WHEN Lesbia lived, a lady with a home in Rome,
The streets were doubtless dusty as they are to-day;
Chariots roared in perfect torrents down the Appian Way, they say;
While we know her house was crowded, for trecentos, maybe more,
Were the lovers she admitted from the number at the door;
And the one who was a poet sang about it all and swore.
Lesbia illa, illa Lesbia — she was enough to make any poet want to take
Long vacations in the country, and he took his by the lake;
By the one called then Benacus; he had a villa there;
Suso in Italia bella; all the poets say how fair
Was venusta Sirmio, where Catullus used to go
Quamque lœtus in the summer to spend a month or so.
It is fair still, all in ruins, and the tourist in his car,
Turning from the scrambling village to the sudden silver shore
Where the ilex and the olives and those empty arches are,
Is confronted by a beauty he has never met before.
Although but a hardened tourist he is troubled and he feels —
As best he can for plucking agile urchins from the wheels
Where they climb, imploring pennies, Dante’s music on their tongue —
That he has been long deluded and, when all is said and sung,
Fate was kinder to Catullus than biography reveals.
Life was something more than Lesbia. She was trying, it is true; but could she do
With all her sins and suitors anything to dim the blue
Of the days and dreams that drew him here each year a month or two?
For Lesbia and her sparrow, in spite of all he said,
Were two sad birds of the city; one was old and one was dead.
Loves and graces might lament him, — passer mortuus est, —
But to one who reads about it now it seems all for the best.
Those were fits of Roman fever and one feels they found no place
With the ilex and the olives and the Lydian lake’s embrace.
O Lydiœ lacus undœ, lying in your mountain bed
With the evening and the morning weaving splendors for your head,
You were an immortal mistress clothed in undiminished grace,
Wearing azure on your bosom and all heaven in your face. . . .
If one cultivates the classics one should surely see the spot
On the beach at Sirmione that they call Catullus’ grot —
And then try to think the poet was unhappy. He was not.