PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Subha Mukherji Dying and Living with De la Mare Carl Phillips Fall Colors and other poems Alex Wylie The Bureaucratic Sublime: on the secret joys of contemporary poetry Marilyn Hacker Montpeyroux Sonnets David Herman Memories of Raymond Williams
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This review is taken from PN Review 12, Volume 6 Number 4, March - April 1980.

LESBIA BITCH-BITCH-BITCHES The Poems of Catullus, translated by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish (Cape) £3.50

The poems of Catullus echo down the centuries with a rare immediacy. Tender, witty, insulting, defiant or bawdy, the best capture a transient intensity of feeling with unnerving poetic control. The tension between tautness of poetic form and rawness of subject- matter lies at the heart of Catullus' achievement. This tension is almost unreproduceable in twentieth-century English. Rochester might have succeeded in an age when strict verse-forms were still a natural mode of expression; Gavin Ewart might come near success today. Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish have not made the attempt. With occasional lapses into rhyme or half-rhyme, they have opted for an unbuttoned looseness of both form and language, concentrating above all on raciness.

The result is a reworking, rather than a translation, that is frank and lively. Except for the rather tedious longer poems, and the short elegiac verses, Raphael and McLeish have adopted a dramatic, slangy style even where Catullus is relatively uncolloquial. Indeed, sexual slang is exploited to such an extent that the reader is attuned to it at unfortunate moments. The trouble is the large array of English words that can have sexual connotations. Once on the dirty language register, the mind finds it difficult to move off. Poem 92 is a typical example of where the effect is to transform Catullus' meaning. A literal translation would read: "Lesbia is always disparaging me and never keeps quiet about me. May I die if Lesbia does not love me. How do I know? ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image