Language nerdery alert: This is the first ever recorded use of the word bāsium to mean a kiss; most Latin-derived languages have kept it (French baiser, Italian bacio, Spanish beso) whereas the Latin synonyms ōsculum and suāvium have vanished from the lexicon.
My Lesbia, let us live and love
And not care tuppence for old men
Who sermonise and disapprove.
Suns when they sink can rise again,
But we, when our brief light has shone,
Must sleep the long night on and on.
Kiss me: a thousand kisses, then
A hundred more, and now a second
Thousand and hundred, and now still
Hundreds and thousands more, until
The thousand thousands can’t be reckoned
And we’ve lost track of the amount
And nobody can work us ill
With the evil eye by keeping count.
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.
Many many years ago, two friends who were getting married had the nice idea of giving everyone at the wedding one of the Phoenix paperbacks then produced by Orion, and this was one of the two we got. (No idea now what the other one was.) I've dipped into it from time to time, and finally decided to read it through. Less than 120 poems by Catullus survive, all presumed to have been written around 60 BC, and 57 of them are presented in this book (omitting I think the longer and less romantic ones).
It's difficult to sum up poetry, especially translated from a foreign language; I must say the ones that grabbed me most were not the poltiical references (though it's interesting to see disparaging remarks about Julius Caesar from someone who knew him) but the short narrative poems about some particular incident, and the passionate ones like no 5 above, whose first half Sir Walter Ralegh translated thus:
The sun may set and rise,And there's the well known 85:
But we, contrariwise,
Sleep, after our short light,
One everlasting night.
James Michie's translations seem to me to catch both humour and passion, from a writer of over 2000 years ago who still catches our humanity.
I hate and love. If you ask me to explain
I can’t, but I can feel it, and the pain
Odi et amo. quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.