Ben Lareau

a phonetic translation of Catullus

Catullus # XLII

Adeste, hendecasyllabic, quo testis
omnes undique, quotquot estis omnes.
iocum me putat esse moecha turpis,
et negat mihi vestra reddituram
pugillaria, si pati potestis
persequamur eam, et reflagitemus.
quae sit, quaeritis. Illa, quam videtis
turpe incedere, mimice ac moleste
ridentem catuli ore Gallicani.
cirumsistite eam, et reflagitate,
“moecha putida, redde codicillos.
non assis facis? o lutum, lupanar,
aut si perditius potes quid esse.
sed non est tamen hoc satis putandum.
quod si non aliud potest, ruborem
ferreo canis exprimamus ore:
conclamate iterum altiore voce
“moecha putida, redde codicillos,
redde, putida moecha, codicillos.”
sed nil proficimus, nihil movetur.
mutandast ratio modusque vobis,
suquid proficiere amplius potestis:
“pudica et proba, redde codicillos.”


I dressed, then checked the syllabi. What is this?
“Om” on a Sunday? What? What is this Ominous
Yolk from me? But that S.M.O. chatterpiss
Ate nougat. My hives traded
Your amp, Aguilera. See Patty protest this
Purse. Aquamarine tree: flag it. Emus
Weighs it: “Queer it is.” Illaqua, my vet, is
Trippin’: “My mice sack moles to
Ride in them—cat you’ll be, or golly, can ye?”
Circumcist I am! Yet Reef’ll agitate
Moe: “didja put Ida’s redi codicil…oh…its
Ready? Put tide, Moe: Calk Odysseus.”
No Nazis face this? O lute, I’m loopin’ a rout!
Sea perditious! But the squiddess
Said an honest “amen.” Hawks ate his new tandem.
What, Is he not allowed protest? Rubber ‘em
For Rio Canis. Sex-free mama’s sore.
Can claim it rum, all to your “voce.”
Mocha Puttee: “The Red cod is ill? Oh.”
Red Puttee: “The mocha is ill? Oh.”
Said an ill prof: I see Imus.
Kermit and Astor show mod-esque crow-bisque.
I’d preface her ‘ample.’ I? You? Us? Protest this:
“Pudicate pro dared decode” is silly, yes?

Note on the poem: I originally created this as part of a seminar on translations. To be honest, phonetic translations struck me at the time as being little more than a silly exercise - which is why I chose to do one. I wanted to see if there was something I wasn’t getting as far as their seriousness was concerned. What I found was surprising, and rather enjoyable. Normally I work in prose, and so I had a kind of gut-level need to bring everything as close to grammatical correctness as possible. This made the results rather different from the usual string of nonsensical but right-sounding words one finds in a phonetic translation. For one, the repeated sounds of the original give rise to repeated sounds in the finished product, creating a recurring theme of complaint and protest. This theme is, oddly enough, deeply embedded in the original as well: in it, the speaker is arguing with a “lady of the night” who has taken his wallet.

Ben Lareau is an English teacher at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming, where he teaches composition and the occasional literature class. He and his wife live in a small apartment with three cats they rescued from the streets of Bangor, Maine.