But oh, I suppose she was ugly; she wasn't elegant;
I hadn't yearned for her often in my prayers.
Yet holding her I was limp, and nothing happened at all:
I just lay there, a disgraceful load for her bed.
I wanted it, she did too; and yet no pleasure came
from the part of my sluggish loins that should bring joy.
The girl entwined her ivory arms around my neck
(her arms were whiter than the Sithonian snows) ,
and gave me greedy kisses, thrusting her fluttering tongue,
and laid her eager thigh against my thigh,
and whispering fond words, called me the lord of her heart
and everything else that lovers murmur in joy.
And yet, as if chill hemlock were smeared upon my body,
my numb limbs would not act out my desire.
I lay there like a log, a fraud, a worthless weight;
my body might as well have been a shadow.
What will my age be like, if old age ever comes,
when even my youth cannot fulfill its role?
Ah, I'm ashamed of my years. I'm young and a man: so what?
I was neither young nor a man in my girlfriend's eyes.
She rose like the sacred priestess who tends the undying flame,
or a sister who's chastely lain at a dear brother's side.
But not long ago blonde Chlide twice, fair Pitho three times,
and Libas three times I enjoyed without a pause.
Corinna, as I recall, required my services
nine times in one short night - and I obliged!
Has some Thessalian potion made my body limp,
injuring me with noxious spells and herbs?
Did some witch hex my name scratched on crimson wax
and stab right through the liver with slender pins?
By spells the grain is blighted and withers to worthless weeds;
by blighting spells the founts run out of water.
Enchantment strips the oaks of acorns, vines of grapes,
and makes fruit fall to earth from unstirred boughs.
Such magic arts could also sap my virile powers.
Perhaps they brought this weakness on my thighs,
and shame at what happened, too; shame made it all the worse:
that was the second reason for my collapse.
Yet what a girl I looked at and touched - but nothing more!
I clung to her as closely as her gown.
Her touch could make the Pylian sage feel young again,
and make Tithonus friskier than his years.
This girl fell to my lot, but no man fell to hers.
What will I ask for now in future prayers?
I believe the mighty gods must rue the gift they gave,
since I have treated it so shabbily.
Surely, I wanted entry: well, she let me in.
Kisses: I got them. To lie at her side: There I was.
What good was such great luck - to gain a powerless throne?
What did I have, except a miser's gold?
I was like the teller of secrets, thirsty at the stream,
looking at fruits forever beyond his grasp.
Whoever rose at dawn from the bed of a tender girl
in a state fit to approach the sacred gods?
I suppose she wasn't willing, she didn't waste her best
caresses on me, try everything to excite me!
That girl could have aroused tough oak and hardest steel
and lifeless boulders with her blandishments.
She surely was a girl to rouse all living men,
but then I was not alive, no longer a man.
What pleasure could a deaf man take in Phemius' song
or painted pictures bring poor Thamyras?
But what joys I envisioned in my private mind,
what ways did I position and portray!
And yet my body lay as if untimely dead,
a shameful sight, limper than yesterday's rose.
Now, look! When it's not needed, it's vigorous and strong;
now it asks for action and for battle.
Lie down, there - shame on you! - most wretched part of me.
These promises of yours took me before.
You trick your master, you made me be caught unarmed,
so that I suffered a great and sorry loss.
Yet this same part my girl did not disdain to take
in hand, fondling it with a gentle motion.
But when she saw no skill she had could make it rise
and that it lay without a sign of life,
'You're mocking me, ' she said. 'You're crazy! Who asked you
to lie down in my bed if you don't want to?
You've come here cursed with woolen threads by some Aeaean
witch, or worn out by some other love.'
And straightway she jumped up, clad in a flowing gown
(beautiful, as she rushed barefoot off) ,
and, lest her maids should know that she had not been touched,
began to wash, concealing the disgrace.
- translated from the Latin by Jon Corelis
Saturday, December 6, 2003