A Few Translations of Catullus

Catull_Sirmione

Here are some of my translations of the Roman poet Catullus. I’m thinking of putting these to music and making bilingual videos in English and Latin.

***

3

Venus, Cupids, beat your heads,

My girl’s little bird is dead!

It was her favorite pet and prize,

She loved it more than her own eyes.

A sweeter bird than any other,

It knew her like it knew its mother.

It learned to stay upon her knee,

And leapt about so happily.

For her alone it sang quite well,

But now it makes a trip to hell,

To that abode of no return.

Oh God of Death, horrid and stern!

You stole the little beast from me,

The sweetest pet in history,

It was so cute it was absurd,

Oh evil deed, poor little bird!

Now because you’re lying dead,

My girls eyes have both turned red.

***

5

Lesbia, let’s love and live,

And not a fuck for gossip give.

Suns can die and then revive,

But we poor beings who are alive,

When once expires our little light,

Must all sleep through one endless night.

Kiss me one thousand one hundred times,

Then do it again, force the total to climb.

Kiss me one thousand one hundred times more,

Then do it again, so the number will soar.

Then let’s just agree to mix up and lose count,

Lest we or the jealous should know the amount.

***

7

Lesbia asks a question that’s tough:

how many kisses of hers are enough?

How about the number of grains of sand,

In Libya, medicinal-herb bearing land,

Where Jupiter’s oracle sweats and spouts doom,

And old king Battus built his tomb,

Or the number of stars in the silence of night,

Those voyeurs who peak at affairs before light?

Something like that, I believe, would suffice,

For your lovesick Catullus, upon the advice

That it’s best for the sum total never to lag,

So that snoops cannot count them, or evil tongues wag.

***

8

Wretched Catullus, do not be a fool—

Love burgeons and wanes, an unvarying rule.

Bright suns once shone in the heavens for you

When you echoed your woman in all that she’d do,

No lover was ever so truly adored,

Ere wit fell to silence, before she grew bored,

When you and your lover devoured each hour,

Blazing suns, truly, supplied you their power.

Now she doesn’t want you—you must be a man,

Don’t live as a wretch, nor pursue where she ran.

With a firm mind, endure—this must be your plan.

Now Catullus is firm—goodbye to my soul.

I’ll inquire no more, indifference my goal.

Perhaps you will weep, no man’s prospect or wife,

Poor woman, poor wretch, what remains of your life?

Whom will you kiss? Whose lips will you bite?

Don’t ask, old Catullus. Endure the dead light.

***

93

Julius Caesar, I won’t kiss your ass,

And don’t give a damn if you have any class.

***

85

I hate and I love. How is this possible? I’m at a loss.

But I feel it happen, and am nailed to a cross.

***

59

Rufa of Bologna and Rufulus screw.

She’s the wife of Menenus, often whom you

catch snatching her dinners from pyres of the dead,

chasing up all fallen pieces of bread.

The unshaven cremator soon beats her head.

***

50

It was last night, Licinius, we shared some special time

extemporizing verses and then dueling point for rhyme.

Agreeing to unleash our wits, we scribbled out each line

repaying any interest with our jokes and drinks of wine.

And then last night, Licinius, I went home set alight

By hunger not for food but for your sarcasm and bite.

Starving for the kiss of sleep, my soul succumbed to fury.

I writhed under my bed sheets. I lay awake with worry.

I couldn’t wait for daylight and that blessed hour when

I’d see you face to face, and we could share good times again.

And sprawled out on my couch half dead, with all work set aside,

I wrote this poem for you in hopes you’d pity broken pride.

Now don’t deny me what I want, o apple of my eye,

or the cruel goddess Nemesis might curse you by and by.

She’s quite a bitchy enemy, and so you’d best beware—

Think twice before you shake your head in answer to this prayer.

***

51

Like a god or more, he glistens,

Since he sits there, stares, and listens

As you laugh, which spells for me

Paralysis and misery.

I saw you once. I had no choice.

My tongue was tied. I lost my voice.

I closed my eyes in lust and yearning.

Mute and dumb, my body burning.

Boredom, Catullus, for you is a pain,

Making you writhe and fidget in vain.

Such boredom has proven the ruin of things:

Glorious cities, and many great kings.

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3 thoughts on “A Few Translations of Catullus

  1. Wow! I’m impressed! I was guessing, you might know German, since you guessed the Danish “ser godt” to be “very well” (German: “sehr gut”). I speak Danish, English, German and a little French. 🙂

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