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Catullus 50 - a verse translation

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Catullus 50 - a verse translation

Postby Deccius » Thu Jan 25, 2007 1:38 am

Hi everyone,

What do you think of the following verse translation of Catullus 50? This was my first attempt at translating something from Latin into verse. To be honest, I really don't know that much about English verse, so this was quite a challenge for me (but a fun one, nevertheless). I tried to be as true to the original text as possible.

Licinius, on the day before today,
leisurely on my tablets did we play
as it had been agreed that we be cultivated:
each of us writing verses by our minds created
was toying with meter artistically,
through joke and wine giving back reciprocally.
I departed, Licinius, from your place,
incensed by your wits and grace,
subsequently neither food could help me distressed
nor could sleep seal my little eyes shut with rest,
but I tossed wildly with total passion in my bed,
longing to see from the heavens the light of day shed,
so that I might converse with you and be with you moreover.
But after my half-dead limbs tired by labor all over
lay in my little bed, I made for you this poem, my boyfriend,
from which my anguish you might comprehend.
We beg, now bold be not,
and, beloved, our prayers spurn not,
lest Nemesis demand punishments from you irate.
She is a violent goddess; beware to harm this one, decider of fate.
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Postby Discipulus Tristis » Sun Mar 09, 2008 5:56 pm


Because my Latin skills are still developing I'll leave judgment of the translation itself to others. However, I have a deep interest in English versification, and so perhaps I can give you some advice.

1. Translating into rhyming couplets evokes a very particular type of poetry which has been used since Chaucer, but is most closely associate with 17th/18th c. poets like Dryden, Pope, and Johnson. While I am a great fan of these writers, I think that the sound of chiming pairs of end-rhymes has been largely played out in English literature. To give your poem/Catullus' poem a more contemporary sound I would suggest framing your lines without rhyme, or making use of half-rhymes (e.g. crossed/exposed, love/prove)

2. If you aren't going to use rhyme, you may want to have some kind of metrical system governing the lines. The most common unrhymed verse form in English is called "blank verse", and consists of five iambs (unstressed, stressed). It was most famously used by Shakespeare, and continues to be popular today (Fitzgerald used it to translate the Aeneid).

3. If you don't feel comfortable with meter, use free verse (poetry with no particular concern for stressed-unstressed syllables). Unfortunately, most free verse is garbage, but if you think carefully about the sound and syntax of each line, almost as though it were a musical phrase (ut Ezra Pound dixit), you can create some startling beautiful effects.

Finally, here are some recommendations if you want to experience a few of the interesting formal traits of English poetry:

Heroic Couplets (rhyming iambic pentameter)
- Alexander Pope "The Rape of the Lock"
- John Dryden "The Aeneid" (a great translation)

Blank Verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter)
- William Shakespeare "Julius Caesar"
- John Milton "Paradise Lost"

Free Verse
- H.D. "Sea Rose"
- Ezra Pound "In a Station of the Metro"

Hopefully this helps!
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Postby anphph » Sun Mar 09, 2008 6:02 pm

Rhyme in itself is largely overplayed. Do your best to remain faithful and understandable in your translation, without locking yourself with overrated devices such as rhyme and meter. My advice to you is the following: look for different translations from different epochs. Websites such as www.gutenberg.org, books.google.com or even wikipedia can help, because they often refer to different translations as their sources. So you can see what's been done, and you can hone your choice of techniques based on that.

Most poetry written nowadays is free verse. If you go to any library or bookstore and look for the poetry section, as long as you aren't going to the classic authors you're likely to hit Free Verse. Older translations tend to give their age's mark to classic poetry, and that rendition is not by any means the absolute way to do it. Rhyme was largely unknown & unused in roman classic poetry.

Good luck!
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