Friday, 1 February 2008

Lesbia's Sparrow

In his poem 'The Scholars' W B Yeats describes them thus: Bald heads forgetful of their sins / Old, learned, respectable bald heads / Edit and annotate the lines / ... / Rhymed out in love's despair / ... / All shuffle there; all cough in ink; / All wear the carpet with their shoes; / All think what other people think ....
before going on to ask: Lord, what would they say / Did their Catullus walk that way?
Valerius Catullus (84BC - 54BC) was born in Verona. He became a leading member of a group of young poets in Rome. 116 works by Catallus survive, including 25 lyrics to Lesbia - a married woman. His other works include elegies and satirical attacks on politicians.
Thanks to the combination of Yates's Scholars and the modern Internet we may read and appreciate 'Lesbia's Sparrow' a charming poem from the quill of their Catullus crafted in Rome more than 2,000 years ago and Rhymed out in love's despair -

Lesbia's Sparrow

All you Loves and Cupids cry
and all you men of feeling,
my girl's sparrow is dead
my girl's beloved sparrow.
She loved him more than herself.

He was sweeter than honey and he
knew her as she knows her mother.
He never flew out of her lap
but hopping about here and there
just chirped to his lady alone.
Now he is flying the dark
no-one ever returns from.

Evil to you, evil Shades
of Orcus, destroyers of beauty.
You have stolen the beautiful sparrow
from me

Oh sad day! Oh poor little sparrow!
Because of you my sweet girl's eyes
are red with weeping, and swollen.

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