Our latin teacher
had five names:
William Owen Ellis 
Alexander Humphreys.
The students called him WOE! 
melodramatically elongating
the diphthong--
but never to his face.
None would have dared that.
It was a long thin 
Virgilian face
bisected by
with a longer and 
thinner nose
better fashioned
for marble frieze 
than living man.
His suits too were 
of an antique cut:
pencilthin lapels 
and razorsharp cuffs.
A crinolated crown 
of well-oiled curlicues
were his sole vanity.
His twin gods were the Queen
and Robert E. Lee
whose portraits graced
either side of his rostrum.
Though well over six feet
and at best 110 lbs,
his spindly figure
could inspire terror,
or if not terror, 
at least awe--
like an apparition appearing
when least expected
or like the past
to a boy of twelve or thirteen.
He did not live on campus,
but in a rented room
at the Read House 
with the final effects,
it was rumored,
of a Tidewater family
whose fortunes had flagged
with 'the War'
and which had left him
in lieu of patrimony
those five names.
Mr. Humphreys was
the best kind of teacher,
being essentially a myth--
it wasn't so much 
the latin verbs we learned,
the six declensions
or the dreaded hexameter--
in him we could imagine
pius Aeneas
transplanted to 
that absurd kingdom 
called McCallie School,
making the best 
of a bad situation:
listening all day to pygmies
recite their conjugations,
make a muddle of Caesar
and confound Cicero.
And though he 
would have won
no beauty contest,
I can think
of no more arresting
illustration of the Beautiful
than of Mr. Humphreys,
his Horace tucked 
under his arm,
slowly floating down
the oak-panelled corridor 
of the old A-building
past rows of lockers,
"wine-dark" at sunset,
growing longer and thinner
in the receding light,
thinner and longer,
until he reaches 
the darkness of the vestibule
and is seen no more.



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