Friday, March 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 14 (Catullus)

Gregory, Horace, tr.
The Poems of Catullus

In case you are interested in my process with regards to this blog (of course you are!), it generally follows thusly. I work in groups of 4-6 books at a time. I remove the whole group from the shelf, then photograph them individually using the iSight camera on my MacBook Pro. Most of the time, this happens quickly, though I sometimes have to photograph a book several times to make the title legible.

When I first began this project, I often held the book at strange angles to deflect the light of the screen and/or the flash, which often washed out the cover or some part of it. Now I tend to us the desk lamp as a de facto flash mechanism, which has to some extent standardized the quality of the photos. I rarely have to tilt them or hold them close to or far from the screen in order to get a legible shot.

After I photograph the books, I set them to the left of the computer on the desk, in order, as I intend to write about them. I upload the covers to flickr, one at a time, on some occasions two at a time, but rarely ever more, unless they are all by the same author and I can write about them in no particular order. This is because I find it hard to predict what order they will appear in on my flickr photo stream when I upload more than one.

There is often a lapse between the first upload and the next blog entry. This lapse is caused by the fact that I normally upload a cover after I have just finished blogging one, and I don't normally write two blog entries in a row. So, I write, I upload, then I go about my business until I have some time to write on the next cover. I can't say I think much about them during this little interregnum, but sometimes I do, especially if there is a strong memory associated with a particular title.

I blog directly from flickr because I like the way it formats the photos on Blogger, but I immediately head to my Blogger dashboard after writing in order to edit in formatted text, make final edits, etc. You can't do any formatting from flickr, so all of the bolding and italicizing happens after I have posted the info. (If you ever read a new entry with no formatting, you can be sure that I am busy editing the entry while you read and that it will be reposted with changes in a few minutes.)

If I feel I need to re-write, I then save the post as a draft so it disappears until I post again. Normally, I don't revise beyond the final posting, but sometimes I notice embarrassing errors or unclear statements that I go back and edit after the fact. After posting, I grab the link to the post and put it under the photo in my flickr photo stream, return the book to the shelf and upload another image. When I get through a stack of titles, I remove 4-6 more and start the process all over. 

Which is all a round about way of telling you that when this particular stack was taken from the shelf earlier in the week (it began with Angela Carter), I knew Catullus would be the last book in the lot. I read this volume when I bought it, but hadn't looked at it since. I am pretty sure I purchased it at Rust Belt Books.

It so happened that same day that Brandon Brown posted a "talking point" to his blog, whom he has spent some serious time reading and translating. Curious, I asked which poems he liked, and he pointed to three (2, 2a, and 3) which involve a lover (man), his love interest (woman) and her pet sparrow.

Anyhow, I read through about the first 20 of these and then compared them to the Zukofsky translations. They both have their strong points, though I find the Gregory translations a bit more readable, if somewhat less faithful to the meter and lineation of the original. Here are two versions of number three, for comparison's sake:



Dress now in sorrow, O all
you shades of Venus,
and your little cupids weep.

My girl has lost her darling sparrow;
he is dead, her precious toy
that she loved more than her two eyes,
O, honeyed sparrow following her
as a girl follows her mother,
never to leave her breast, but tripping
now here, now there, and always singing
his sweet falsetto
song to her alone.

Now he is gone; poor creature,
lost in darkness,
to a sad place
from which no one returns.

O ravenous hell!
My evil hatred rises against your power,
you that devour
all things beautiful;
and now this pitiful, broken sparrow,
who is the cause of my girl's grief,
making her eyes weary and red with sorrow.


Lament, o graces of Venus and Cupids,
and cry out loud, men beloved by Her graces.
Pass here, it's dead, meant so much to my girl, the
sparrow, the jewel that delighted my girl,
that lovable in her eyes she loved them less:
like honey so sweet he was sure to know her,
with her ever as a girl's with her mother;
not seizing a moment to stray from her lap,
silly crazy to hop up her and down there,
one endless solo to his only goddess.
Who now? it's hard to walk thru tenebrous flume
down there, where it is granted not one comes back.
On you the curse of the blind and dead shade
Orcus, hell that destroys all beautiful things:
so you stole my beautiful sparrow from me.
Why pick evil? why my little fool sparrow?
It's your doing--my girl's own, darling's sweet
excellent eyes a little swollen and red.


Tawrin said...

Even Zuk's trans fails to even begin to capture the simultaneously harsh and sonorous last line which (if I'm not mistaken) also weaves the word order in a way only fully declined languages can—a sort of ambiguous mess to be teased apart and ordered by the rules of grammar such that one can make sense of it all, which process, of course, plays with the content.

An excellent reading in Latin by Vojin Nedeljkovic:

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Thanks, Tawrin -- that's an amazing recording!