Catullus: kiss and poetry

Romanticism and passion, intensity and love are definitely Catullus main characteristics – albeit additionally, of course it cannot be denied he oftentimes used vulgar expressions, straightforward sexual references and offensive tones. Son of a well off Northern Italian family, Catullus not seldom loved playing the role of the disgraced artist, fancying the wearing of bohémienne clothes and striving to pretend being the forerunner of a poète maudit. He firmly despised any social, civil or political involvement and even scorned Julius Caesar (who by the way was also a family friend…).

klimt-kuss.jpg

His heart and his love were only for poetry and devoted to Lesbia (conventionally identified with the deceitful Clodia, prosecuted by Cicero in Pro Caelio, though this is still to be ascertained) a woman who apparently captured his soul first and afterwards, with her unreliable frame of mind and false behaviour, broke his heart. His verses range therefore from the chanting of the utmost blissful moments of his love-life and devotion:

Nulla potest muli tantum se dicere amatam
uere, quantum a me Lesbia amata mea es.
nulla fides ullo fuit umquam in foedere tanta,
quanta in amore tuo ex parte reperta mea est.

[Never a woman could call herself so fondly beloved
Truly as Lesbia mine has been beloved of myself.
Never were Truth and Faith so firm in any one compact
As on the part of me kept I my love to thyself.]

to the mourning in the deepest despair derived from the abandonment:

Wretched Catullus, stop making a fool of yourself.
And consider lost that which you see has come to an end.
The bright suns once shone for you,
When you were often coming where the girl was leading—
No girl will be loved as much as she had been loved by us.
When those playful things were happening there,
Which you were willing to do and the girl was not unwilling,
Truly the bright suns shone for you.
Now at last that girl is not willing; you also, though lacking self-control, be unwilling,
And do not pursue she who flees nor live as a lovesick man,
But endure with a determined mind; be resolute.
Goodbye, girl. Already Catullus is hardened,
And neither looks nor will ask for you unwilling girl.
But you yourself will be sorry when you are never asked for again.
Wicked one, woe to you! What life awaits you?
Who will come to you now? To whom will you seem cute?
Whom will you love now? Whose will you be said to be?
Whom will you kiss? Whose lips will you nibble?
But you, Catullus, remain hardened.

from the sweetest and cheerful remembrances of his unforgettable love moments:

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum seueriorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.

[Let us live, Lesbia, and let us love,
And let’s not give a dime to every
mean whisper of the puritanical old men.
The day’s light comes and sets, and then returns again,
But for us the brief light shines but once,
And night stretches forth in one long sleep.]

to the most furious rage originated by jealousy, deceit and dejection. Consequently his production – the celebrated Liber – can altogether be considered as the Spiegel of his soul, as his personal Journal de bord, through which we can identify, analyse, share and enjoy all the different – and yet so common – stages of love, absolutely unchanged in over 2000 years. Catullus was particularly fond of the kiss, I guess he considered – and I do totally agree with him – the kissing as the highest expression of fondness between two lovers. I actually deem that under different circumstances, moments, locations, situations a kiss can be passionate, but also can be delicate, it can be comforting and soothing, but can also be warm and ardent:

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 inuidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

[Give me a thousand kisses, the a hundred more,
Another thousand, a second hundred or two,
A thousand and still a hundred hundred more.
Then when we have kissed a thousand thousand times
Let the countless number fly away before we pause
Counting, nor let some envious eye devise a plot
Knowing that so many kisses can be kissed]

And again, more passionately:

Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque?
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis,
oraclum Iouis inter aestuosi
et Batti ueteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox
furtiuos hominum uident amores;
tam te basia multa basiare
uesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi

possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

[You ask how many of your kisses do I need,
Lesbia, how many kisses will suffice.
As many as the grains of Libyans sands
That lie upon the perfumed Cyrenian plain
Between the sweltering shrine of fiery Jove
And the sacred sepulchers of ancient kings.
Or as many as the countless stars in quiet night
That stare down on the furtive loves of men.
Only such a number of your kisses, only this
Will be enough and above for your crazy lover,
Which neither curious eyes can number up
Nor evil tongues enchant to bind our play.]

And furthermore with tinges of modern romanticism:

Kiss me softly and speak to me low;
Trust me darling, the time is near,
When we may live with never a fear
Kiss me dear!
Kiss me softly, and speak to me low

No doubt then that Catullus is the precursor of the “poetry of the kiss”. He seems to open a ventana on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sweetest and tender, alabaster skin maiden:

love.jpg

I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden;
You needest not fear mine;
My spirit is too deeply laden
Ever to burthen thine

I fear thy mien, thy tones, thy motion;
Thou needest not fear mine;
Innocent is the heart’s devotion
With which I worship thine.

and paving a footpath to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s passion and ardour:

For lo! even now my lady’s lips did play
With these my lips such consonant interlude
As laurelled Orpheus longed for when he wooed
The half-drawn hungering face with that last lay.
I was a child beneath her touch,–a man
When breast to breast we clung, even I and she,–
A spirit when her spirit looked through me,–
A god when all our life-breath met to fan
Our life-blood, till love’s emulous ardours ran,
Fire within fire, desire in deity.

Catullus can be thus considered the most romantic of the classic poets, as I personally adore this masterful portrait of a couple Septimius and Acme caught in their secluded private own world, a wonderful scene of intimacy and sweet words of love that only two lovers can conceive and share while hiding in their timeless nest neglecting time, space and the outer rest:

Septimius holding his love Acme
on his lap said “My Acme,
if I do not love you desperately and am ready to love you further
continuously for all my years,
as much as one who loves most desperately,
alone in Libya and scorched India
let me come face to face with the green-eyed lion.”
As he said this, Love on the left as before
on the right sneezed approval.
Then Acme, gently bending back her head,
and kissing the intoxicated little eyes of her sweet boy
with that rosy mouth
said “Thus, my life, my little Septimius,
let us be slaves to this one master,
as a much more eager fire burns
in my soft marrow.”
As she said this, Love on the let as before
on the right sneezed approval.
Now, having set out from favorable omens
with mutual passions they love and are loved.
Little love-sick Septimius prefers Acme alone
to Syrias and Britains:

faithful Acme makes her delights and pleasures in
Septimius alone.
Who has seen any people more blessed?
Who has seen a more favoured love?


11 comments on “Catullus: kiss and poetry

  1. Gawain says:

    hello there
    pleased to have stumbled upon you. your way of reading is much like mine, but your way of speaking about what you read is a lot more nuanced — and calm — then mine. what a pleasure.
    ill subscribe to your feed — so that i can come back and read you when you post — this seems rather rare; and link to you, as well.
    Sir G

  2. stoa says:

    Thanks a lot.
    I hope you will like both my older and future posts as well.

  3. I came to read this post very late. But no regrets. Better late than never. Since you have done and still doing a marvellous job with no due praises. Kudos

  4. thelittleaboutme says:

    Hi. Great Job! I really enjoy reading your blog… :-)

  5. Andrej Avguštin says:

    What’s the name of the first picture and who’s it’s author?

  6. [...] then, Catullus told has told us just what kind of kisses he’d like to give to Lesbia, Ovid has given impish advice on the art of love and, to use two of liberaldogooder’s [...]

  7. Andreea says:

    Hello!i’ve read your blog too late maybe,i have to go an essay at school at your blog helped me very much,i had to translate but wasnt hard..you did a great job ,this poem is not so wellknowed,but i admire the persons who describe old literature.sorry for my english i’m still learning it.great job and i hope i can read your next post.

  8. Andreea says:

    i read the comment again and i say a lot of mistakes and i have to tell them…”and your blog helped me” * and the other mistake is i have to make an essay and then i have to go it to school:)..sorry again for my english

    • stoa says:

      Dear Andreea,
      I’m glad you’ve found my article interesting and useful.
      I truly hope you can find more support throughout my blog in the future.
      All the best, and thank you.

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