Monday, May 10, 2010

excitusque hilari die

I got married on the May Day weekend. I'm not sure that this is necessarily something that I'd discuss on this academic blog for its own sake. But I thought I would reproduce one of the readings, as it is relevant to the sort of material I have here. We decided on a couple of Classical-themed readings. My wife chose an excerpt from Ursula Le Guin's rewriting of Virgil, Lavinia, about which I've written before. I chose a poem of Catullus - not the wedding epithalamium from which I quote the title of this entry (Poem 61), but Poem 5. Being the sort of person that I am, I wasn't going to be satisfied with using any translation that I could find on my bookshelves or on the 'net (the poem has been much translated and imitated, by the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh, among others).

Instead, I decided to translate it myself. But I also decided not to do a plain prose translation, but to try to render the Latin verse into English verse. This was quite a challenge. I decided any sort of rhyming structure would be beyond me, but I wanted some sort of structure, rather than just free verse, which would make my translation little different from prose. In the end, the iambic tetrameter seemed the correct metre - a pentameter, more typical in English poetry, would make the lines too long to match the content of each Latin line, and so I would not have the line-for-line translation I wanted. So each thirteen-syllable Latin line is rendered, as best I can, into eight English syllables. Technically, not every line is strictly iambic - the third line certainly opens with a trochee (I evidently remember some Latin scansion!). But a pure iambic rendition would be very difficult, and I am told that part of the effect of English poetry comes from the clash between the stresses of the metrical feet and the natural stresses of the English lines.

There remain some bits, especially towards the end, that I'm not entirely happy with (indeed, I've changed the penultimate line from what was read on the day). But I showed it to my OU colleague Paula James, who knows Catullus far better than I do, and it passed muster with her. And some guests recognised the poem from past experience of it, and at least one thanked me for rescuing it from associations with dreadful school experiences.

So here it is, as read on the day by my dear friend Alison Freebairn, who, in the words of another guest, "gilded [the poem] with a gentle Scottish burr".

Catullus, Poems 5, ad Lesbiam

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus

Let’s live, my darling, and let’s love.
And let’s not give a monkey’s for
Gossip of mis’rable old men.
The sun sets but can rise again.
But when our brief light fades from view,
We must sleep through an endless night.
Kiss a thousand times, a hundred,
Another thousand, a hundred,
Then yet more thousands, more hundreds.
Then when we’ve kissed many thousands
Of times, let’s lose count, so we won’t
Know how often we’ve kissed, and no
One can harm us with that knowledge.


RWMG said...

Congratulations on the nuptials.

Susan Deacy said...

So you've got married: that's lovely! Susan

Tony Keen said...

George Sharpley used this translation to accompany his reading of the Latin text: