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Miss her, Catullus?
I really enjoyed reading Steve’s post about translation. A lot of my writing time is spent not working on my own things, but translating. Translation is a great boon to a poet. You never have to face the white page alone if you don’t want to. I think of translation as a special kind of deep reading. It lets you try on other voices, and other genres (epic, didactic!). But it can be a heart-breaking business—there’s no such thing as a perfect translation, and every success is paid for by a failure. So since you are going to fail, why be dull?—be bold! Fail big! A couple of fun totally quirky (and distracting) translations:
Louis Zukofsky and his wife, Celia, experimented with homophonic translations (something pioneered by Pound, I believe) of the Roman poet, Catullus (c.85-54 BC). That is, they tried to get both the meaning and the actual SOUNDS of the Latin across, in English. The results range from the wacky to the impressive. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know Latin—just try sounding out these few lines from poem 8 phonetically:
Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire,
et quod vides perisse perditum ducas.
fulsere quondam candidi tibi soles…
(for whole poem in Latin, click here –you can also click through to English translation.)
Then read the first lines of Louis Zukofsky’s translation aloud:
Miss her, Catullus? don’t be so inept to rail
at what you see perish when perished is the case.
Full, sure once, candid the sunny days glowed, solace,
when you went about it as your girl would have it,
you loved her as no one else shall ever be loved.
Billowed in tumultuous joys and affianced,
why you would but will it and your girl would have it.
Full, sure, very candid the sun’s rays glowed solace.
Now she won’t love you; you, too, don’t be weak, tense, null,
squirming after she runs off to miss her for life.
Said as if you meant it: obstinate, obdurate.
Vale! puling girl. I’m Catullus, obdurate,
I don’t require it and don’t beg uninvited:
won’t you be doleful when no one, no one! begs you,
scalded, every night. Why do you want to live now?
Now who will be with you? Who’ll see that you’re lovely?
Whom will you love now and who will say that you’re his?
Whom will you kiss? Whose morsel of lips will you bite?
But you, Catullus, your destiny’s obdurate.
I think even Catullus would have got a kick out of “Vale! puling girl.”
It’s a fun experiment that can yield surprising results–maybe it even helps if you don’t know the original language.
But my all-time favorite translation of Catullus (for original, see here) is in the Scottish brogue of G. S. Davies (from 1912):
Weep, weep, ye Loves and Cupids all,
And ilka Man o’ decent feelin’:
My lassie’s lost her wee, wee bird,
And that’s a loss, ye’ll ken, past healin’.
The lassie lo’ed him like her een:
The darling wee thing lo’ed the ither,
And knew and nestled to her breast,
As only bairnie to her mither.
Her bosom was his dear, dear haunt—
So dear, he cared na lang to leave it;
He’d nae but gang his ain sma’ jaunt,
And flutter piping back bereavit.
The wee thing’s gane the shadowy road
That’s never traveled back by ony:
Out on ye, Shades! Ye’re greedy aye
To grab at aught that’s brave and bonny.
Puir, foolish, fondling, bonnie bird,
Ye little ken what wark ye’re leavin’:
Ye’ve bar’d my lassie’s een grow red,
Those bonnie een grow red wi’ grieving.