Erin Bow (erinbow) wrote,
Erin Bow


(after Catullus 50)

Ah, Calvus.
All day we passed the bottle and the tablet
back and forth, trading doggerel,
writing, snickering, swiping clean the wax.
And now it's midnight, now it's two

and I can't sleep.
Life is short, and the gods have swords.
I wish I'd said one lasting thing.
Here, I scratched this poem for you.
Just lines in wax. Each one an Icarus.


Does this make sense? Does it make any more sense if you know what a wax tablet is?


Here is the poem and its literal translation

Hesterno, Licini, die otiosi
multum lusimus in meis tabellis,
ut convenerat esse delicatos:
scribens versiculos uterque nostrum
ludebat numero modo hoc modo illoc,
reddens mutua per iocum atque vinum.
Atque illinc abii tuo lepore
incensus, Licini, facetiisque,
ut nec me miserum cibus iuvaret
nec somnus tegeret quiete ocellos,
sed toto indomitus furore lecto
versarer, cupiens videre lucem,
ut tecum loquerer simulque ut essem.
At defessa labore membra postquam
semimortua lectulo iacebant,
hoc, iucunde, tibi poema feci,
ex quo perspiceres meum dolorem.
Nunc audax cave sis, precesque nostras,
oramus, cave despuas, ocelle,
ne poenas Nemesis reposcat a te.
Est vemens dea: laedere hanc caveto.

Yesterday, Calvus, at leisure
we wrote much light poetry on my tablets,
as we had agreed to be self-indulgent:
and each of us writing our lines of poetry
was writing light poetry now in this meter now in that,
delivering mutual words through joke and wine.
And I went from there, having been excited
by your charm and your wit, Calvus,
that neither did food please poor me
nor did sleep cover my little eyes with rest,
but I, unconquered, was tossed with fury
on the whole couch, desiring to see the light,
that I could speak with you the same time that I could be (with you).
But the half dead limbs were lying on the couch
after having been exhausted by work,
delightful one, I made this poem for you,
in order for you to recognize my anguish from it.
Now, beware that you be daring, and I beg,
beware that you reject our prayers, little jewel,
lest Nemesis demand punishment from you.
She is a violent goddess: you shall beware to harm her.
So you can see I've strayed pretty far, as I always do with these.

My poem for a long time included the line:  "There's a goddess with a sword who dogs the proud."  Which is what Catullus is on about when he warns against Nemesis.  But what he's really on about is mortality, I think....?  Anyway, he is in my riff.  So, to make it less oblique to modern ears, I changed that line to "Life is short, and the gods have swords."  To balance that out, and to pull the whole art/pride/mortality/transcience nexus into a single word, I added Icarus.  Thank you muse, for giving me Icarus.  

Tags: catullus, latin poems, poems, western-style poems
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