14 Bingley’s translation of Catullus
A couple evenings ago I went into my study–that is, Bingley’s room–to write. He was stretched out in his bed with a book open in front of him. He had his eyes closed and looked to be napping. So I got quietly to my work.
Then I heard a sound–something like “hss sss sss mmm.” I looked around, and Bingley had his eyes open and a smile on his face. His tale was flicking back and forth. He didn’t say anything, just looked up at me, and then he closed his eyes and settled his chin back down on the edge of his bed.
I thought I heard the sound of a page turning, but didn’t look back until a few minutes later I heard that sound again: “hss sss sss mmm.”
There he was again with a smile on his face. His tale executed a couple of flourishes.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
“Reading Catullus,” he said.
I hadn’t looked at the book in front of him. I assumed it was something my wife had got out to check a reference and that she had left it there to go back to it. I asked if I might see the book, and there it was, a collection of Catullus’ poems.
“Cat-like?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “But funny.”
I had been trying to write something for National Poetry Month and had not made much progress. So I asked Bingley, “Would you like to write something for National Poetry Month?”
“Yes!” he said, and he got up and jumped into my lap to look at the screen. “Translation okay?”
So he dictated, and I typed. Here’s Bingley’s translation, from Latin, of Catullus’ Carmen 86, one of his favorites.
Qunitia, “So shapely!” say the many. For me, too,
so white, so tall, so straight she stands. And I confess
the glories of these qualities, each alone.
But I deny that’s beauty: no charm, no grain
of grace dwells in so great a body. Lesbia,
there’s a total beauty: she has stolen Venus’ glories.
Though Bingley has, as Jonson said of Shakespeare, small Latin and less Greek, having read that poem I think his Latin much better than mine.
From Bingley to you for National Poetry Month: best wishes, and enjoy!