Remember how some ancient wise ass said “the vows of women should be written in wind and running water?” Well, that was Catullus—more than a thousand years before Donne’s “Song (Go and Catch a Falling Star)” continued the long literate attack on women’s “constancie”. (Guinevere, anyone?)
In thrall to Molly Arden’s terrific toilet-mouthed translation, I’m adding an exerpt of Anne Carson’s “Catullus: Carmina” from her Men in the Off Hours (Knopf, 2000). In each of this longer poem’s little sections, Carson adapts a verse from Catullus. Here’s her take on the “wind and running water” riff…
Nulli Se Dicit Mulier Mea Nubere Malle (No One She Says)
Catullus wonders about lovers’ oaths
No one but you she says she swore.
Why one night a god threw open the door.
I loved you more.
River river river river river river river
from Anne Carson, Men in the Off Hours
Thank goodness women started writing! While the Jacobeans (mostly men) took this issue of women’s vows particularly seriously, current country artists such as woman-crooner Terri Clark seem more inclined to look askance at the honesty of young men like, say, Catullus.