Kiss me

In the last few weeks, I think I can be forgiven for almost forgetting that my job is to be a lecturer: to go to a class and interact with young people. I have been literally buried under piles of admin, occasionally coming out for air. This has been very detrimental to my health. That is not what I trained to be: I trained to be a researcher and a teacher. I love to teach. I would not presume to be a good teacher, but I try my hardest.

What makes a good lecture? It’s so hard to pinpoint. Sometimes I prepare so well, but the lecture does not come off. On other occasions, I just throw together a few slides and talk, and the students seem genuinely interested. It’s really like cooking. Sometimes, I follow a recipe to the letter and the result is mediocre. On other occasions, I just mix some ingredients in a pan, and it’s delicious.

Teaching let’s me think. It gives me ideas. Teaching helps me make links between things I had previously placed in separate compartments of my brain. And this happened to me again today. I was giving a broad one-hour introduction to Greek and Latin poetry to first year students in Ancient History: an almost impossible task if there is one. I simply tried to convey how much I love Greek and Latin poetry, especially those poems that are painfully beautiful in their simplicity. I chose one poem to read. Catullus’ fifth poem, the one about kisses – here in the perfectly fine Wikisource translation:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us value all the rumors of
more severe old men at only a penny!
Suns are able to set and return:
when once the short light has set for us
one perpetual night must be slept by us.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then immediately a thousand then a hundred.
then, when we will have made many thousand kisses,
we will throw them into confusion,
or lest we know anyone bad be able to envy
when he knows there to be so many of kisses.

I read this rather badly. Rather badly because I struggle with reading English poetry aloud (I do not know why), but also because a thought was bubbling up in a corner of my brain. This poem I had read thousands of times in several languages (Latin, French, English) suddenly revealed itself to have striking similarities with one of my  very favourite poems: Jacques Prévert‘s Kiss Me. I couldn’t find a good English translation online, so here is my attempt:

‘Twas in a street of the City of Lights
Where ’tis always dark, where there’s no air
And winter like summer, there ’tis always winter.

She was on the stairs
Him next to her, her next to him
‘Twas night
And she told him:

Here ’tis dark
There’s no air
Winter like summer, ’tis always winter
God’s sun don’t shine our way
He’s got too much to do where the rich stay

Take me in your arms
Kiss me
Kiss me long
Kiss me
Later, ’twill be too late
Our life, ’tis now

Here we die of everything:
of heat, of cold
We freeze, we suffocate
There’s no air

If you stopped kissing me
I feel I’d die, suffocate
You’re 15, I’m 15
Put together, that’s 30
At 30, we ain’t kids

We’ve the right to work
We’ve that to kiss
Later, ’twill be too late
Our life, ’tis now
Kiss me.

Jacques Prévert, 1946

And as the links formed in my brain, I felt the stress of endless meetings washing away. I stopped feeling guilty for not managing to learn Managerese (the baffling language used in so many university memos). I knew what mattered. And the students listened.

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