CATULLUS into English as “The Lesbia Story”

               TU QUOQUE, CATULLE, FRATRE MI! */

                     (THE  LESBIA  STORY)

 

  1. (Carmen 51, briefer version)

 

That he seems to me tantamount to a god,

That he, if I may say so, higher than gods

Who, sitting across from you, unperturbed

Sees you and hears you

 

As you smile sweetly; at which smile my senses

Take leave, for as soon as mine eyes fall, O

Lesbia, upon you, the voice strangles

Within my windpipe,

 

Benumbed grows the tongue, a tiny lightning

Descends and leaves me weak-kneed, noises tinkle

Tinnily in my ear, and a twinned black night

Blanks out my two eyes.

_____________

*/ The ordering of these translations might be defended by reference to erudite speculations of commentators from Lachmann to Della Corte (e.g. I accept the reading of Carmen 109 as largely ironical). I prefer to say it is frankly a chronological fantasy of mine.–As for the style, let me say only that, while I kept to a rather free transposition of Catullus’s metrics, no translation should pretend at least four centuries of English poetry, from Wyatt to Hopkins and Auden, have not intervened. — DRS

 

  1. (Carmen 86)

Many find Barbara beauteous, I find her pale-skinned and tall

And of an upright bearing. Such single traits I

Concede her, deny however the overall beauty: for graceless

I find that large body, insipid and spiceless wholly.

Now Lesbia is beautiful truly; most pleasing overall, and

Despoiling all others of all the seductions they might have.

 

  1. (Carmen 5)

 

Let’s live, Lesbia mine, let’s love each other,

give not a dime when moralist geezers mutter!

The suns go west each day and come up again:

but we, once our brief light of day has westerned,

must sleep thru’ one endless eternal night.

Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,

then another thousand, then a further hundred,

then enchain with thousands and hundreds galore;

and then, after amassing many thousands,

we’ll mix up the count, so we lose score

and preclude the curse of an evil eye

if malice learned the sum total of kisses!

 

  1. (Carmen 70)

 

Nobody’s better in bed than you, says my

Woman, even if Jove himself came begging,

So she says: but what woman says to blinded passion

Should be writ in the wind and rapid flowing water.

 

  1. (Carmen 68A, much abbreviated)

 

I cannot pass under silence, O Muses, in what an affair

Allius helped me and how decisive was his help;

No fugitive ages nor forgetful generations shall ever

Cloak in obscure night his zeal in my cause:

For I shall tell it to you, goddesses, and you’ll retell it

To many thousands, even when this page grows agéd,

And Allius’ fame will spread on and on after his death

Nor shall the spider in his high corner, spinning

The tenuous network, cover with cobweb his forgotten name.

 

For you know, O Muses, what trouble befell me from two-faced  Venus,

What hopeless kind of love she enflamed me with,

Heating me up like the Rock of Sicilian Etna, like the

Bubbling hot springs of Thermopylae in Eta.

At that time, like to a sweet breeze that clears the mariner’s skies

 

Blowing away the dark clouds of heaving tempest,

Such was to me what Allius did when he opened a passage,

Wide in the walled enclosure: for it was he

Who gave me a house for the tryst, who to my woman gave it,

To consummate our mutual amorous games.

There my glowing goddess entered, light-footed she stepped

With her splendid instep on the creaking threshold;

My light flung herself into my arms, with Cupid rapidly

Fluttering around her, resplendent in his saffron blouse.

And if today she is not content with Catullus only,

I’ll endure th’ infrequent trysts with my timid lady

So that I don’t grow too difficult for her nor foolishly jealous.

For she wasn’t conducted to me on her father’s hand

Redolent of Assyrian perfumes, a spouse on her wedding night,

But herself gave her stolen self in a gift=

Giving night, stealing away from her husband’s arms.

Therefore this is enough, one day given

To me which she will mark with the whitest of happy stones.

 

This only gift I bestow as best I can, Allius,

I make a poem for all your abetment and aid,

So that your name should this day nor that day nor another day

Never be eaten away by rugged rust:

Be happy, both you and she who is my life, and the house

In which we took our delight, my lady and I;

Live happy, you who first to landfall led drowning me,

You the first enabler of all these joys,

But above and beyond all, she who’s dearer to me than myself,

O my light, whose life makes my living sweet!

 

  1. (Carmen 92)

 

Lesbia speaks all the time ill of me, she’s never silent

On my score; let me die on the spot if she’s not in love.

“Whence do you get this?” From the same symptoms in myself:  ceaselessly

I curse her, but let me die on the spot if I’m not in love!

 

  1. (Carmen 72)

 

Once you were wont to say you knew only me in love,

Lesbia, nor would you give me up for a hold on Jove.

I embraced you then not as a girlfriend is commonly prized

But as a father loves fiercely the heir of his line.

Now I have learned to know you; so if I burn vehement on,

I look on you as a thing lower and lightweight.

For why, you ask: for a betrayal like yours must lead the lover

To lust even more, yet to like the beloved less.

 

  1. (Carmen 75)

 

Here’s a mind gone mad, O Lesbia mine, by your reason,

Lost to its normal function to such a degree

That no more could it like you even were you to become the best,

Nor refrain from love were you to do the worst.

 

  1. (Carmen 76, abbreviated)

 

If there be a poetic justice, compensating

Unmerited woes from unrequited love,

Many joys await you in your old age, Catullus,

For you did all that was right, said all you could:

Nothing availed when offered to her ungrateful mind.

Wherefore, thus, go on tormenting yourself?

Why not grit your teeth, pull back, pull out of all this,

Acknowledge it’s fated, and stop being unhappy?

It’s hard to leave off at one blow a long-lasting love;

It’s hard, nonetheless do what must be done!

This is your only hope, here you must step on yourself,

Do this, whether you can or cannot do it!

O gods, who have pity, if you have ever in the last minute

Rescued a person at point of imminent death,

Look at unhappy me, and if I have led a pure life,

Tear out of me this plague that is my ruin,

This giddiness sliding stealthily into all my muscles,

Making short shrift of all joys in my breast!

I do not ask any longer that she love me, or indeed

(For it’s no go) that she be faithful to me;

I would be cured myself and rid of this obscure ill.

O gods, grant me this for my devotion sake!

 

  1. (Carmen 85)

 

I hate and I love. Why do I do so, perhaps you’ll ask.

I don’t know, but feel this going on and writhe on the rack.

 

  1. (Carmen 107)

 

Whatever you’d ardently prayed for, desirous, yet lost hope for,

Will be held truly dear if it falls to your lot.

How dear is it then, indeed outweighing any gold,

That you’ve come back, O Lesbia, to desirous me,

Back to desirous me who had lost hope, yourself

Giving yourself back: O most radiant of days!

Who in the whole world is happier than me? who can

Say that in this life there is more to pray for?

 

  1. (Carmen 109)

 

A pleasant love you place before me, life of mine,

One to last eternal between us two.

O great gods, make it come true that she promise truly,

Let her words be sincere and meant within,

So that we may our whole life keep forever faith

To this oath of pure loving friendship.

 

  1. (Carmen 8)

 

Miserable Catullus, stop this total folly

And acknowledge as finished what you know is dead.

Brilliant days shone for you once in fullest glory

When you came again and again to your girl’s trysts,

Girl beloved by us as none shall be loved again.

There such joyous games then happened and so many,

Which you pushed for, nor was the girl unwilling

(Brilliant days indeed were those that shone for you once)!

Yet she now wills it not: rein in your eager wish then,

Don’t pursue her who flies you, don’t live in miserable strain,

But stubbornly buckle under your woes and stay put.

Goodbye, beloved girl! Catullus is now staying put;

No longer does he ask for you, nor entreat th’ indiff’rent she:

A sorry girl you’ll yet be with no entreating left!

Unhappy that you are! What kind of life will you lead?

Who will now look for you? tell you that you’re pretty?

Whom will you make love to now? to whom say “I’m yours”?

Whom embrace and kiss? whose lips cover with little bites?

But thou, Catullus, keep a stubborn mind, stay put!

 

Translated June-July 1985

 

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