Class Time

Latin Verse Composition

Si placeat brevitas, hoc breve carmen habe

Purpose: the aim is to please, not to teach, not to showcase your cleverness

Style: what works?

  • Clarity – don’t make your reader puzzle too much
  • Repetition is a powerful device
  • Simplicity
  • Word play
  • Form and content should be in harmony.

These features make the poetry zip along with a bit of enthusiasm. Add your little layer of wit at the end.


Some advice from the distant past:

  • Sedes: the “seat” in the line where words naturally do and do not go.
  • Copia verborum: there is usually more than one way to say the same thing. Stay flexible.
  • Argutia: sharpness, wit . . . a poem should have a point.

Advanced Tips

“The meter is a tyrant,” a student laments.
“Meter and poet are friendly rivals: the emperor of Rome and the emperor of Persia.” (DKM)

Ditch the impossible, get on with the possible – it’s a waste of time to agonize over problems that aren’t going to be solved, e.g.:

  • A word like severiorum (Catullus 5, hendecasyllables) would never fit in a dactylic hexameter line
  • Don’t even think of -um as a short syllable. It doesn’t exist (it is either lengthened with following consonant or elided with following vowel)

Speed: to increase your LPH (lines per hour,) “get the end right PDQ and the rest will follow.” 5-10 LPH is a good goal to aim for.

Check everything:

  • Grammar: don’t violate the rules of the language
  • Meter: use your dictionary to check quantities; don’t think about words in isolation. Unless it’s the last word of the line, the next word can change everything
  • Sense (WTFDTM: what ‘on earth’ does this mean?)