A Few Translations of Catullus

Catull_Sirmione

Here are some of my translations of the Roman poet Catullus.

***

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.

***

109 & 70

You promise, my life, that now and forever

This same joyous love will keep us together.

Sweet gods, I pray that her promise is true:

Grant that she’ll mean it in all that she’ll do,

That this bond be lifelong and held without end,

Not just with my lover, but my sacred friend.

She says that she’d take me before even Zeus

To be her betrothed, but her meaning is loose.

All a girl says to a lover who craves,

Write on the wind and commit to the waves.

 

Talking to Air (A Rap of Jesus on the Cross)

Check out 2:192:25–it’s awesome. If it wasn’t for this little miracle caught on film, I probably would have deleted the video.

I wrote this rap in 2012 but only got around to shooting it this summer in Jerusalem. I shot it on my cousin’s Go Pro camera and filmed it in and around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the site of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. The lyrics are mine, but I found the music on youtube and downloaded it to Audacity; unfortunately, the link to the original soundtrack is now dead, and I don’t know whom to thank for the beat. I’ve been writing songs for a long time, but until now, how only shared them with a few close friends and relatives.

***

Lord, hear my prayer,
Prove that you’re there.
Lord, hear my prayer,
I’m talking to air.

It’s not such good news.
To be King of the Jews,
And revel with devils
Predestined to lose.
I once was the muse
Of an impious ruse,
A sinister rebel,
Or so I’m accused.
Pelted with pebbles
And curses and boos,
This is an end
No messiah would choose.

Lord, hear my prayer,
Prove that you’re there.
Lord, hear my prayer,
I’m talking to air.

Dragged to the court, my defense wasn’t wordy.
And now I am strangled and beaten and dirty,
Nailed alive on a cross that’s unsturdy,
And dying a virgin at barely age thirty.

I feel like I’m dreaming.
I’m shaking; I’m screaming.
I’m not very proud
To be sobbing so loud
And throbbing in anguish
In front of the crowd.
But at least there’s the fact
that this hillside is packed
To see my last act
As I squirm and react.
But the rabble is crude,
And their babble is lewd.
And to top it all off
I’m ashamed to be nude.

I feel myself dying.
My mother is crying.
I swear it’s all right,
But she knows that I’m lying.
Praying won’t help,
But she can’t help but trying.

Lord, hear my prayer,
Prove that you’re there.
Lord, hear my prayer,
I’m talking to air.

I say all the Psalms.
I can’t feel my palms.
I can’t move my fingers.
A burning pain lingers.
My quaking lungs quiver,
and shaking feet shiver.
In one gruesome dither
I puke up my liver.
Oh God, to return to the green Jordan River!

The man to my right
Wants to start up a fight.
In a voice hoarse but lyrical
Being satirical,
Says, do a miracle.
It’s not so empirical.

When will this pass?
How long will it last?

The man to my left,
Who was sentenced for theft,
In a voice that’s mysterious,
Not deleterious.
Likely delirious,
Says I’m imperious,
He can’t be serious.
I don’t believe
All they say I achieved.
So there is no reprieve.

Lord, hear my prayer,
Prove that you’re there.
Lord, hear my prayer,
I’m talking to air.

I stare at the sun in an act of defiance.
Its unbearable glare makes me wince in compliance.

Oh God, hear my cry!
Oh when will I die!

I thrash my head against the cross,
but consciousness still isn’t lost.
Sweat is flowing, flesh is torn,
Gore pours from the crown of thorns.
At least it doesn’t bother me
To never know who fathered me,
Now he won’t feel any pain
Or have to see me croak in vain.

Now the pungent stench is shameful.
Every breath is drawn and painful.
Heartbeat plunging ever lower,
Broken coughs are getting slower.

Then although my faith resists,
I start to doubt that God exists.

“Eli lama sabachthani?”

I close my eyes, and then I see
That now the devil’s run amok.
And I’ve run out of all my luck.
And with the dying breath I suck.
Before I die, I whisper…