Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Classical Sunday

It's been a long time - six months or more! - since I've posted any of my poetry. I've been in something of a creative slump this year...... and the number of entries under the 'Poetry (My Own)' tag has remained stuck at 49.

I'm not sure if this really counts, since it is only a translation, and a rather prosey one at that. It's all I can come up with at the moment.

I specialised in Classics at high school and in my first degree, and Catullus - the naughty one - was always a favourite of mine among the Roman poets.

Translations of this poem usually talk of counting 'kisses', but..... well, I believe there's a raunchier sub-text. Most of the 'Lesbia' poems are fairly bluntly about fucking, and I don't think this one is any different - it is only superficially more coyly romantic.

I have no way of knowing, but I fancy that the Latin word for 'kiss' could, in certain contexts, imply rather more, something rather cruder and more earthy; particularly, I suspect, with the oddly technical variant of the noun - basiatio: the process of kissing - that is used in the opening line. The French verb 'baiser', which is derived from this, carried such connotations, I believe, even in the time of Voltaire (I think I recall one or two places in Candide where it definitely seemed to be a little risqué); and today, I gather, it is considered thoroughly impolite. Basia and basiationes should, I feel, carry something of the same weight; but I found it impossible to come up with an English word that is appropriately suggestive without being explicit; so I have chosen instead to leave the activity unspecified, to leave these words 'untranslated'. We all know what he's talking about.

Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iovis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut, quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores;
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84-54 BCE)

You ask me how many times
Will be enough to sate or surfeit me?
As many as the grains of sand
On the North African shore,
Or as many as the stars
That look down on the furtive trysts
Of lovers in the silence of the night.
Only so many
Can sate or surfeit your crazed Catullus:
A number so great
That no snoops can count it,
And no ill-wishing gossip
Can jinx us by repeating it.


M. Paule said...

Nice translation. I'm particularly fond of "sate or surfeit."

If you're in the mood for reading some more Catullus, feel free to have a look around my blog -

The translations, I fear, are not as poetically skilled as your own, but I hope you'll find something you enjoy regardless.


Froog said...

Wow - another Classicist!

Thanks for the compliment, Mr Harker (if that is your real name!).

Search for "Aeneas" on my other blog, Barstool Blues, for another little Classically-inspired poem of mine (not a translation).