Carmen Possum

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Carmen Possum is a popular 80-line macaronic poem written in a mix of Latin and English. Its author is unknown, but the poem's theme and language enable one to surmise that he or she was from the United States of America and was either a teacher or at least a student of Latin.

The poem's title represents a multilingual play on words: Possum is Latin for "I can"/"I am able to" and colloquial English for "opossum." While carmen possum sounds like a well-formed Latin phrase to untrained ears, its meaning in context reveals that at least this instance of it is not: On one hand, the only even arguably correct Latin construction translates as "I am capable of song" (with "of" here constituting not a stand-alone preposition but rather a portion of an English phrasal verb), satisfying (if only barely) the requirements of syntax at the expense of replacing the title's clearly intended semantic content with a clearly unintended counterpart. On the other, the fact that a proper translation of "Song of [the] Opossum" into Latin would involve a non-nominative, usually genitive, construction ([o]possi rather than [o]possum) shows that one cannot read the title as having the semantic content clearly intended by its author without also disregarding syntactic rules' constraints on the title's permissible meanings or at least presuming the title's author to have violated those rules when writing it.

The poem can be used as a pedagogical device for elementary Latin teaching. The language mix includes vocabulary, morphology (turnus) and grammar (trunkum longum).

Carmen Possum is also an unpublished musical piece by Normand Lockwood.[1]

The poem[edit]

THE NOX was lit by lux of Luna,
And 'twas a nox most opportuna
To catch a possum or a coona;
For nix was scattered o'er this mundus,
A shallow nix, et non profundus.
On sic a nox with canis unus,
Two boys went out to hunt for coonus.
The corpus of this bonus canis
Was full as long as octo span is,
But brevior legs had canis never
Quam had hic dog; et bonus clever.
Some used to say, in stultum jocum
Quod a field was too small locum
For sic a dog to make a turnus
Circum self from stem to sternus.
Unus canis, duo puer,
Nunquam braver, nunquam truer,
Quam hoc trio nunquam fuit,
If there was I never knew it.
This bonus dog had one bad habit,
Amabat much to tree a rabbit,
Amabat plus to chase a rattus,
Amabat bene tree a cattus.
But on this nixy moonlight night
This old canis did just right.
Nunquam treed a starving rattus,
Nunquam chased a starving cattus,
But sucurrit on, intentus
On the track and on the scentus,
Till he trees a possum strongum,
In a hollow trunkum longum.
Loud he barked in horrid bellum,
Seemed on terra vehit pellum.
Quickly ran the duo puer
Mors of possum to secure.
Quam venerit, one began
To chop away like quisque man.
Soon the axe went through the truncum
Soon he hit it all kerchunkum;
Combat deepens, on ye braves!
Canis, pueri et staves
As his powers non longius carry,
Possum potest non pugnare.
On the nix his corpus lieth.
Down to Hades spirit flieth,
Joyful pueri, canis bonus,
Think him dead as any stonus.
Now they seek their pater's domo,
Feeling proud as any homo,
Knowing, certe, they will blossom
Into heroes, when with possum
They arrive, narrabunt story,
Plenus blood et plenior glory.
Pompey, David, Samson, Caesar,
Cyrus, Black Hawk, Shalmanezer!
Tell me where est now the gloria,
Where the honors of victoria?
Nunc a domum narrent story,
Plenus sanguine, tragic, gory.
Pater praiseth, likewise mater,
Wonders greatly younger frater.
Possum leave they on the mundus,
Go themselves to sleep profundus,
Somniunt possums slain in battle,
Strong as ursae, large as cattle.
When nox gives way to lux of morning,
Albam terram much adorning,
Up they jump to see the varmin,
Of the which this is the carmen.
Lo! possum est resurrectum!
Ecce pueri dejectum,
Ne relinquit back behind him,
Et the pueri never find him.
Cruel possum! bestia vilest,
How the pueros thou beguilest!
Pueri think non plus of Caesar,
Go ad Orcum, Shalmanezer,
Take your laurels, cum the honor,
Since ista possum is a goner!

Analysis[edit]

The poem is written from a third-person omniscient perspective in rhyming iambic tetrameter, with turns of phrase satirising Homerian epic. It chronicles the adventures of two boys who go out hunting for an opossum or raccoon on a snowy night, taking their Dachshund dog to assist them in running down the quarry. Although the dog was often mocked for its disproportionate length (eight spans or seventy inches) and love of chasing rabbits, cats, and rats, it performs flawlessly on the night, bringing the quarry (an opossum) to ground in a long, hollow log.

The boys run quickly to secure the death of the opossum, chopping at the tree to bring it down. They declare the hunt finished, leave the opossum carcass on the ground, and go home, filled with pride. As they tell the story of their hunt, they are praised by their parents and younger brother, and fall asleep, dreaming of opossums as strong as bears and as large as cattle. Early the next morning, the two boys go to see their quarry, but it had presumably merely been injured rather than killed, and is now gone. They never find the opossum and are dejected.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ University of Colorado at Boulder, Guide to the Normand Lockwood Collection, 1921-1996, Subseries C: Miscellaneous Music by Normand Lockwood, Box No. 5. Online version accessed on 2009-06-25.

External links[edit]