They exhibit the sensual grossness which is imbibed from depraved habits and loose imaginations, in singular contrast with gleams of sentiment and taste, and the polish of intellectual cultivation. Many of his amatory trifles are quite unrivalled in the elegancy of their playfulness, and no author has excelled him in the purity and neatness of his style, the delightful ease and racy simplicity of his manner, and his graceful turns of thought and happiness of expression. But many of his poems are stained by gross coarseness and sensuality, which will forever be a bar to their being generally read.Not true. People still read Catullus, and not least the poems he wrote for a lover he called "Lesbia." She had a pet sparrow, and when it died, he wrote a tender "Elegy" which not only celebrates the little bird, but reminds us to feel with a girl's grief.
Translated by Francis Fawkes in the 1770's, with the immediate and honest styling of that era:
All ye gentle powers above,
Venus, and thou god of love;
All ye gentle souls below,
That can melt at others' woe,
Lesbia's loss with tears deplore,
Lesbia's sparrow is no more:
Late she wont her bird to prize
Dearer than her own bright eyes.
Sweet it was, and lovely too,
And its mistress well it knew.
Nectar from her lips it sipt,
Here it hopt, and there it skipt:
Oft it wanton'd in the air,
Chirping only to the fair:
Oft it lull'd its head to rest
On the pillow of her breast.
Now, alas! it chirps no more;
All its blandishments are o'er:
Death has summon'd it to go
Pensive to the shades below;
Dismal regions! from whose bourn
No pale travellers return.
Death! relentless to destroy
All that's form'd for love or joy.
Joy is vanished, love is fled,
For my Lesbia's sparrow's dead.
Lo, the beauteous nymph appears
Languishingly drown'd in tears!
(And here I cannot resist adding the super-snarky commentary of the Victorian writer above: "The lady-love who is the theme of the greater number of Catullus' amatory effusions is styled Lesbia, but her real name was Clodia, of whom nothing in praise could be said but that she possessed beauty and accomplishments.")