Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: that dirty Catullus

I recently purchased a nice bilingual edition of Catullus's poems from my favorite used bookstore here in New City and I've been cracking up reading them. So much sex, so many pederasts and whoremongers, and I'm loving the translator's very 1966 slang and innuendos. (Oddly, while it's all pricks and cocks and buggery, all the time, the female genitalia are continually rendered formally, as pudendum.)

So here are two poems, translated by Peter Whigham--one an old favorite and the other one that was entirely new to me:


Curious to learn
how many kiss-
es of your lips
might satisfy
my lust for you,
Lesbia, know
as many as
are grains of sand
between the oracle
of sweltering Jove
at Ammon &
the tomb of old
Battiades the First,
in Libya
where the silphium grows;
as many as
the sky has stars
at night shining
in quiet upon
the furtive loves
of mortal men,
as many kiss-
es of your lips
as these might slake
your own obsessed
Catullus, dear,
so many that
no prying eye
can keep the count
nor spiteful tongue fix
their total in
a fatal formula.


Do not wonder when the wench declines
your thigh her thigh to place beneath.
You cannot buy them with the costliest clothes
or with extravagance of clearest stones.
There's an ugly rumour abroad,
             b.o. under the armpits--
and nobody likes that!
             So do not wonder if
a nice girl declines the goat-pit.
Either reach for the deoderant,
or cease to wonder that she so declines.

(Hasn't that last one been used in an Axe commercial, already?)


Pamphilia said...

I love Catullus! And I love the fact that modern translators are constantly trying to capture the "in the moment" casual feeling of C's writing with slang. Which ends up sounding dated 40 years after the translation . . . Catullus is best in Latin, of course, for the assonance and rhythm, but these translations are hilarioius! Have you seen Zukofsky's? It's more of a language poem than an actual translation . . .

Catullus came up in my class on Astrophil and Stella. A lot of my students (classics minors) felt that Catullus and not Petrarch, was the true precursor to the Renaissance sonnet sequence. Hence I've started looking into the Renaissance Catullan legacy. All this talk about Ovid and Horace and Tacitus and so little on Catullus. This has got to change!

Peri said...

Catullus is wonderful! I so wish I'd discovered the Classics dept. earlier in my education. Perhaps I'll be as cool as you and Muse and teach this stuff in my next life. :)

Samothraki Permaculture said...

If you want to listen to Catullus read aloud in Latin, there is quite a good selection of his poetry available for download on the Latinum Podcast