Michael R. Burch

1958
Send Message

Catullus Translations by Michael R. Burch

CATULLUS TRANSLATIONS

Catullus CI aka Carmina 101: “His Brother’s Burial”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

1.
Through many lands and over many seas
I have journeyed, brother, to these wretched rites,
to this final acclamation of the dead ...
and to speak — however ineffectually — to your voiceless ashes
now that Fate has wrested you away from me.
Alas, my dear brother, wrenched from my arms so cruelly,
accept these last offerings, these small tributes
blessed by our fathers’ traditions, these small gifts for the dead.
Please accept, by custom, these tokens drenched with a brother’s tears,
and, for all eternity, brother, “Hail and Farewell.”

2.
Through many lands and over many seas
I have journeyed, brother, to these wretched rites,
to this final acclamation of the dead ...
and to speak — however ineffectually — to your voiceless ashes
now that Fate has wrested you away from me.
Alas, my dear brother, wrenched from my arms so cruelly,
accept these small tributes, these last gifts,
offered in the time-honored manner of our fathers,
these final votives. Please accept, by custom,
these tokens drenched with a brother’s tears,
and, for all eternity, brother, “Hail and Farewell.”

[Here "offered in the time-honored manner of our fathers" is from another translation by an unknown translator.]



Catullus LXV aka Carmina 65
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Hortalus, I’m exhausted by relentless grief,
and have thus abandoned the learned virgins;
nor can my mind, so consumed by malaise,
partake of the Muses' mete fruit;
for lately the Lethaean flood laves my brother's
death-pale foot with its dark waves,
where, beyond mortal sight, ghostly Ilium
disgorges souls beneath the Rhoetean shore.

Never again will I hear you speak,
O my brother, more loved than life,
never see you again, unless I behold you hereafter.
But surely I'll always love you,
always sing griefstricken dirges for your demise,
such as Procne sings under the dense branches’ shadows,
lamenting the lot of slain Itys.

Yet even amidst such unfathomable sorrows, O Hortalus,
I nevertheless send you these, my recastings of Callimachus,
lest you conclude your entrusted words slipped my mind,
winging off on wayward winds, as a suitor’s forgotten apple
hidden in the folds of her dress escapes a virgin's chaste lap;
for when she starts at her mother's arrival, it pops out,
then downward it rolls, headlong to the ground,
as a guilty blush flushes her downcast face.



What do the gods know, with their superior airs,
wiser than a mother’s tears
for her lost child?
If they had hearts, surely they would be beguiled,
repeal the sentence of death!
Since they have none,
or only hearts of stone,
believers, save your breath.



—Michael R. Burch, after Catullus
Catullus CVI aka Carmina 106: “That Boy”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

See that young boy, by the auctioneer?
He’s so pretty he sells himself, I fear!



Catullus LI aka Carmina 51: “That Man”
This is Catullus’s translation of a poem by Sappho of Lesbos
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I’d call that man the equal of the gods,
or,
could it be forgiven
in heaven,
their superior,
because to him space is given
to bask in your divine presence,
to gaze upon you, smile, and listen
to your ambrosial laughter
which leaves men senseless
here and hereafter.

Meanwhile, in my misery,
I’m left speechless.

Lesbia, there's nothing left of me
but a voiceless tongue grown thick in my mouth
and a thin flame running south...

My limbs tingle, my ears ring, my eyes water
till they swim in darkness.

Call it leisure, Catullus, or call it idleness,
whatever it is that incapacitates you.
By any other name it’s the nemesis
fallen kings, empires and cities rue.



Catullus XLIX aka Carmina 49: “A Toast to Cicero”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cicero, please confess:
You’re drunk on your success!
All men of good taste attest
That you’re the very best—
At making speeches, first class!
While I’m the dregs of the glass.



Catullus LXXXV aka Carmina 85: “Odi et Amo”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

1.
I hate. I love.
You ask, “Why not refrain?”
I wish I could explain.
I can’t, but feel the pain.

2.
I hate. I love.
Why? Heavens above!
I wish I could explain.
I can’t, but feel the pain.

3.
I hate. I love.
How can that be, turtledove?
I wish I could explain.
I can’t, but feel the pain.








Catullus II aka Carmina 2: “Lesbia’s Sparrow”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sparrow, my sweetheart’s pet,
with whom she plays cradled to her breast,
or in her lap,
giving you her fingertip to peck,
provoking you to nip its nib ...
Whenever she’s flushed with pleasure
my gorgeous darling plays such dear little games:
to relieve her longings, I suspect,
until her ardour abates.
Oh, if only I could play with you as gaily,
and alleviate my own longings!

Passer, deliciae meae puellae quicum
ludere, quem in sinu tenere,
cui primum digitum dare
et acris solet incitare morsus,
cum desiderio meo nitenti
carum nescio quid libet iocari
(et solaciolum sui doloris,
credo, ut tum gravis adquiescat ardor),
tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem
et tristis animi levare cura



Catullus V aka Carmina 5: “Let us live, Lesbia, let us love”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I take this to be an “accounting” poem because conturbare is an accounting term for “fiddling the figures.”

Let us live, Lesbia, let us love,
and let the judgments of ancient moralists
count less than a farthing to us!

Suns may set then rise again,
but when our brief light sets,
we will sleep through perpetual night.

Give me a thousand kisses, a hundred more,
another thousand, then a second hundred,
yet another thousand, then a third hundred...

Then, once we’ve tallied the many thousands,
let’s jumble the ledger, so that even we
(and certainly no malicious, evil-eyed enemy)
will ever know there were so many kisses!



Catullus VII aka Carmina 7: “How Many Kisses”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You ask, Lesbia, how many kisses
are enough, or more than enough, to satisfy me?
As many as the Libyan sands
swirling in incense-bearing Cyrene
between the torrid oracle of Jove
and the sacred tomb of Battiades.
Or as many as the stars observing amorous men
making love furtively on a moonless night.
As many of your kisses are enough,
and more than enough, for mad Catullus,
as long as there are too many to be counted by inquisitors
and by malicious-tongued bewitchers.



Catullus VIII aka Carmina 8: “Advice to Himself”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Snap out of it Catullus, stop this foolishness!
It’s time to cut losses!
What is dead is gone, accept it.
Once brilliant suns shone on you both,
when you trotted about wherever she led,
and loved her as never another before.
That was a time of such happiness,
when your desire intersected her will.
But now she doesn’t want you any more.
Be resolute, weak as you are, stop chasing mirages!
What you need is not love, but a clean break.
Goodbye girl, now Catullus stands firm.
Never again Lesbia! Catullus is clear:
He won’t miss you. Won’t crave you. Catullus is cold.
Now it’s you who will grieve, when nobody calls.
It’s you who will weep that you’re ruined.
Who’ll submit to you now? Admire your beauty?
Whom will you love? Whose girl will you be?
Who will you kiss? Whose lips will you bite?
But you, Catullus, you must break with the past, hold fast.



Catullus LX aka Carmina 60: “Lioness”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Did an African mountain lioness
or a howling Scylla beget you from the nether region of her loins,
my harsh goddess? Are you so pitiless you would hold in contempt
this supplicant voicing his inconsolable despair?
Are you really that cruel-hearted?



Catullus LXX aka Carmina 70: “Marriage Vows”
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My sweetheart says she’d marry no one else but me,
not even Jupiter, if he were to ask her!
But what a girl says to her eager lover
ought to be written on the wind or in running water.



Ancient Greek and Latin poetry did not normally rhyme. However, there are exceptions. For instance Catullus 1 (“cui dono lepidum novum libellum”), also known as “Carmina 1” and “Carmen 1,” employs rhyme. Catullus (c. 84–54 BC) was a Latin poet of the late Roman republic who influenced Ovid and Virgil, among others.

Catullus I aka Carmina 1
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

cui dono lepidum novum libellum // To whom do I dedicate this novel book
arida modo pumice expolitum // polished drily with a pumice stone?
Corneli tibi namque tu solebas // To you, Cornelius, for you would look
meas esse aliquid putare nugas // content, as if my scribblings took
iam tum cum ausus es unus Italorum // the cake, when in truth you alone
omne aevum tribus explicare cartis // unfolded Italian history in three scrolls,
doctis Iuppiter et laboriosis // as learned as Jupiter in your labors.
quare habe tibi quidquid hoc libelli // Therefore, this little book is yours,
qualecumque quod patrona virgo // whatever it is, which, O patron Maiden,
plus uno maneat perenne saeclo // I pray will last more than my lifetime!



Catullus was a Roman poet who lived from 87 BC to 54 BC and wrote poems in Latin. Many of his love poems were written for a woman with the pseudonym “Lesbia.” It is believed that Lesbia was Clodia Metellus, the wife of the proconsul Metellus.


Keywords/Tags: Catullus, Latin, translation, English, brother, death, funeral, lament, elegy, tribute, Lethe, Lethean
104 Total read