Catullus 5


Catullus 5

Catullus 5 is a passionate and perhaps the most famous poem by Catullus. The poem encourages lovers to scorn the snide comments of others, and to live only for each other, since life is all too brief and death brings on a night of perpetual sleep. Over the centuries, this poem has been translated and imitated many times; its sentiments seem timeless.

The meter of this poem is hendecasyllabic, a common form in Catullus' poetry.

17th Century translations

A rhyming translation was written in 1601 by the 17th century English composer, poet and physician Thomas Campion, which adds the word "sweetest"

::My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love;::And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,::Let us not weigh them. Heaven's great lamps do dive::Into their west, and straight again revive,::But soon as once is set our little light,::Then must we sleep one ever-during night.

Soon thereafter, Sir Walter Raleigh included the following verses in his "The Historie of the World", which he wrote while imprisoned in the Tower of London [cite book | author = McPeek JAS | year = 1939 | title = Catullus in Strange and Distant Britain | publisher = Harvard University Press | location = Cambridge MA | id = ASIN B0006CPVJM] [cite journal | author = Lucas DW | year = 1940 | title = Catullus in English literature | journal = The Classical Review | volume = 54 | pages = p. 93 | url = http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-840X%28194006%291%3A54%3A2%3C93%3ACIEL%3E2.0.CO%3B2-8]

::The Sunne may set and rise::But we contrariwise::Sleepe after our short light::One everlasting night.

Latin text

Connotations

*Lines 2-3

This is a reference to the gossip going around the Roman Senate, as it was believed that Catullus was having an affair with a senator's wife, known as Clodia. This is also thought to be the woman Lesbia in his poetry. Catullus is urging Clodia to disregard what people are saying about them, so she can spend more time with him.

Poetic effects

*Line 5-6

The position of "lux" - light, and "nox" - night right next to each other serve to emphasise his two comparisons. Symbolically, the "perpetual night" represents death and the "brief light" represents life.

Allusions in modern culture

A modern version of this poem is sung in the 1998 French film "Jeanne et le garçon formidable" {Jeanne and the Perfect Guy} starring Virginie Ledoyen and Mathieu Demy.

This poem is referenced in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, according to annotator Alfred Appel Jr.'s annotation.

The line "nox est una dormienda" is a recurring theme in Anthony Burgess's novel "The Kingdom of the Wicked."

"Nox Dormienda" is the name of a novel by Kelli Stanley.

Una Knox (as woman's name) is the euphemism for Death in John Crowley's Ægypt cycle.

The line "nox est pereptua una dormienda" is quoted in the 'Present Day' chapter of Virginia Woolf's The Years.

References

Bibliography

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