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Passer, deliciae meae puellae
quicum ludere, quem in sinu tenere,
cui primum digitum dare appetenti
et acris solet incitare morsus
cum desiderio meo nitenti
carum nescio quid lubet iocare,
et solaciolum sui doloris,
credo, ut tum gravis acquiescat ardor:
tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem
et tristis animi levare curas! …
tam gratum est mihi quam ferunt puellae
pernici aureolum fuisse malum,
quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.
Sparrow, delight of my darling
playing with you at her breast
offering her fingertip
provoking you to bite at it
I’m not sure of the games
my lovely lady needs to play
to comfort her her sorrows
and ease a bit love’s ardor
but I believe if I could play with you
as she my troubled soul would be lifted
gratefully as that swift virgin’s
stooping for a golden apple
undid her dress long tied.
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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.
Translation and video copyright 2018 Don Yorty. Included in Vox Populi with permission.