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Résurgence, déplacement, défamiliarisation

Estranging the Classic: The Zukofskys’ Catullus

Rendre étrange(r) le classique : le Catullus des Zukofsky
Andrew Eastman
p. 117-129


La traduction de l’œuvre de Catulle publiée par Louis et Celia Zukofsky en 1971 sous le titre Catullus pose le problème des rapports entre étrangeté linguistique et valeur littéraire. Cette version cherche à « suivre le son, le rythme, et la syntaxe » du texte de Catulle, comme les traducteurs l’ont noté dans leur préface, quitte à proposer un équivalent oblique et métaphorique du sens latin. Cependant, la tentative de rendre la « matérialité » du texte latin aboutit à élider l’aspect le plus important de la spécificité d’un discours, le réseau de signifiants que Henri Meschonnic appelle sa « sémantique sérielle ». La traduction des Zukofsky n’en atteint pas moins une force d’écriture par ses inventions syntaxiques, comme on cherche à le montrer en étudiant sa réécriture de la grammaire de l’énonciation en anglais ; en traduisant Catulle, une des sources classiques de la subjectivité lyrique, les Zukofsky produisent une grammaire spécifique du « je » qui remet en question les modèles régnants de l’individualité poétique par l’invention de son mode propre de subjectivation.

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1Arising out of a modernist sense of the radical historicity of language, the poetry of Louis Zukofsky appears aimed at making language difficult, opaque, and strange. While grounded in personal experience and the everyday, his work holds itself aloof from traditional modes of self-expression in poetry; the density and obliquity of its ways of saying would seem to carry an implicit critique of mercantile uses of language in American consumer society. In literary historical terms, Zukofsky is perhaps now best known for editing an “Objectivists” issue of Poetry magazine in February 1931; the title he gave to the group of poets he presented there speaks to the problematic status of the lyric self in American modernism. That indirectness is a central technique of Zukofsky’s poetry might be suggestively linked to the fact that Zukofsky’s relation to English was itself indirect: a child of Russian-Jewish parents who grew up on the Lower East Side, he learned English as a second language. Yet the central preoccupation of Zukofsky’s writing is the way life is lived by and through words and their history, as the titles of two of his principal works, “Poem beginning ’The’” and “A” suggest; of the latter, a long poem in 24 sections written between 1928 and 1970, he said: “the words are my life”. Zukofsky has served as a model for late twentieth-century American poets who see writing as a way of calling attention to language; yet, as the expression “Objectivist” shows, what is fundamentally at stake in his writing is the subject of the poem. Estranging English, I would like to argue, is a basic mode of enunciation in Zukofsky’s work; translation figures there as a way of making English strange.

  • 1  Celia and Louis Zukofsky, translators, Catullus (Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber), in Complete (...)
  • 2  Ibid., 243.
  • 3  Quoted in John Ferguson, Catullus, New Surveys in the Classics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, 40.

2Working in collaboration with his wife Celia, Zukofsky published one of the stranger works in the history of translation, an English version of the poems of Catullus entitled Catullus (Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber), in 19691. In their “Translators’ Preface”, the Zukofskys note that their translation “follows the sound, rhythm, and syntax of [Catullus’s] Latin”2. Their approach, sometimes described as “homophonic translation”, supposes that whatever meaning inheres in Catullus’s poems is inseparable from the poems’ sound patterning. Yet the attempt to reproduce the phonemic sequences of the Latin text leads to the systematic practice of calque and interlingual pun: the Zukofskys’ translations are an improbable assemblage of various lexicons, including rare words, scientific and legal terminology, archaic usages, regional and dialect expressions, American slang and media jargon; dredging up and giving central prominence to the Latin loan words in the English lexicon, they adapt their specialized meanings to the expression of everyday human interactions. As such, the language of the translation is continually oblique and metaphorical. It is perhaps for this reason that the Zukofskys’ translation has attracted little notice in the field of classical studies; one scholar, while refusing to cite it by name, describes it as presenting “a Catullus who seems to have stepped from the pages of Finnegans Wake3.

3In translating Catullus—who is thought to have lived from 84 to 54 BC, and to have flourished, as scholars say, around 56—the Zukofskys addressed their attention to one of the central models of lyric subjectivity in the Western literary canon, valued for the simplicity and authenticity of its expression of feeling. Yet the status of Catullus in critical history is problematic: his poems, which refer to the varied and often dubious sexual practices of the speaker himself and, presumably, his enemies and political opponents, are also characterized by the most casual obscenity, linked, apparently, to the poem’s function as a tool of character assassination in Republican Rome. Catullus is thus variously and simultaneously the poet of tender sentiment and scandalous mores: an edition published in Edinburgh in 1961 left out one third of the corpus on the grounds that it was “unfit for commentary in English”. The poems then present a particular challenge to translators, that of doing justice to uninhibited speech. Recent efforts, like for example the very good versions by David Mulroy, do not scruple to make use of the most concrete and colloquial language in English. Yet the paradoxical effect of such translation is that it makes the Latin poet sound “just like us”, in particular couching the culturally specific concepts of Roman sexuality in language once crude but now fashionably banal.

  • 4  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 243.
  • 5  In The Translator’s Invisibility. A History of Translation (London:  Routledge, 1995), Lawrence Ve (...)

4The main thrust of the critical tradition surrounding Catullus’s works has been to deduce from them an autobiographical Catullus expressing himself in his poems, and to work out his relations to other shadowy figures, among whom, it is thought, are some of the central political actors of the Roman Republic. It thus appears noteworthy that the Zukofskys’ preface describes their translation as an attempt to “breathe the ’literal’ meaning of Catullus’s poems”4. Placing the word “literal” between quotation marks, the preface both suggests that meaning is a matter of letters, and points to the paradoxical, not to say chimerical, project of capturing presence in graphic signs which no one really knows how to pronounce anymore. Translating Catullus, in the way that the Zukofskys propose to do it, is rather a way of holding the lyric subject at a distance, in the sense that voice arises here out of the application of a set of rules, a translation protocol. In this respect, it seems significant that the Zukofskys’ translation of Catullus is contemporary with Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, and with the vogue in 1960s America for “confessional poetry”, writing based on autobiographical transparence. Saying something about the value of the Zukofskys’ translation means studying the theory of language which their work implies5.

Translation as Reading

  • 6  D. F. S. Thomson (ed.), Catullus, edited with a textual and interpretative commentary, Toronto & L (...)

5What is involved in the Zukofskys’ translations and the way they compare to translations focused primarily on rendering lexical meaning can be seen by looking at a passage from Catullus’s poem 55, which describes the speaker looking for a friend in Rome’s chief public haunts: here he evokes a visit to Pompey’s portico, which, according to one editor, was a well-known site for “girl-hunting”6:

  • 7  Gaius Valerius Catullus, [Works,] in Catullus, Tibullus, and Pervergilium Veneris, F. W. Cornish, (...)

in Magni simul ambulatione
femellas omnes, amice, prendi,
quas vultu vidi tamen sereno.
(l. 6-8).7

  • 8   D. F. S.Thomson, Ibidem.

6For this passage the Loeb edition gives the following paraphrase: “And when I was in Pompey’s portico [Magni here refers to Pompey, who styled himself “the Great”], I stopped all the women there, my friend, who, however, faced me with untroubled look” (63). It is worth noting here that femella is a colloquial word which, aside from this occurrence, appears in no other classical Latin text8. David Mulroy’s version, published in 2002, attempts to give a vivid sense of the passage’s informal tone:

  • 9  David Mulroy, The Complete Poetry of Catullus, translated with commentary by David Mulroy, Madison (...)

My friend, I badgered all the babes
in Magnus’ portico, used direct
intimidation to pierce their blank expressions.

The Zukofskys’ translation, on the contrary, makes no attempt to mime colloquial style; rather, it introduces a syntax which hovers at the limits of the interpretable:

  • 10  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 270.

in our Magnate’s milling ambulatory,
fame mellows the girls—I’m keyed and preen, friend—
quasi vulture with eye to mind serene.

7Several aspects of the Zukofskys’ translation practice can be seen in this example. Given the situation described, the Zukofskys, as their translating protocol would lead us to expect, look for English words which correspond to the phonemic composition of the Latin text, at least as far as letters may represent it; thus, “vulture” translates vultu, the ablative singular of vultus, “face”; amice, prendi, “friend, I stopped”, is rendered as “I’m keyed and preen”. In this way, the text provides an equivalent for a plausible construal of the Latin speechsounds. Yet one might note that the Zukofskys’ text also works in lexical meaning: thus while “fame mellows” reproduces—approximately—the speech sounds of femellas omnes, “the girls” reintroduces the sense of this expression; similarly, “I’m keyed” serves to render the phonemic sequence of amice, while “friend” more properly translates this word. As a result, the Zukofskys’ second line contains six lexical words to Catullus’s three—as though in a frenzied attempt to render the passage’s indefinite multiplicity of meanings and ways of meaning.

8By staying in touch with the passage’s overt sense, the Zukofskys’ translation motivates its calques. Clearly, nothing in the lexical meaning of Catullus’s poem justifies “fame mellows the girls” or the introduction of the word “vulture”. Yet both of these expressions have meaning within the situation described by the poem, which reads them metaphorically: the reference to Pompey indicates how one might understand the girls’ “mellowing”, while “quasi vulture” might describe the way the speaker looks at them. At the same time, the Zukofskys’ translation leaves open the relation of its language to its characters: neither of the two first person preterite verbs, vidi and prendi, are translated as such; and it is not clear whether the statement “I’m keyed and preen, friend” represents the discourse of the speaker, or a way of describing the attitude attributed to the “girls”; in the same way, “vulture” might describe either girls or speaker. By suspending the definition of interpersonal relations offered by the Latin text, the translation evokes a situation of mutual predation.

9A second example of how the translations’ attempt to track phonemic composition and lexical meaning simultaneously pushes the Zukofskys’ language into metaphor can be seen in Catullus’s poem 31, a celebration of homecoming. The poem begins with a direct address to Sirmio, a peninsula on the coast of Lake Garda, where Catullus’s family owned a villa:

  • 11  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 36.

Pæne insularum, Sirmio, insularumque
ocelle, quascumque in liquentibus stagnis
marique vasto fert uterque Neptunus
[…] (l. 1-3).11

  • 12  Ibid., 37.
  • 13  D. Mulroy, op. cit., 25.

10English translations tend, logically, to reposition “Sirmio” at the beginning of the sentence, given the awkwardness of beginning with the genitive “Of”; thus the Loeb translation proposes: “Sirmio, bright eye of peninsulas and islands”12, while David Mulroy’s densely patterned and highly inventive version, “Sirmio, diamond of all all-but-isles/ and islands floating on clear lakes”13 plays on the phonemic echo linking “Sirmio” and “diamond” (a secondary sense of ocellus) and the semantic echo linking “diamond” and “clear”. The Zukofskys’ version, by contrast, pays most attention to the semantics of position which places Sirmio in the center of Catullus’s line:

  • 14  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 259.

Peninsular arm, Sirmio, insular arm, well-
ing eye, kiss come to what in liquid won’t stagnate,
mark of the vast fare and tugging that Neptune is […]

  • 15  Henri Meschonnic, Poétique du traduire, Lagrasse : Verdier, 1999, 151.

11The Zukofskys introduce a lexical word, “arm”, to translate the genitive feminine plural ending –arum: while “arm” clearly relates to the idea of a peninsula, at the same time, the two occurrences of the word, placed on either side of “Sirmio”, may also suggest the arms of a welcoming embrace, a suggestion which is compounded by the expression “welling eye” and the reference to a kiss in the following line. By construing the peninsula of Sirmio as a welcoming arm, the lake itself as a tearful eye, the translation produces a specific way of saying which serves to bring out meaning latent in the original text. Yet the Zukofskys’ version, composed of a series of noun phrases, makes only a strained kind of sense, and only obliquely renders the meaning of the Latin construction: it aims, then, not at sense but at what Henri Meschonnic, developing a notion found in Cicero, calls “force”15.

  • 16  Ibid., 139.
  • 17  Ibidem, 248.

12The examples given here suffice to make clear the most problematic aspects of the Zukofskys’ translation. These reside not so much in the fact that their versions abandon lexical meaning, as in their attention to phonemes to the exclusion of signifiers: their translation practice ignores the double articulation of language. As such it necessarily abandons the principle of concordance: the same Latin word, appearing at the beginning of successive lines, may be translated differently (poem 46, l. 1-2). It follows that what Meschonnic calls a discourse’s “serial semantics”16, the system of relations it constructs between signifiers by means of speechsound repetition, also disappears. The fundamental irony of the Zukofskys’ translation is then that its concerted attention to the “materiality” of language masks and misses the most significant way this materiality organizes the specific semantic values of a discourse. It is this serial semantics, exceeding lexical meaning, which Meschonnic identifies as the “force” of a text17. Yet the Zukofskys’ work, as poem 31 shows, is nevertheless a continual production of force, to the extent that it functions, syntactically, as a continual invention of ways of saying: their versions read force into the texts they translate.

Estranging the Classic

13The Zukofskys’ translation thus proposes a specific mode of reading which is at the same time a specific mode of translation: their versions of Catullus are not meant to replace or supplement the original text for the reader who does not know Latin; on the contrary, they are meant to be read alongside and through the Latin text, augmenting or developing its implications, since one of the ways they mean is by displacing or refracting the situation described in the original. For this reason it is notable that the Zukofskys’ Catullus was first published with a facing Latin text, unlike, for example, the translations of David Mulroy. The Zukofskys’ text means in and against the context of the original. In this writing, one might argue, the translations do not “read” the original text, but rather the original text “reads” the translation, in the sense that the translation takes on specific meanings by and through a comparison with it.

  • 18  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 158.
  • 19  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 308.

14How this works may also be seen in poem 78, an invective directed at the turpitudes of an unidentified Gallus, which closes by threatening the addressee that his misdeeds will be forever known thanks to Catullus’s poem, the speaker affirming, “et qui sis fama loquetur anus18. The poem’s last word, anus (with long a), glossed by one dictionary (Chambers-Murray) as “an old woman, old wife, old maid” functions here as a noun qualifying fama, “reputation, fame”; a literal translation might then read “and who you are, fame, that old lady, will tell”. Zukofsky, characteristically, cannot resist the calque, and translates: “wait queer, Sis Fame ’ll liquidate your anus”19. Colloquialism serves here to parody a traditional lyric motif, but the reader will only really get the joke if he or she compares the Latin text.

  • 20  Sextus Aurelius Propertius, Elegies, Book II.ii.2; in Propertius, H.E. Butler (Trans.), Loeb Class (...)
  • 21  Ezra Pound, Poems and Translations, Richard Sieburth (ed.), New York: Library of America, 2003, 52 (...)
  • 22  Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character. The Life of Ezra Pound, New York: Delta Books, 1988, 340.

15As a generalized practice of misreading, the Zukofskys’ Catullus is indebted to the translation practices of Ezra Pound, whose own version of the works of a Latin poet, “Homage to Sextus Propertius”, was excerpted in Poetry magazine in March 1919. Pound was subsequently attacked for his ignorance of Latin grammar by Professor William Gardner Hale of the University of Chicago, in a letter which appeared in the following issue of Poetry. Hale pointed in particular to Pound’s translation of gaudeat in solito tacta puella sono20 by “And the devirginated young ladies will enjoy them [i.e. my songs]/ When they have got over the strangeness”21. According to Howe, the passage, correctly translated, should read, “Let my lady, touched (by my words), find pleasure in the familiar music”22. Pound had mistaken in solito, “in [the] familiar [music]” for insolito “strange”. Clearly, however, the word “strangeness” serves here as an implicit statement of modernist poetics: Pound’s mis-reading adds force to the English text, because “strangeness” is paradoxically associated both through syntax and sound patterning with “devirginated” and “enjoy”.

  • 23  Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, D.D. Paige (ed.), New York: Harcourt, Brace & Wor (...)

16Embarrassed, apparently, by the public revelation of his mistakes, Pound never responded to Hale’s letter and ended his collaboration with Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry, because she had published it. To correspondents, he asserted that he had never intended “Homage to Sextus Propertius” as a translation23. The Zukofskys, in contrast, whose work wilfully multiplies the kind of mis-readings for which Pound was publicly humiliated, identify their work explicitly as translation. Their work appears, on one level, to mime or parody the ignorant reader’s appropriation and erasure of linguistic difference. Yet at the same time, it suggests that, as with Pound, mis-reading adds force. The Zukofskys’ writing functions as an allegory of reading, an enactment of the reader’s productive activity, the work of desire in discourse.

  • 24  E. Pound, op. cit.,231.

17Pound noted in a letter of 1931 that “Homage to Sextus Propertius” presented certain of his emotions in the face of “the infinite and ineffable imbecility of the British Empire”24. Though Catullus lived during the last years of the Republic, he witnessed the expansion of Roman power and served in the colonies. It thus seems possible to understand the Zukofskys’ Catullus as a way of commenting on American society at what must at the time have appeared as the apogee of American global power. Systematizing mis-reading, the Zukofskys’ translation appears to enact, ironically, a calquing appropriation of Latin by an American ignoramus. As such it inverts the traditional relation between American culture and the “classic”: here linguistic difference and cultural specificity is denied, as Latin words are collapsed into their derivatives in modern English, in what might be understood as a parody of imperial linguistic universalism.

  • 25  Wallace Stevens, “Adagia”, in Opus Posthumous, Milton J. Bates (ed.), New York: Vintage, 1990, 202

18On another level, however, the Zukofskys’ work may be seen as a reflection on linguistic difference: by foregrounding the English lexicon which mediates an English-speaker’s access to Latin, it suggests that any reading of Latin is necessarily filtered through the framework of English, which denies the reader any direct, transparent access to the Latin text. Catullus functions then as a way of pointing to the radical historicity of language, continually underlining the ways that English speakers are still living in Latin, suggesting that from one point of view English is not English but also Latin, somewhat in the way that Wallace Stevens noted that “French and English constitute a single language”25. In these circumstances, and contrary to the received opinion which holds that only the meanings of poems but not their forms can be translated, rendering the sense of the Latin text would seem to be an impossible enterprise; and this explains the adoption of a mode of translation which uses Catullus’s text as a means of accruing force in English writing.

19Pound’s translation of several poems of Sextus Propertius involved the production of a “persona”; the Zukofskys’ translation rather appears bent on disturbing and estranging the very means by which persona is made to appear. The central fact about Latin in this regard is that it omits, usually, the subject pronouns referring to speaker and addressee. Translating a discourse in Latin into English means introducing subject pronouns. What happens to “I” is then one of the basic problems of the construction of subjectivity in the translations. As evidenced by the conjunction of passive and active in “I’m keyed and preen”, “I” appears to attract strangeness.

Introducing “I”

20One example of how the Zukofskys’ translation handles “I” can be seen in Catullus’s poem 85, one of the better known works in his corpus. The poem is one classical source of a traditional lyric motif, the coexistence of love and hatred. Its language is both highly organized and disarmingly simple:

  • 26  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 162.

odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.26

  • 27 Ibid., 163.

21The Loeb translation retains something of this simplicity, while introducing an archaic verb construction and leaving out the significant contrast between the active and passive forms faciam and fieri: “I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask. I know not, but I feel it, and am in torment.”27 Compared to the clear and quiet statement made by the Latin text, the Zukofskys’ translation appears unbearably overwrought:

  • 28  Zukofsky, op. cit.,310.

O th’hate I move love. Quarry it fact I am, for that’s so re queries.
Nescience, say th’ fiery scent I owe whets crookeder.

22The Zukofskys’ version of the statement odi et amo is incomprehensible, or rather lends itself to several different parsings, none of them satisfying. What appears capital is the way the poem introduces “I”: the pronoun appears between the nouns “hate” and “love”, simultaneously and inextricably at the center of two grammatical constructions, “th’hate I move” and “I move love”. One might argue that both the syntactic doubleness and the difficulty of the language function as an equivalent of the speaker’s conflicted state, here performed rather than simply affirmed. The English poem’s two other occurrences of “I” likewise place the subject pronoun between complement and verb: “fact I am”, “scent I owe”. In other words, introducing the first person pronoun into the text, Zukofsky provides it with a specific, inverted syntax (the subject pronoun, displaced from initial position, is no longer the source or origin of the actions or states associated with it), functioning, perhaps, as a syntactic analogue of the poem’s conjunction of active and passive voice; the disruption of normal word order determining in each of these cases supplementary rhythmic stress on “I”.

23The poem’s treatment of “I” makes “I” a fulcrum of relation: “th’hate I move” and “I move love” might be understood to refer simultaneously to the feelings of speaker and of “loved one”; here again it is as though the Latin text were mis-read as English, since, in the absence of subject pronouns, the translation makes as if the emotions referred to were ambiguously located. Similarly, the expression “I owe”, ambiguously evoking its archaic sense, “own”, speaks simultaneously of possession and dispossession, while “fiery scent”, which the passage interprets as a metaphorical expression for the speaker’s love, refers both to the subject and object of desire, since “scent” is at once the sense of smell or capacity of smelling, and the trace of the other, the smell she emits. While Catullus’s text appears to describe an individual desperately enclosed in himself, the Zukofskys’ translation, introducing the pronominal “I” which grounds this identity, opens it out into the indefinition of identity emerging out of mutual relation.

  • 29  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 36.
  • 30 Ibid., 37.
  • 31  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 259.
  • 32  Attempting to work around the binary opposition between oral and written which the traditional use (...)

24This distancing of “I” in Catullus marks poems which present themselves both as examples of lyric self-expression and slices of autobiographical reality. At the end of poem 31, the speaker addresses his family home and indirectly expresses his joy at returning there; the Latin text reads “salve, o venusta Sirmio, atque ero gaude/ gaudente29, which the Loeb edition translates as “Welcome, lovely Sirmio, and rejoice in your master’s joy”30. The Zukofskys’ version makes the line into a direct yet strange expression of the speaker’s feelings, translating atque ero gaude (“and rejoice at the master”) as: “I choir your good”31. Clearly, “choir” is to be interpreted here on the analogy of “sing” used transitively to mean “sing of”, though Webster’s lists “choir” as an intransitive verb only. The rhythmic effect of the repetition of \ai\ in “I choir” makes it an emotional superlative, an effect of orality in the sense in which Meschonnic understands this term—as a mode of enunciation in which rhythm and prosody play the principal role32. At the same time, “I choir”, associating a singular pronoun with a verb of collective or plural meaning, functions as a lexical and syntactic problem, a paradoxical representation of the poem’s lyric subject, a figure of the many-voiced activity of translation itself.

  • 33  D. Mulroy, op. cit., xxxii.

25In his introduction to his excellent translations of Catullus, David Mulroy suggests that Roman poetry arises out of a culture which is still “primitive” in regard to Greek society, in which “personal poetry” is still possible; of Catullus, he affirms, “he revisited poetry’s ultimate source”33. Catullus thus functions as the classic guarantor of authentic lyric speech; in consequence, Mulroy’s translation calls upon all the resources of colloquial English in order to make Catullus our contemporary. In Zukofsky’s case, estranging the classic means making the lyric subject problematic, by reading Latin against English, by translating the absence, in Latin, of the subject pronoun “I” as a mark of indefinition, making the English “I” less an entity than a site of interactions. As such, the Zukofskys’ translations must be read as a critique of the individual and the culture of the individual, of poetry as lyric self-expression, of writing which validates the empire’s political and economic creed. Yet the orality of Zukofsky’s language is a mode of subjectivation, which underlines the indefinition of English itself. In the Zukofskys’ Catullus a self continually emerges as the strangeness of its language.

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Works cited

CARPENTER Humphrey, A Serious Character. The Life of Ezra Pound, New York: Delta Books, 1988.

CATULLUS Gaius Valerius, Catullus, Tibullus, and Pervergilium Veneris, F. W. Cornish, et al., translators, second edition, revised by G. P. GOOLD, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard UP & London: Heinemann, [1913] 1988.

FERGUSON John, Catullus, New Surveys in the Classics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.

MESCHONNIC Henri, Poétique du traduire, Lagrasse : Verdier, 1999.

MULROY David, The Complete Poetry of Catullus, translated with commentary by David MULROY, Madison, Wis.: U of Wisconsin P, 2002.

POUND Ezra, The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, D. D. PAIGE (ed.), New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950.

–––, Poems and Translations, Richard SIEBURTH (ed.), New York: Library of America, 2003.

PROPERTIUS Sextus Aurelius, Propertius, H. E. Butler, translator, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard UP & London: Heinemann, [1912] 1958.

STEVENS Wallace, “Adagia”, in Opus Posthumous, Milton J. Bates (ed.), New York: Vintage, 1990.

THOMSON D.F.S., Catullus, edited with a textual and interpretative commentary by D. F. S. THOMSON, Toronto & London: U of Toronto P, 1997.

VENUTI Lawrence, The Translator’s Invisibility. A History of Translation, London: Routledge, 1995.

ZUKOFSKY Celia & Louis, Catullus (Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber), translated by Celia and Louis Zukofsky, in Complete Short Poetry, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.

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1  Celia and Louis Zukofsky, translators, Catullus (Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber), in Complete Short Poetry, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991. It appears that Celia Zukofsky prepared a literal translation for each line of the poem, with metrical and grammatical indications; working with this material, Louis Zukofsky then produced the translations. See the account in Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility. A History of Translation, London: Routledge, 1995, 214-215.

2  Ibid., 243.

3  Quoted in John Ferguson, Catullus, New Surveys in the Classics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, 40.

4  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 243.

5  In The Translator’s Invisibility. A History of Translation (London:  Routledge, 1995), Lawrence Venuti makes the Zukofskys’ Catullus a central (and rare) example of the marginal and subversive effect of what he calls modernist translation, characterized in his view by “discursive heterogeneity” (202): by multiplying registers and styles, by introducing archaisms and contemporary slang, their versions “signify” the foreignness of the original text, put into question the dogma of transparence. At the same time, however, Venuti notes that Catullus is an “abusive” translation in that it introduces “translation effects that work only in English” (220). For Venuti, then, the work’s strangeness is itself a criterion of value; yet this strangeness is almost uniquely envisaged in lexical terms. Strangeness in itself, much less lexical strangeness, does not suffice to establish the value of the Zukofskys’ translation as writing; this resides in the way it puts the lyric subject into question, in the way its translation from Latin rewrites the grammar of enunciation in English, as I will try to show fragmentarily further on.  

6  D. F. S. Thomson (ed.), Catullus, edited with a textual and interpretative commentary, Toronto & London: U of Toronto P, 1997, 337.

7  Gaius Valerius Catullus, [Works,] in Catullus, Tibullus, and Pervergilium Veneris, F. W. Cornish, et al., translators, second edition, revised by G.P. Goold, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard UP, and London: Heinemann, [1913] 1988, 62.  All quotations from Catullus’s poems are from this edition.

8   D. F. S.Thomson, Ibidem.

9  David Mulroy, The Complete Poetry of Catullus, translated with commentary by David Mulroy, Madison, Wis.: U of Wisconsin P, 2002, 42.

10  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 270.

11  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 36.

12  Ibid., 37.

13  D. Mulroy, op. cit., 25.

14  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 259.

15  Henri Meschonnic, Poétique du traduire, Lagrasse : Verdier, 1999, 151.

16  Ibid., 139.

17  Ibidem, 248.

18  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 158.

19  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 308.

20  Sextus Aurelius Propertius, Elegies, Book II.ii.2; in Propertius, H.E. Butler (Trans.), Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard UP & London:  Heinemann, [1912] 1958, 178.

21  Ezra Pound, Poems and Translations, Richard Sieburth (ed.), New York: Library of America, 2003, 528.

22  Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character. The Life of Ezra Pound, New York: Delta Books, 1988, 340.

23  Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, D.D. Paige (ed.), New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950, 148, 230.

24  E. Pound, op. cit.,231.

25  Wallace Stevens, “Adagia”, in Opus Posthumous, Milton J. Bates (ed.), New York: Vintage, 1990, 202.

26  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 162.

27 Ibid., 163.

28  Zukofsky, op. cit.,310.

29  G. V. Catullus, op. cit., 36.

30 Ibid., 37.

31  C. & L. Zukofsky, op. cit., 259.

32  Attempting to work around the binary opposition between oral and written which the traditional use of this notion implies, Meschonnic makes orality a potential modality of both spoken and written discourses: « L’oral est compris comme le primat du rythme et de la prosodie dans l’énonciation » (H. Meschonnic, op. cit., 117). Identified partially with the system of relations between signifiers based on speechsound patterning, orality becomes another way of talking about the “force” of a text.

33  D. Mulroy, op. cit., xxxii.

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Andrew Eastman, « Estranging the Classic: The Zukofskys’ Catullus », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VII – n°2 | 2009, 117-129.

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Andrew Eastman, « Estranging the Classic: The Zukofskys’ Catullus », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VII – n°2 | 2009, mis en ligne le 02 juin 2009, consulté le 26 mai 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.312

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Andrew Eastman

(Strasbourg, France)
Andrew Eastman est Maître de Conférences à l’Université de Strasbourg. Il travaille sur les rapports entre rythme et subjectivité dans la poésie américaine. Ses publications récentes incluent “ ’Barbarous Green’: The Sound of Color in Stevens”, Les Cahiers du CICLas 9, novembre 2006, 71-81 ; “Reading as Intimacy: Susan Howe’s The Midnight”, Interfaces 28, 2008, 149-158.

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