Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Poems of Catullus

A book from my TBR shelves came in handy for the literary course I am taking. The history of literature, starts, like so many other things, with the Greeks and the Romans. The Poems of Catullus has been on my shelves for several years, and finally, I read it. It is not entirely easy to interpret the poems, even with the very good introduction by the translator, Peter Whigham.

Here a few lines from the introduction.
"We know very little about Catullus's life: even the dates of his birth and death are uncertain. The likeliest figures are: born 84, died 54 B.C. His full name was Giaus Valerius Catullus. … He appears as one of the lovers of the notorious Clodia Metelli, and a leading figure - perhaps the leading figure - in the new movement in poetry. … In short, the tradition that he died of what our grandmothers called 'a broken heart' finds no support in the poems. It is based solely on the assumption that his love for Clodia was of the conventional type of romantic - i.e. 'fatal' - passion. But I believe that many of the poems point to an altogether different and more complicated state of mind. All we can say for certain about his death is, that like his birth, it happened."
In the poems Catullus calls Clodia for Lesbia. Here are three of my favourite poems. In the first one I recognise some lines from "The Outlander" TV-series (Season 2, episode 13). It is slightly different in the TV-series, it seems that version is based on a translation by Richard Crashaw, from the 17th century (suitable of course).  I found it beautiful when I heard it and so it is when you read it. This version probably more strictly translated.

Poem no. 5

Lesbia
         Live with me
& love me so
we'll laugh at all
the sour-faced strict-
ures of the wise.
This sun once set
will rise again
when our sun sets
follows night &
an and endless sleep.
Kiss me now a
thousand times &
now a hundred
more & then a 
thousand more again
till with so many
hundred thousand
kisses you & I
shall both lose count
nor any can
from envy of
so much of kissing
put his finger
on the number
of sweet kisses
you of me & 
I of you,
darling, have had.

Poem no. 49

Silver-tongued among the sons of Rome
the dead, the living & the yet unborn,
Catullus, least of poets, sends
Marcus Tullius his warmest thanks:

- as much the least of poets
as he a prince of lawyers.

Poem no. 87

No woman loved, in truth, Lesbia
               as you by me;
no love-faith found so true
               as mine in you.

This is the first time I read Catullus. Have you read any of his poems? Are you a fan?

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