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Catullus: “You ask how many of your kisses, Lesbia”

Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iouis inter aestuosi
et Batti ueteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtiuos hominum uident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
uesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.


You ask how many of your kisses, Lesbia
are more than enough for me.
How many grains of Libyan sand
has the stink-weed Sahara cast
between the oracle of sweating Jove
and old King Battus’ holy tomb?
Or when the night is quiet
how many stars look down
on the liaisons of lovers?
More than enough for your crazy Catullus
would be more kisses kissed
than the curious could calculate
or the wicked tongued know to hex.


Translation copyright 2018 Don Yorty


Translator’s note: The poems of Catullus come from a manuscript found in Verona around 1300. It vanished soon after, but not before three manuscripts were copied from it, surviving today, one in Paris, one at Oxford, and one in Rome. Catullus was the best loved poet of his time, but he would be lost to us if not for that one decaying manuscript found under some monastery’s floorboards or on a dusty forsaken shelf. I love Catullus. His poems are like sculptures, word hard that have remained through the years wonderful, funny, tacky, erotic, touching, obscene, smart and sometimes terrifying. Catullus was a friend of Julius Caesar, close enough to write awful things about him. He loved his hometown, his boat and his brother. He loved his friends and enjoyed making fun of them. He loved a woman very much. Perhaps that love killed him. Catullus died in his late twenties, a time when a man can still die of love.


One comment on “Catullus: “You ask how many of your kisses, Lesbia”

  1. johnlawsonpoet
    September 29, 2018

    Camille Paglia has an interesting analysis of Roman erotic poetry–Catullus and Ovid in particular–in her book Sexual Personae.


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