Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Poetry Stretch - Ubi Sunt

My son started high school last week and with it, his first foray into learning another language. He came home on Friday with a list of vocabulary words to memorize for a quiz on Tuesday. When I realized one of his words was ubi (he's taking Latin), I knew exactly what the form for this week's challenge would be.

Ubi sunt (Latin for  “where are?”) is a verse form traditionally used in Old English poetry. In the Ubi-sunt poetic form, a narrator asks a series of questions that tend to take the form “Where are the ____ of yesterday?” or “Where has the _____gone?”

Here is how The Poetry Foundation defines the form.
A number of medieval European poems begin with this Latin phrase meaning “Where are they?” By posing a series of questions about the fate of the strong, beautiful, or virtuous, these poems meditate on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The phrase can now refer to any poetry that treats these themes. 
You can learn more about this form at Wikipedia. You can find helpful advice for writing an ubi sunt poem at How to Write a Ubi-Sunt Poem (Synonym) and How to Write a Ubi Sunt Poem (Seattle PI).

I hope you'll join me this week in writing a poem in the form of ubi sunt. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


  1. Kindergartners

    Where have the kindergartners gone, the children
    I taught back then, with their giggles and pokes?
    Where are their squeaky good morning songs?
    Where are their pictures of horses colored blue
    and purple and green? Where are their names
    written in macaroni? Where is the glue on their fingers?
    Where are their absorbed faces during story time?
    Where are their knees as they hung upside down
    on the monkey bars? Where are the red rubber balls
    they bounced? Where are their tears and quarrels?
    I picture their sullen teenage faces, their worried
    young married faces, their visits to the DMV
    and notices from the IRS, the dishes
    they wash, the spaghetti they cook and their hands
    holding the hands of kindergartners,
    walking them to school on the very first day.

    —Kate Coombs, 2015
    all rights reserved

    1. Kate ~ Love your apt description of Ks in this and how you circled around in the end.

  2. Ubi Sunt

    Where have the Latin teachers of yesteryear gone,
    The ones who made you ask for permission
    for a bathroom pass in Latin, then answered,
    Tibi licet Which sounds like something improper
    not done in bathrooms at all.

    Perhaps they've gone to the Roman Forum
    in the sky, practicing their thumbs up and down,
    which they long wished they could have used
    on recalcitrant students, preferring hungry lions
    and the occasional Christian to us.

    Or maybe they are taking wekl deserved bath
    in the Roman spas, toweled in white ,
    speaking politics with the senators as red
    and boiled as lobsters, or if they are female--
    like my old teacher--with the senators' wives.

    Wherever they have gone, I would wish them well
    if only I could remember more than puella est bella.
    And that bit about Gaul and the three parts.
    I thought about it last year when I passed a gallstone.
    As the stone slipped from my body, I sighed: Tibi licit.

    At least I finally found some use for the tongue.

    ©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

    1. Jane ~ I must send this to my sister, who was a Latin scholar in high school. Three years behind her, I had to endure her Latin teacher, Sr. St. Matthew (so happy to have another Weis in the school), badger me about when I'd start taking her class. ;)