A Sonnet In Lamentation Of A Dead Sparrow, After Catullus

Here is a loose translation of Catullus iii, Lament for Lesbia’s Pet Sparrow, in the form of a sonnet, submitted by guest blogger Patrick Leighton Forse. Catullus‘ poem has 18 lines, but a sonnet has only 14 lines, so some compression has obviously been necessary.

Patrick Forse
Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque,

et quantum est hominum venustiorum:

passer mortuus est meae puellae,

passer, deliciae meae puellae,

quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.

nam mellitus erat suamque norat

ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,

nec sese a gremio illius movebat,

sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc

ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.

qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum

illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.

at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae

Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis:

tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis

vae factum male! vae miselle passer!

tua nunc opera meae puellae

flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.
O Venus and you cupids, shed a tear,

And mourn, all men who are by beauty moved.

The sparrow's passed away that my love loved;

That sparrow was to her at least as dear

As her dear eyes, no less sweet than honey,

He knew her as a babe knows her mummy.

He never left her lap, but all day long

Hopped to and fro, chirping his mistress' song.

But now he flies along a gloomier path

Where none returns. Curse you cursed hawks of hate

That devour all beautiful things on earth;

Curse you for stealing my sweet little mate,

And for what you've done to my girl, whose dear eyes

Shed tears, swell up and redden as she cries.

The sonnet retains the three quatrains and final couplet, typical of a Shakespearean sonnet, but each quatrain has a distinct rhyme scheme, moving  from ABBA to CCDD to EFEF before returning to form with the concluding couplet, GG, presumably to emphasize the shifting moods of the original, which progresses from lamentation to honeyed sentimentality to cursing and remonstration.

Each quatrain also switches between pure rhyme and assonance. The sickly assonance in the second quatrain seems designed to set your teeth on edge at the sugary sentiment it expresses…

The last third of the original is more severely compressed so that the line “Vae factum male, vae miselle passer” is not directly translated, but is expressed in the mood of the final sentence.