On a day already populated by so many “Venuses and Cupids”, it seems fitting to unveil this self-promotional postcard design, the second of a series of such inspired by the work of the classical Latin poet Catullus. (More background on both the project and on Catullus can be found here.)
This poem is a classic example of melodrama, though without any real hint of sarcasm: Catullus manages to convey genuine sympathy for the loss of the sparrow and the distress that it causes for his lady love, while at the same time, the reader can detect at least a faint curl of the lip and a wink of the eye that would seem to say: “Oh come on, already! Seriously?!”
For those familiar with the Scottish poet Robert Burns, Catullus has frequently been compared with him. The works of both, though nearly two millennia apart, display a correspondingly gentle (though playful) sensitivity, combined with a devotion to the quaint colloquialisms of everyday speech and conversation that the average person in their respective cultures could readily identify with. (This poem, by Burns, serves as a fine parallel example.)
Below is the full text of Catullus’ poem in Latin, followed by an English rendering in the style of Robert Burns by G. S. Davies, taken from A First Book of Latin Poetry (which is a really delightful volume, if you can manage to get your hands on a used copy).
Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque,
Et quantum est hominum venustiorum:
Passer mortuus est meae puellae,
Passer, deliciae meae puellae,
Quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.
Nam mellitus erat suamque norat
Ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,
Nec sese a gremio illius movebat,
Sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
Ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.
Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
Illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.
At vobis male sit, male tenebrae
Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis:
Tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis
O factum male! O miselle passer!
Tua nunc opera meae puellae
Flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.
Weep, weep, ye Loves and Cupids all,
And ilka Man o’decent feelin’:
My lassie’s lost her wee, wee bird,
And that’s a loss, ye’ll ken, past healin’.
The lassie lo’ed him like her een:
The darling wee thing lo’ed the ither,
And knew and nestled in her breast,
As ony bairnie to her mither.
Her bosom was his dear, dear haunt—
So dear, he cared na lang to leave it;
He’d nae but gang his ain sma’ jaunt,
And flutter piping back bereavit.
The wee thing’s gane the shadowy road
That’s never travelled back ony:
Out on ye, Shades! ye’re greedy aye
To grab at aught that’s brave and bonny.
Puir, foolish, fondling, bonnie bird,
Ye little ken what wark ye’re leavin’:
Ye’ve gar’d my lassie’s een grown red,
Those bonnie een grow red wi’ grievin’.