vrijdag 1 januari 2010

A short introductionary note

Catullus’ lyric poems have been translated in
 English by many, but few, if any, have done
it so lovingly and ably, and have been so
successful in keeping the essence of the original
latin verse as the late J.A.B. Harrisson MBE, DSC.

To honour the man and his labour of love I have thought it appropriate to start
the New Year with some of his translations of Catullus’ poems to Lesbia, his love.
I wish you well dear reader and hope that they will warm your heart and soul
in these cold, chilly, days!

Lesbia, or, to call her by her real name, Clodia - Catullus chose the name Lesbia for her because of his admiration for Sappho the great poetess of Lesbos - was one of the three sisters of P.Clodius Pulcher, tribune of the plebs, the sworn enemy of Cicero who, in his letters to Atticus, refers to her in a not uncomplementary way in Greek as BoĆ“pis, 'The Cow Eyed'; after the Goddess Hera in Homer’s Illiad.

The notorious mistress of Catullus was probably the one wed to and since 59 widow of Q.Caecilius Metellus Celer, consul 60 B.C.

After breaking up with Catullus, who was never blind to his love's failings, and snidely speaks of her, she had an affair with M.Caelius Rufus which lasted for about two years, after which she accused him in 56 of attempted poisoning.
Since the summer of 56 she had an affair with L. Gellius Poplicola, consul 36 B.C., and halfbrother of the famous Messalla Corvinus. This affair with Catullus’ “friend” lasted till winter 55/54 B.C.
She was called Quadrantaria, ‘Lady Farthing’ by Caelius Rufus after the smallest copper coin, because one of her lovers had deceived her by putting copper money instead of silver into a purse and sending it to her.

This amoral and abandoned woman has - some people might say undeservedly become immortal, made so in Catullus' immortal verses, which are among the most beautiful love-poems in existence. In language as direct as it is exquisite he lays bare his heart, revealing his utter infatuation and his joy in it; his doubts and fears; his revolts against the tyranny of love; the quarrels; the reconciliations and the final rupture.

Lesbia, let us love and live,
While the greybeards shake their fingers!
Not a penny will we give
For their talk while life still lingers.

Suns may set and suns may rise,
But, as soon as we are bidden,
We must close in sleep our eyes
For ever, and our light be hidden.

Kiss me then a thousand times
Give me yet a hundred kisses
Kiss, until the number climbs,
And till one or other misses!

Then, when all the kissing's done,
Lest some jealous fellow see it,
We'll destroy the tally run,
Set the number loose, and free it!

Lesbia, you often ask
How many kisses, light as air,
Lovely, tender little kisses
Are sufficient and to spare.

As many as the sands afar
Between the oracle of Jove
And Battus' tomb in Libya:
As many as the stars above.

Which, when the peace of even falls,
Behold the secret loves of men,
For mad Catullus are enough
As many kisses and again.

Which Peeping Thomas may not count,
So swiftly do they flutter by,
And lying tongues, which seek to harm,
Though jealous, may not falsify!

My service to you, lady!
Why, your nose is far from small;
Your feet are hardly graceful,
and your eyes aren't black at all,
Your fingers do not taper
and your lips are never dry,
And I never heard such language,
heaven smite me if I lie!

So you, a bankrupt's light o'love,
are thought as chaste and fair
As is my lady Lesbia,
whose charm's beyond compare!
That's what they think in far Provence?
It makes it clear to me
What tasteless, senseless,
witless fools the people there must be!

Poor Catullus! Cease your madness!
Realise that love is dead.
Once your days were gay with gladness
As you followed where she led.

Never will another lady
Know such great abiding love:
In those gardens, cool and shady,
With the bright blue sky above.

Did you voice your burning passion
As you whiled the hours away,
And your lady, in her fashion,
Lured you on, nor said you nay?

Now, her lovely self denying,
Cease to seek her, cease to mourn;
Turn your thought away from dying,
Slave of passion, all forlorn!

Be courageous in your sorrow.
Bear your loss with constant mind.
Haply you will meet to-morrow
Someone else as sweet and kind.

Farewell, Lady! Now your poet,
Strong once more, resumes his task.
He'll not seek you; now you know it,
Nor your languid favours ask!

Some day you'll be sad and lonely -
What remains in life for you?
None will think you lovely - only
Fear the things they know you do.

Who would take the love you offer?
No man's mistress will you be!
And, Catullus, though she proffer
Peace, stand firm in enmity!

He seems to me to be akin to God -
Greater than God indeed, if such may be,
Who, sitting always at thy side may hear,
And ever and again may look at thee.
The music of thy laughter! All my mind
Is ravished, Lesbia! Nought of me is left
Do I but look at thee! My limbs aflame
With films of fire, my very tongue bereft
Of speech; my ears ring with strange melodies,
Not of this earth, nor yet of azure skies,
And night, dark night, with double gloom descends,
And closes swiftly o'er my dazzled eyes!

My girl-friend says there's nobody
That she would rather wed
Than me, though Jupiter himself
Came panting to her bed.

That's what she says, but certain 'tis
Avowals of Eve's daughters
Should written be upon the wind,
Or swiftly flowing waters!

You used to say, oh, long ago!
The only man you wished to know
Was your Catullus; that your grace
Would never yield to Jove's embrace.
I loved you then, not as a lover,
But as a parent may discover
Love for his sons or sons-in-law;
I now know what in times before
I did not know. My passion's flame
Flares up more wildly. All the same,
You poor, deluded, worthless thing,
Of you I cannot help but sing!
And why? Such treatment fans the fire
Of passion, but it chills desire!

There's none, my Lesbia, can say
That she was ever loved so well
As you have been from day to day
By me, and truly I can tell
Not so much faith was manifest
In any compact ever signed
As in the love that fills my breast:
Yet to this pass you bring my mind
With thinking of your treachery
That in devotion it is lost,
Though bedded in uncertainty,
A wandering vessel, tempest-tossed.
I neither like you now, though you
Should faultless be - Oh! gods above!
Do as you please - nor, it is true,
Can I desist from hopeless love!

I suppose it must be true that man takes pleasure
Remembering good deeds that he has done,
Considering his conduct as a treasure -
No promise broken - not a single one -
No god's commandment to him ever broken.
No fellow-man deceived in any fashion;
For you, Catullus, yet is many a token
Of pleasure from your ill-requited passion.
For all the kindness man can show to any
In word or deed, that you have done, I find:
Your kindly words and deeds have been so many -
Yet vainly lavished on a thankless mind,
Why not desist from further bitter scourging
Yourself? Resolve to banish all delusion;
Cease to be sad, defying heaven's urging;
Withdraw yourself completely from illusion.
Ah yes! it's hard, I know, the sudden parting
From one whose voice like bells of heaven sings,
But you must do so. Come now, let's be starting -
Work out how you may best accomplish things.
For your own safety's sake you have to do it -
Impossible or not, it must be done:
O gods above! Have pity! Help me through it
From bitter start to when the goal is won!
Preserve me from this plague, this desolation
(If you consider that my life's been pure
Enough). Oh, save me from a situation
That rots me from within, and now, for sure,
Drives from my heart all trace of former gladness.
No longer do I seek her love. Indeed
Her chastity or otherwise no sadness
Brings to me now. No longer do I heed!
Heal me, O gods above, from this abhorrent
Distemper. Let my virtues be rewarded
Let healing grace flow o'er me in a torrent,
And peace of mind at long last be afforded!

Lesbia, when her husband's present,
Utters comments most unpleasant,
And this to him, poor fool, is sheer delight.
You senseless idiot! lf she
Had totally forgotten me,
Then you could say for sure that she's alright:
But now, because she snarls and curses,
I'm on her mind, but what's much worse is
Her attitude! it's one of ceaseless ire -
And so the more that Lesbia natters
At me, the less to me it matters -
For where there's talk there's thought, which breeds desire.

There's none can say that she was ever loved.
(At least, with truth) as you've been loved by me.
I tell you, Lesbia, there never was
In any bond so great a loyalty
As that which I'd the fortune to discover
When first I had the luck to be your lover!

Lesbia's always sounding off -
She never can keep quiet!
I suppose it means she loves me:
To prove the point, I'll try it!
For her I'll have no word that's kind,
Though I love her just as much I'll find!

Sweetheart, you promise that our love shall be
A thing of beauty and a joy for ever.
Oh, may the gods grant this was honestly
Your purpose - that the bond be broken never,
And that we two be bound for ever Though I love her just as much I'll find! fast
In bonds of love so long as life shall last.