Catulle ("Catullus")

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First Edition

Collected works, Club de l'Honnête Homme, 1970.
Written around 1913.


"In the remote days of my adolescence, at the old high school in Marseille, I used to write poems. Nearly all writers began with poems. (...)
I would borrow from my high school library a collection of Latin elegiac poems compiled by Monsieur Arnauld, an eleventh grade teacher in our school.
Thereby, I discovered Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid, Catullus.
I was a rather good Latinist as I spoke Provençal with my grandfather and my friends from the village of La Treille, near Aubagne. This language is much closer to Latin than French is. (...).
Therefore, it was rather easy for me to translate the elegiac poems, which I found enthralling to read. I was filled with wonder and deeply moved by Catullus and his love affairs with Lesbia, of whom he says she prostitutes herself for the quarter of an ace, that is for a few coins. I worked lengthily on this and started over again five or six times. The play in itself is not particularly good, apart from the fact that the reader might enjoy a few fine lines.
But such failed endeavor was very important to me as working on this for years eventually got me to like drama and, in some sort of acknowledgment of the poor young man I have been and whom I have to thank for almost everything, I wanted to honor him in granting him a place in those beautiful books."


Catullus, young Latin poet, is passionately in love with Clodia, a courtesan. She becomes enamored of him but, loose and frivolous, is unfaithful to him. And, when one day Catullus falls sick, she rapidly grows tired of him and soon leaves him for one of his friends: Coelius. The poet, left heartbroken, regrets the time devoted to Clodia rather than to poetry and his renown. He dies scoffed and weakened.

CATULLUS, shivers.
I am in fear; I have squandered my life...
To this passion, it has been enslaved,
Alone, I shall appear before the sovereign judge...
Calvus, will I show a peaceful and untroubled face?
Guest at feasts, author of idle lines,
Has anything great, honorable or useful come out of me?
My genius... Ah, gods had entrusted me with it...
Calvus, Calvus, has it really borne fruits?
Night is coming... I reach the end of the hill
And at my feet I can see the fading slope,
And fearfully I take a look at my past...
When I am gone, what will remain of me?
Ah! What heavy and stifling an agony!
Calvus, I die fruitless and some genius I had!
I leave like a child, deluded with your mercy,
And I was the poet, and my entire self is dying!

It is untrue... For you will live forever in memories...
Your past work can be enough for your glory...
And your loving lines will live through ages...

Catullus has taken a look behind himself. He grabs Demetrius' arm and, trembling, tells him in a low voice.

There she is... Can you hear her?

DEMETRIUS, aghast.
What does he say?

Can you hear her?
She is laughing... Can you see her? How long and greedy gestures...
She knows that she will take me away empty-handed,
She knows that she will take me away, I, defeated,
I, dying at the age of thirty and not a life lived...