in Marilla, she talks less, though more thoughtfully, but that’s about it. As she herself says, she’s still the same girl inside. Similarly, Matthew remains Matthew, and Anne’s best chum Diana is equally static. Only Marilla unfolds into something unimaginable to us at the beginning of the book. Her growing love for Anne, and her growing ability to express that love – not Anne’s duckling-to-swan act – is the real magic transformation. Anne is the catalyst who allows the crisp, rigid Marilla to finally express her long-buried softer human emotions. At the beginning of the book, it’s Anne who does all the crying; by the end of it, much of this task has been transferred to Marilla. As Mrs Rachel Lynde says, “Marilla Cuthbert has got mellow. That’s what.”

“I was wishing you could have stayed a little girl, even with all your queer ways,” says Marilla in one of her weepy passages towards the end of the book. Marilla has finally allowed herself to make a wish, and now it’s been granted: over the past hundred years, Anne has stayed the same. Good luck to her for the second hundred.

Read the entire article here.

I’ll be spending tonight

at home with Paul Gross. Well, I’ll be at home, on the couch, and he’ll be on television, in the first part of the CBC political thriller miniseries Trojan Horse, the sequel to H20 (fictional but timely) the other year. Here’s the Globe & Mail interview before it disappears. If it does, try this instead.

We’re also looking forward to Paul Gross’s next project, the movie Passchendaele, coming in November.

UPDATED TO ADD: Great good fun so far, and so many favorite faces, including William Hutt in what I assume must have been one of his last filmed roles. Also Saul Rubinek, Martha Burns, Susan Coyne, and Kenneth Welsh. And how funny to have a President Stanfield, the name, according to some, of “the best Prime Minister Canada never had” as well as iconic Canadian longjohns.

Conditional love, or, Going, going, gone

Maybe I missed the memo, but when oh when did “had went” and “would have went” become so popular? Perhaps when teachers quit writing verb conjugations on the blackboard?

I realize I live in the boonies in the back of beyond, and I know the local school system, erm, needs work (there’s a reason we home school, you know — and that we have a blackboard in the kitchen, which I’m not afraid to use).

This is, after all, rural midwestern Canada, a place where it’s not uncommon to hear people you know, old and young, say things such as “Her and I went shopping together”, “Me and her can’t make it that day”, “I seen him at the store, ” and, “Me and her seen them at the store.” Even from provincial politicians and cabinet members, and 4H public speaking events, where the judges don’t say anything because a) their knowledge of grammar is just as limited or b) they don’t want to damage anyone’s self-esteem*. There are even people around here who say “tooken” when they mean “taken”, and believe me when I tell you it takes all my inner strength to find a spot on the horizon and stare at it hard.

But all of a sudden not too long ago I realized that I was hearing adults who should know better — some of whom live in big cities back East and have jobs on the radio and television and some of whom are supposed to be, oh say, broadcast professionals — saying things such as, “I had went to the doctor”, or “We would have went along if it had been possible.” I heard one example on CBC Radio this week.

I also realize that there are those who say that the English language is a fluid, ever-changing living thing, and invoke Shakespeare when discussing that fact that it has been standardized for a relatively short period of time, and call those of us who find the changes upsetting or grating old-fashioned.  This is more than just the pet peeve of a curmudgeon.  George Orwell began his landmark 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” so:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Read that last sentence again.

In America, Richard Hofstadter in 1963, John Taylor Gatto, and most recently Susan Jacoby in her Age of American Unreason (which easily could be The Age of North American Unreason) have famously and variously written about anti-intellectualism in modern Society. Todd Gitlin wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education after the American election of 2000,

Thirty-seven years have passed since the appearance of the last substantial book to take seriously, in the words of its title, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Richard Hofstadter’s tour de force, appearing in 1963, is actually a product of the 1950’s. Like many intellectuals, Hofstadter was disturbed by the general disdain for “eggheads,” haunted by Joseph McCarthy’s thuggish assault on Dean Acheson and his Anglophilic ways, and dismayed by Eisenhower’s taste for Western novels and his tangled syntax (which was not yet understood to be, at least sometimes, not simply incompetent but deliberately evasive). Had not Eisenhower himself in 1954 (no doubt in words written for him by another hand) cited a definition of an intellectual as “a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows”? (How much more congenial was Stevenson, who once cracked: “Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your yolks!”)

Probing for historical roots of a mood that was sweeping (if somewhat exaggerated by intellectuals), Hofstadter found that “our anti-intellectualism is, in fact, older than our national identity.” He cited, among others, the Puritan John Cotton, who wrote in 1642, “The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee”; and Baynard R. Hall, who wrote in 1843 of frontier Indiana: “We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness.”

Yet, according to the historian Lawrence W. Levine, the illiterate Rocky Mountain scout Jim Bridger could recite long passages from Shakespeare, which he learned by hiring someone to read the plays to him. “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” Alexis de Tocqueville found on his trip through America in 1831-32. Here lay a supremely American paradox: The same Americans who valued the literacy of commoners were suspicious of experts and tricksters.

By the way, it occurs to me that Gitlin’s Media Unlimited (originally published in 2002 and revised last year, and which seems to have come out of the Chronicle article) ties in with the conversation over at Sippican Cottage, which is all of a very large piece.

I have to wrap this up to try out my repaired clothes dryer, so I’ll get back to grammar and quote Jacoby from American Unreason,

It is all reminiscent of the exchange among Alice, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare tells Alice. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.” The Hatter chimes in, “Not the same thing a bit! Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’.” In an ignorant and anti-intellectual culture, people eat mainly what they see.

That explains a lot. I must have sympathetic indigestion.

* That strong sense of self-esteem no doubt will come in handy as an adult when you find yourself reporting the national news on live television: “The President would have went to Camp David but the helicopter was broken.” Because there will be a few of us who notice.

Sunday catch-up

English celebrity Katie Price (apparently also known as Jordan when she’s modeling for Page 3 of The Sun and Playboy; Wikipedia seems more than adequate here if you haven’t heard of her either) is in the middle of a book brouhaha in the UK. In 2006, Random House UK handed over a £300,000 advance to have Ms. Price’s name on the ghostwritten series, Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies. Now Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies: My Pony Care Book has been shortlisted for the WH Smith Children’s Book award; the other four books on the shortlist are Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo, Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman by Francesca Simon, Kiss by Jacqueline Simon, and That’s Not My Penguin, a fuzzy Usborne board book by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells. Writing in The Guardian Books Blog, Guy Damman writes that the Katie Price title [links all from The Guardian]

has been spurring the literary commentariat into action. Shock and indignation at the fact that a ghostwritten book should be included in the shortlist for such an award have found expression in numerous quoted sources from Tracy Chevalier to Robert Harris.

One response to the outrage, however, assumed a more reasonable, thought-provoking form: Michael Rosen, children’s laureate, made the interesting point: “We get too hung up about authorship. None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children. The issue is whether the book’s good, not who has written it.”

The point is rarely made, in fact, that most literary awards, with the exception of the Nobel prize, are awarded to books, not to the individuals who cash the prize cheques. But Rosen’s wider point — “we get too hung up about authorship” — is rarer still, and is all the more refreshing for it.

A glance at the world of film, where credits now often run to over 10 minutes, is instructive. Although, when discussing Oscar nominations for best film, the names we think of are usually those of the relevant directors, it is the producers — those “unseen hands” who carry overall responsibility for seeing a writer’s pitch carried to worldwide celluloid distribution – who take away the statuette.

Read the rest here. Too hung up on authorship, eh?

Also at The Guardian Book Blog, John Freeman writes, “Has reading about books replaced the real thing? The sheer amount of reviews we can now access has taken some of the joy out of books”:

Say you spend just one hour a day reading about books — in a year you’ll have burned up two weeks of your waking life. Never had time for Moby Dick or Remembrance of Things Past or Crime and Punishment? There’s your reading window.

In truth, these equations are always misleading, because the time we spend skimming or grazing on reviews is not ideal for reading fiction. Flicking over to a website has become our mental fidget, a way to satisfy our constant desire to be “out there” when we can’t be — whether it’s because we’re sitting at an office, or waiting for the potatoes to boil.

On a related note, Roger Sutton at Read Roger is reading and enjoying Hard Books.

And, saving the last for the best, Sippican Cottage demonstrates the accuracy of the old saying, a sound mind in a sound body. From the former,

I encounter an enormous and growing number of people who have no frame of reference for the whole world, and everybody and everything in it, except that which they learned from watching, listening to, or reading entertainment. But unlike the elderly I mentioned, they are not using the TV to remind them of a world they have already participated in. They are deriving their reality from the flickering screen. Every single thing they say or do is filtered almost entirely through the lens of movies, teleplays, and magazines — paper or virtual — things that use reality only as a veneer, if that, and simply to lend verisimilitude to wholly fictitious inventions.

It is now possible to walk up to any stranger on the street, and be as likely to find a person whose views on every subject are shaped entirely by bad song lyrics as any other education. Or their understanding of economics is entirely seen through the prism of Michael Douglas yelling into a satellite phone. Love is one hour fifty-five minutes of a hooker that looks like Audrey Hepburn being wooed by a captain of industry. The only talk they have is small, and consists solely of misremembered quotes from Fletch. Their response to any query about the meaning of their life might elicit not St. Augustine, but Lloyd Dobler:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

I have no idea what you’ve got, but I know I don’t want it, is an interesting worldview.

Read the rest here, because it gets even better.

Robert Fagles (1933-2008)

From Chris Hedges‘s article in The New York Times, “A Bridge Between the Classics and the Masses”, April 13, 2004:

On his deathbed, the Roman poet Virgil asked that the manuscript of his greatest work, The Aeneid, be destroyed. It was, after a decade of writing, still flawed. And perhaps, as some have suggested, this gentle man, who knew much of human suffering and pain, struggled with his glorification of empire and the reigning Roman imperial house.

These themes of empire and death, of human tragedy, of the pain of duty and the loss of love and the horror of war, have consumed one Virgil translator, Dr. Robert Fagles, for nearly as long as it took Virgil to write the epic poem. Dr. Fagles has worked day after day, month after month, and now, year after year since beginning his work in 1997, in a window-lined room in his house on a back road here.

He struggles to take the highly inflected Latin and render it in English, to make sure Virgil’s deep pessimism, his doubts, disappointments and understanding of our incompleteness are passed on to a new generation of readers.

His translation, nearly complete [now complete, and only just in paperback, but spring for the hardcover], follows his versions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles and The Oresteia by Aeschylus, all published by Penguin Books. These translations of ancient Greek classics have sold some two million copies.

”There are many readers who hunger for substance,” Dr. Fagles said. ”I do not despair. I know they are out there, and I hear from them often.”

On his desk was an open copy of Virgil in Latin, sheets of paper and Dr. Fagles’s printed manuscript. He works about four or five hours a day.

The Aeneid is a cautionary tale,” he said. ”It is one we need to read today. It speaks of the terrible price of victory in war, for Virgil knew that victory is finally impossible, that it always lies out of reach. He saw the unforeseen aftermath, the way war could all go wrong whether from poor planning or because of the gods on high. He knew the sheer accumulation of death, the destruction, the pain we inflict when we use force to create empire.”

Every age needs classics translated into the idiom of the moment. It gives the works new vitality, new meaning. It offers to the living a connection with those who went before, the accumulated wisdom of the past, a protection from a dangerous provincialism.

”In Virgil, as in Homer, you find great reservoirs of memory,” he said. ”You find the restorative power of love set against a world of violence. There is sadness in the poem. There are innumerable losses. War wages on too long. Nearly every book in The Aeneid ends with certain death. Aeneas reaches out to the ghosts of those he loved, always beyond his grasp.”

Read the rest here.