Louis Zukofsky's Catullus [New York-London, Cape Goliard Press in Association with Grossman, 1969], stands as one of the major works of literature of the 20th Century, right alongside Ulysses, The Waste Land, Mrs. Dalloway, Spring & All, Harmonium, The Naked Lunch, Light in August; in other words, in the company of those works which propose revolutionary, new paradigmatic conceptions of form and method. Of that company, it's the only one which is a work of translation, and as such, occupies a nearly unique place as an act of innovation. In his very brief Preface to Catullus, Zukofsky says "This translation of Catullus follows the sound, rhythm, and syntax of his Latin--tries, as is said, to breathe [my italic] the "literal" meaning with him."
Zukofsky proposed making a translation of Catullus's original Latin texts by following, as closely as might be possible, the sequence of vowel sounds inherent in the Latin words of the poems. Why? In other words, is there any necessary relationship between the sequence of vowel sounds in an original poem composed in Latin, in the 1st Century BC, and the possible imitated sequence of similar (not identical) vowel sounds in 20th Century English, and the inherent linguistic meanings which might be common to both?
Let's look at an example of one of Catullus's poems, one which, conveniently enough, Zukofsky had translated in an earlier, (Poundian) "imagined" style, then compare the two methods. Here is a translation LZ made of Carmina VIII, the 22nd poem in his separate collection Anew published in 1946:
In almost every respect, this is a poem composed in the usual style common to every "adapted" version. A free verse monologue set as dramatic speech, it could be the "complaint" of any love-sick hero, attempting to console himself with false courage and resignation.
Now let's see how Zukofsky does it in his "breathed" version:
Here is the original Latin:
I took one year of Latin in grade-school, perhaps just enough to be able to sound out the syllables properly, but without much conviction. From a pragmatic point of view, what purpose might we put to an attempted version, like LZ's abstract, syllabic one--which relies on the concatenation of syllables from the other language? It's immediately apparent that the common sound phonemes and syllabic units between Latin and English are predictably exploited, i.e., "miserable" and "miss her." The different versions "say" the same thing, though in much different ways--
Come on, Catullus, you can
But you, Catullus, your destiny's obdurate.
Latin: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo
LZ version: Piping, beaus, I'll go whoosh and I'll rumble you
The literal translation of which, for those of stout mien, is "I will bugger you and face-fuck you."