Tuesday Poem: 51 by Catullus
To me he seems godlike, in my eyes even
More than divine (if that’s not sacrilegious),
The man who sits beside you all day gazing,
Hearing all day
Your musical laughter. Dazed by love, he loses
The use of all his senses. Oh, the moment
I see you, Lesbia, my voice, throat-strangled
My tongue lies paralysed, subtle sensations
Of fire snake through my limbs, my ears are deafened
By their own noise, and, as for eyes, dense darkness
Blindfolds them both.
Sloth is your enemy, your disease, Catullus,
You revel in it, crave it, and adore it.
By what else were great kings and flourishing cities
Ruined but sloth?
Catullus, (ca. 84 – 54 BC)
Translated by James Michie,The Poems of Catullus, Granada Publishing, 1972
Catullus was born in Verona, which was part of the Roman republic, and as a young man in Rome became a member of a circle of “new wave” poets. 116 of his poems survive and he is regarded as one of the great classical influences on western poetry, as well as being readily readable today.
About the poem:
Last year I featured a poem by Sappho, You know the place: then and poem 51 of Catullus is closely modelled on another poem by Sappho, fragment 31. The first three stanzas are held to be a close following of the Sappho poem, in which the poet describes her/his reaction to the sight of her/his beloved in the company of her new husband. The fourth stanza is specific to Catullus and significantly different in tone. One view is that it could have been the beginning of a new poem, based on or responding to the Sappho, which has subsequently been lost. (see Fordyce, C.J., Catullus: A Commentary,Oxford University Press, 1961.)
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