New Translations of Catullus by Simon Smith
from The Books of Catullus
Dearest Veranius, best friend of them all,
standing out three hundredfold from the rest –
actually home at last to your household gods,
your close-knit brothers and elderly mother.
You really are? This makes me happy, happy!
Seeing you safely return and hear tales
of Iberia, places, peoples, daily
lives, in your own words, I’ll draw you close to me,
kissing your delicious mouth and lovely eyes.
Oh, add up all the happy shiny people,
Who’s more happy, more shiny, right now, than me.
A fine supper for my Fabullus with me
here, in a day or two, should the gods say so,
so long as you offer a fine, sumptuous
meal and don’t leave out the dazzling, young filly,
and the vino, all sorts of salt and laughter.
If, as I’ve said, my dear boy, you offer all
this, you’ll eat finely, for your Catullus’
purse is woven entirely from spiders’ webs.
But, in exchange, you’ll receive my love, full-on,
or what is more subtle, and more delicious,
for I’ll provide the scents gifted to my love
by all the Venuses and all the Cupids;
on the instant you catch the fragrance you’ll beg
the gods, Fabullus, be re-born as just nose.
If I didn’t adore you more than mine own
eyes, wittiest Calvus, I’d hate you for this
gift with a hate beyond that Vatinius;
is it something I did or something I said?
You’ve done me to death, infested with poets –
gods in heaven pile evil on that client
who mailed you such a gallery of suspects.
If, I surmise, this new and ingenious
work donated by that academic Sulla,
then no, I bare no malice, I’m pleased as punch
that all your good deeds are not gone for nothing.
Good god, what a grim and terrible booklet!
And this the article you mailed Catullus
to knock him off on the day that comes after –
the Saturnalia, the great day of joy!
No, no, no you prankster, this won’t be the end:
at daybreak I’ll be off down the booksellers
to draw up that venomous crap out of the likes
of Caesius, Aquinus and Suffenus –
and with these as your price, pay you, tit for tat.
As for you, you shower, back in your box you
go, to where your flat feet hobbled this way from,
vermin of our epoch, bad versifiers!
Who can look on this, who can put up with this,
except the unashamed or greedy ‘punters’?
Marmurra possessing all transalpine Gaul
and what far-distant Britain used to possess?
Romulus, girly homo look on, let it go?
When there he is overblown, overpowering,
struts his stuff through all and sundry’s wedding bed,
arrogant as a white dove or Adonis,
Romulus, girly homo look on, let it go?
Then you are unashamed, greedy, a punter.
Was this ledger it, oh leader of leaders,
what drove you off the edge, the final points west?
Was this the case? Your dissipated nob of knobs
might gulp down twenty to thirty million?
What is cock-eyed liberalism but this?
Hasn’t he fucked up and guzzled more than his lot?
In the first place he blew his family’s loot,
for seconds Pontic spoils, then polished off for
dessert Spanish booty, says the golden Tagus.
Are the riches of Gaul and Britain at risk?
Why the hell coddle that one, the pair of you,
good for nothing but devouring whole lands?
Was this the ledger, truly great citizens,
as in-laws, which you trashed the republic for?
Your eyes sweetened as honey, Juventius,
if they permit me my fill, all-I-can-kiss,
I’d carry on kissing three hundred thousand
fold, nor would I be satiated,
not if the gathering of all our smoochings
were packed more tightly than ripened ears of corn.
The fact you are hard-pressed by the Fates and bad luck,
dispatch this little missive smudged with tears –
a man wracked by storms whipped up on an ocean swell,
crying out for assistance at death’s door,
on whom sacred Venus confers no tranquil sleep,
exiled to a cold and lonely bed;
nor do the Muses hold much delight in fine verses
of the Ancients, your insomniac mind
twitching – most satisfying this: you name me friend –
request delights of the Muses and Venus.
But you may not be aware of my difficulties,
Manlius, concluding I spurn friendship:
I want you to know I have slipped beneath Fate’s
inundation, there’ll be no gifts from me.
With that first day I donned the manly white toga
as my prime awakened to joyous spring,
I acted the lover; no stranger to the Lady
mixing care with bittersweet love potions,
but my pursuit of that is lost to my brother’s
death, totally. Oh, brother torn from me,
you, yes you brother, obliterated my spring,
our entire inheritance alongside.
Alongside you every good thing of mine has died,
good things buoyed up by your love while you lived.
Since he went I’ve entirely expunged from my mind
every superficial thought or pastime.
You write to tell me what a shame Catullus is
in Verona where the top-drawer elite
rub arms and legs to keep warm a lonely bed
which, Manlius, is not a shame, just sad.
Excuse me my failure that I cannot offer
you the delights sorrow cheated of me.
Now, I don’t have a great library of learned writings
to call on – I’m based in Rome: that’s my home,
that is my place, where I live my life to the full,
just the one trunk of books joins me up here.
As this is the situation I don’t want you
concluding I’m grudging or too tight
to fulfill either of your demands, had I means,
I would volunteer, unsolicited.
Muses, I cannot fall dumb about Allius,
his aid and the charity of that aid,
in case the passage of time and its obscurity
cover with blinding night that charity,
so I insist in telling, you must spread the word,
ensure these sheets declaim down the Ages,
* * * * * * * * * * * *
posthumous, his reputation increased,
permit no spider work her thread out of the air
to obliterate Ailius’s lost name.
You are aware of the sadness the duplicity
of the goddess Amathus heaped on me,
scolded, smoldering as the Trinacrian rock,
or the Malian fount below Oeta
at Thermoplyae, my red eyes constantly sore
with crying, my cheeks dowsed in showery rain,
similarly, as from the mountain tops gleaming,
a brook shoots across green-weeded pebbles
to plunge vertical through precipitous gullies,
over a busily populated
thoroughfare, supplying refreshment to passersby
when the baking heat cracks up ploughed fields,
or just as are seamen buffeted by black squalls
find a softer leeward breeze intercedes,
reply to their pleadings of Castor, of Pollux –
this was Allius, this was his charity.
To a gated estate with private road he gave
me access, a house (and mistress of that house),
under whose eaves together we shared our lovemaking.
Here my blinding vision with silent footsteps
rested her dazzling foot a moment on the worn-
smooth doorstep, tilts forward sandal squeaking,
as long ago, consuming love for her groom drew
Laodamia to Protesilaus’
house, a house half-built for want of blood-sacrifice
to satiate gods of the firmament.
I desire for nothing, Rhanusian virgin,
without reason and the gods’ permission!
How so the hungry altars demand sacrifice
of the true, Laodamia understood,
husband lost, he bodily torn from her embrace
after a first and before a second
winter of dark nights relieved her unquenched ardour,
so she might survive a shattered marriage,
that the Parcae were well aware was not far off
the second he bore arms against Troy’s walls.
At that moment, Helen’s rape, Troy turned back upon
herself the fury of the Argive leaders,
Troy (the horror!) Europe and Asia’s sepulchre
Troy, putrid remains of men and heroic
Deeds, which visited on my brother lamentable
death? Oh brother ripped from me in my sorrow
oh brother the pleasure of broad daylight buried,
our entire inheritance alongside.
Alongside you every good thing of mine has died
good things buoyed up by your love while you lived,
You now distant, not surrounded by family
headstones, or close-by ancestral remains
but laid out at decadent Troy, terrible Troy
lost to a remote field, in exile’s ground.
To that city the elite flowering of Greece
raced, abandoned their home-fires, kith and kin,
so Paris may not take delight in the mistress
he seized, easy, leisured, abed, at length.
Which is why, most beautiful Laodamia,
something more precious to you than life itself
was torn away – your husband, the riptide of desire
dragging you under, down the dark void
as the Greeks speak of, close-by Cyllenean Pheneus
the marshland is transformed to fertile earth,
the alleged son of Amphitryon, once upon
a time reportedly pierced the mountain
core, as he nailed the Stymphalian vultures on
straight arrows, ordered by a lesser master,
so the doorstep of paradise was stepped across
by one new god, nor Hebe stay unwedded.
But your adoration ran deeper than that void,
trained your innocence to carry the burden.
Not so precious to the man nearly out of time
is the unexpected heir his daughter
cradles, a boy at long last, matched to inheritance,
a name inscribed to sign and seal the will
and wipe the smiles from predatory relatives,
scares off the bird of prey hovering overhead.
Never did a dove take pleasure in her blinding
lover, although hearsay says she collects
kisses outrageously – peck, peck pecking away –
more ardently than lascivious women.
But on your own you overtook this passionate
excess when you came to your white-haired husband
my dearest gave over little or not at all
dazzling as she slid into my embrace;
and Amor darting around here and darting there
radiant and blinding in saffron robes.
Not satiated solely by one Catullus,
we can tolerate the odd regression –
she’s discreet – in case I seem fussy or silly:
for even Juno, the highest on high,
swallows her fury over her husband’s weakness,
on hearing of Jove’s endless love antics.
It is inappropriate to pit gods and man
* * * * * * * * * * * *
stop this unappealing fuss of a father.
Indeed, she was not handed me by her father
in a house sweet-smelling of the Orient,
no, the marvels she stole that enchanted midnight
for me, pilfered from her husband’s boudoir
were adequately sufficient, on condition
she notate the occasion on white stone.
This offering, all my best effort, made of poetry,
Allius, repays your generosity,
protects your family name against long-term decay
today, tomorrow and day after day,
to this the gods will stack up more offerings just as
Themis rewarded those in the Golden Age
may you and your lady be contented with Life
and the villa where we once cavorted,
and he who matched us * * * * * *
who, in my case, was the good beginning,
particularly she more than all the rest, dearest
shining planet whose life makes mine worth living.
Once Catullus was the only one who knew you,
Lesbia, you’d not hold Jove before me.
I delighted in you not simply as a man
and ‘friend’, but as a man with his family.
I have found you out: despite my blazing desires
you’re far too trashy, and more vacuous.
“How can I know?” you inquire. Reinforcing such
a wrong, lovers lust more but are less fond.
If, to recollect all the past good things he’s done,
a man realises pleasure in friendship;
His covenants unbroken, nor in a cabal
used the good words of gods to exploit men,
Then, stored in the many years ahead, Catullus,
numerous good times laboured from spurned love.
For what honourable deeds can be said to be done
to anybody, all you did and said.
In total these squandered on ungracious love,
why then prolong your agony further?
Why not be strong of mind, retreat from where you are,
defeat unhappiness gods overthrow?
It’s tough to sever longstanding love finally,
it’s tough, someway you need to achieve this,
This your last throw of the dice, battle to glory,
this has to be your aim, able or not.
Oh gods, if you can find pity, if you offered
relief to one in their final moments,
Gaze on my agonies, if my life resembles
purity rip out this mortal affliction,
Which seeps insinuating poison through my veins
to expel all joy from my heart’s depths.
I look no more she reciprocate my feelings,
or, beyond hope, she desire chastity.
I hope for wellbeing, purged of this malady,
oh gods, allow me this for my service.
Not one lady can claim she’s honestly adored
as my Lesbia was adored by me.
No promise was ever so firm as that written
in the knot, by my adoring of you.
Simon Smith has written several volumes of poetry, the latest is More Flowers Than You Could Possibly Carry: Selected Poems 1989-2012 (Shearsman, 2016). A new volume, Day In, Day Out, will appear in the U.S. from Parlor Press late in 2017, and his The Books of Catullus is due from Carcanet in March 2018. He is Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Kent.