Hard to believe perhaps, but Catullus
is not without magnanimity –
whatever people say. Nervy Quintius
sits up all night drafting an exquisite apology,
one demanding new feats of masochism.
Otherwise, Quintius is convinced,
Catullus will trash his latest eclogues
because of that historic faux pas of his:
the one Quintius has regretted for twenty years.
Young they both were, newly published,
with equal billing at the notorious gallery:
the voguish one will those suspect nudes.
Why, why, why, Quintius berates himself,
did he read for so long – an hour longer
than intended, someone rumoured:
leaving Catullus with less than a minute
(which he filled suavely, smilingly,
with a one-line poem). On and on it goes:
self-flagellation followed by recrimination.
Quintius’ guilt is torrential, and for once
he can’t blame anyone but himself.
What he doesn’t realise
is that there’s no need for these
orgasms of remorse. Catullus,
when he reads Quintius’ abject letter,
can’t even recall the occasion:
not the gallery, not the epic poems,
not the young man’s hubris,
not even the flagrant nudes on the wall.
Catullus had just fallen in love with Lesbia,
and he was beyond hearing, beyond insult.
(from The Catullan Rag)
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