Epistle to a Student of Dead Languages

by Philip Freneau (1795)

I pity him, who at no small xpense,
Has studied sound instead of sense:
He, proud some antique gibberish to attain;
of Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, vain,
Devours the husk, and leaves the grain.

In his own language Homer writ and read,
Not spent his life in poring on the dead:
Why then your native language not pursue
In which all ancient sense (that’s worth review)
Glows in translation, fresh and new?

He better plans, who things, not words, attends,
And turns his studious hours to active ends;
Who art through every secret maze explores,
Invents, contrives–and Nature’s hidden stores
From mirrours, to their object true,
Presents to man’s obstructed view,
That dimly meets the light, and faintly soars: —

His strong capacious mind
By fetters unconfin’d
Of Latin lore and heathen Greek,
Takes Science in its way,
Pursues the kindling ray
‘Till Reason’s morn shall on him break!


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