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The Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

18-and-under category, second prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2016 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


George Jones

Catullus 13


You'd dine well with me, my Fabullus,
In a few days' time. If the gods favour you that is,
And only if you bring along a proper meal,
And wine, and wit too, and laughter for all –
Not forgetting to bring a beautiful date.
I dare say, you charmer, if you bring all these,
You will dine well. Trouble is, my small wallet
Is only filled with cobwebs.

But in return, you'd receive pure love,
Or maybe something more elegant, more delightful:
I'll give you the perfume,
Which the Venuses and Cupids gave to my girl.
And once you've smelled it, Fabullus,
You'll beg the gods to make you all nose.

Translated from the Latin by George Jones
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Carmen 13


Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

Catullus
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Translation commentary

I first encountered Catullus in my studies at school. After studying a few of his Carmina in class, I decided I wanted to continue reading his work, both in the original and in translation. This particular poem was attractive to me as it gives an insight of how Catullus acted toward his friends, and shows his deep pride in his girl, Clodia. It was his line saying that his purse was filled with cobwebs which made my decision to choose this poem for this translation. I felt that I can somewhat relate to Catullus, and his overwhelming pleasure for Lesbia in the poem; I find it very satisfying to see that, even in ancient times, the human condition was not too dissimilar to how it is today. It was tricky to form a translation I could be pleased with, as the Latin naturally translates to a rather high register in English. Personally, I saw this poem as being a casual piece, written for a friend. I tried to recreate this tone in my translation by using less formal phrases in English.

George Jones