From the Archives: 2 poems by Gaius Valerius Catullus
I need, my sweet girl Ipsithilla,
your pleasures passing through my hands,
like honey dripping from the sun,
so call me to you for the long afternoon.
And if you do, you’ve got to help me out,
check that no one bolts the door and also
watch yourself, don’t leave the house,
I need you at home, ready for me,
ready for us to fuck, to fuck each other
inside and out nine times straight.
Then call me now if you’re ready,
I’m drowsy after lunch, stuffed, lying
on the couch, daydreaming, my cock
hunting for you out through my tunic.
So far I’ve come, brother, at the end of so much time,
across the sea, among strangers in their cities,
passing stranger men on the roads, so far to come
for your death rites, to fulfill my duties
to you in death and to speak unanswered to your ashes,
your body burned away in the fires,
sad brother, taken from me, gone from me.
I honor you now, in the old ways of our family,
offerings of wine and honey, lentils and flowers,
these terrible duties entrusted now to me
as my tears sweeten the plates I offer, take them,
it’s the end, brother, I’ve come and it’s time to go.
The Latin poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (84? B.C.–54? B.C.) was born into a wealthy family in Verona and died, at age thirty, in Rome. Almost everything that is thought to be known about his life, including his love affair with a woman he calls “Lesbia,” is extrapolated from his writing. Despite his popularity in the centuries after he died, his work later vanished. His rediscovery began when the manuscript of a single volume of poetry was found in the early 14th century in Italy.
Keith Newton is the editor of the online magazine Harp & Altar. His chapbook of poems Sent Forth to Die in a Happy City is forthcoming this winter from Cannibal Books. He lives in Brooklyn.