Tag Archives: Edgar Allan Poe

To Lesbia

Okay, so this is something a little bit out of the ordinary (and by far my longest post—almost 500!), but I figured I’d try it out. I’m taking a translation class, and this week I had to translate a poem by Catullus from Latin to English, first as literal as possible, and then kinda in my own way. Here’s the Latin that I was given:

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
Soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
Da mi basia mille, deinde centum
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

Now, I don’t know Latin at all, so if there’s anybody out there who does know Latin, feel free to correct me if I messed anything up. I took a few liberties, I admit, but this is what I arrived at for the literal translation (or as close to it as I could figure out):

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us truly
love the rumors of all the old men,
single and severe, value them like coins.
Let us get used to death and give back to it when we can:
let us, on occasion, marry death with this brief day life,
for with night will come perpetual slumber.
Give me a thousand kisses, then one hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then even another thousand, then a hundred,
then, when we’ve produced those many thousands,
we must scatter them, truly understand
or else assuredly that which is ugly will envy what we can do,
when only we can know the way we touch our lips.

Alright, that gives us a little something to work with at least. I probably should’ve stuck to the literal translation a bit more in my final version, but I guess I’ll let you guys decide:

Let us live, my dear, and let us love, and learn
to love even the way the older world
admires our newness, jealous from afar.

Let us get to know them, and accustomed
to their gnarled hands and words, their scoffs and doubts,
so we may avoid their ways near to death.

Before we sleep, our four lips will have kissed
thousands and thousands and thousands of times;
what will they who have lost love know of us?

We shall have kisses enough to scatter
them like petals before our feet; we shall
have more kisses than the old have curses
to throw at them; we shall die from kisses:
the old will think they’ve won once we are gone.

So that’s that. Not too shabby for my first translation, right? I’m sure it’s not even close, but I’m fine with that. Hopefully my next assignment will be in a language I actually know….