liberties allowed me to embrace the wider importance of Catullus in modern culture; for instance, my versions of Poems 16, 25, and 48 echo lines of Frank O’Hara, whose poems change the reader’s view of New York City ‘like having Catullus change your view of the Forum in Rome’ (Allen Ginsberg). So these translations try for cultural equivalence as well as textual accuracy. They show that Catullus’s poems are in dialogue with current and recent poetries, and suggest Catullus’s important influence on the development of anglophone poetries down the centuries since the Renaissance, when Catullus was first Englished.
In the second and third books this shadowing is much stricter. Here my versions hug closer to the originals line-by-line, reflecting a new astringency in the rhythm and metre as a darker, bitterer tone develops. ‘In poetry’, wrote Robert Lowell in his introduction to Imitations, speaking of what, in essence, translation must achieve, ‘tone is of course everything’. If this translation aspires to achieve one thing, it is to register the shifts of tone in the original. It became clear, in the process of working away at the translations in this volume, that a unique quality of Catullus’s ‘books’ is this shifting tone, in tonal weight, away from the lightness of the polymetrics, through the more mature ‘wedding’ poems (is there a sense here of the poet taking life more seriously?), to the darker tone of ‘book three’, darkened by the death of the poet’s brother, whose absence looms over the final book; by the poet’s resignation to the withering of his relationship with Lesbia; and later by the barbed, sometimes desperate, often violent epigrams.
Hand-in-hand with the work’s metrical groupings and tonal modulations are its shifts in diction (which similarly tack and veer within a poem or a single line), its soundings of voice (in the form of nuanced raising and lowering), and its complications of syntax. These shifts, soundings and complications give the ‘books’ characteristic dimensions and unique signatures that a simple division of the poems by their metrics would not. This is why shadowing the later texts closely, line-by-line, was crucial. It allowed me to preserve the meaning of the poem at a microtextual level, to retain the complexity and sophistication of the originals. A good example is Poem 97, which has been somewhat overlooked by introduction . xiii
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