CATULLUS AND HERRICK VIE FOR SWEET SIXTEEN

Lyric poetry once had simple things to say and said them as memorably as possible.

Was that such a bad idea?

Here is Catullus, from two thousand years ago, taking on Herrick, from 500 years ago.  Catullus, the ancient Roman, requires translation (a new one from Scarriet) while Herrick’s Renaissance English is his:

HOW MANY KISSES: TO LESBIA–Catullus

Lesbia, you ask how many kisses of yours
Are enough to satisfy my desires?
As many grains of Libyan sand on Libyan shores
That lie between the oracle of Jupiter’s fires
And Battiades’ tomb among Cyrenean cedars
Where Egypt’s Jupiter is worshiped;

As many stars, when the night moves not,
That gaze on desires no one else sees;
As many of your mad kisses kissed
For mad Catullus that ever were,
Impossible to count from any spot
That might be hiding spies with evil tongues.

TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME–Robert Herrick

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
    To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
    The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
    And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
    When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
    Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
    And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
    You may forever tarry.

Catullus was naughty, and therefore his poem is dramatic.  Herrick was a life-long bachelor who spent his life writing occasional poems to please others; therefore his poem is didactic.

How to pick a winner?

Herrick had a marvelous ear; Catullus, in Latin, is lost to us in English.

Catullus survives because of a single volume of his that was discovered in an old house in Italy hundreds of years after his death.

He is not considered a major poet, and yet Catullus talks to us.

Catullus wins 87 to 83!

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1 Comment

  1. Mr. T. said,

    June 16, 2013 at 2:24 am

    I pity the poet who isn’t a lesbian!


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