"My Sweetest Lesbia"
by Thomas Campion

My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love,
And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them : Heaven's great lamps do dive
Into their west, and straight again revive,
But soon as once set is our little light,
Then must we sleep one ever-during night.

If all would lead their lives in love like me,
Then bloody swords and armor should not be,
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
Unless alarm came from the camp of love.
But fools do live, and waste their little light,
And seek with pain their ever-during night.

When timely death my life and fortune ends,
Let not my hearse be vext with mourning friends,
But let all lovers, rich in triumph, come
And with sweet pastimes grace my happy tomb;
And, Lesbia, close up thou my little light,
And crown with love my ever-during night.

"Vivamvs, mea Lesbia"
Catullus 5

Vivamvs, mea Lesbia, atque amenus,
    rumoresque senum severiorum,
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
    soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux,
    nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
    dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum
    dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
    aut nequis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
(63 b.c.)
Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, 
and value at one cent all the talk of crabbed old men. 
    Suns may set and rise again.  For us, when the short light has once set, remains to be slept the sleep of one unbroken night. 
     Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then  another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet  another thousand, then a hundred. Then, when we  have made up many thousands, we will confuse our  counting, that we may not know the  reckoning, nor  any malicious person blight them with evil eye, when  he knows that our kisses are so many.

The question students usually ask about this poem is why a man was writing to a woman named Lesbia.  To get the answer, we must go back a bit.

Campion's poem starts with a translation from Catullus 5.  Catullus (84-54 b.c.) was a poet writing in Rome during the time of Julius Caesar in the 1st century b.c.  "Lesbia," who was in many of his poems, was Catullus' nickname for Clodia, wife of Q. Metellus Celer.  Catullus had grown up in Verona & moved to Rome when he was 21 years old in 61 b.c.  Clodia spotted him about a year later.  Powerful and beautiful, she had affairs with several young men, but Catullus was surprised when she dumped him and moved on to her next boy toy.  Catullus 5 reflects the time when they were happy together.

So then, why would CATULLUS pick "Lesbia" as the nickname for Claudia?

  1. The names had the same number of syllables and length of syllables--long, short, short.  They would fit into a line interchangibly, so he could read the poems to her with her name, then give it to his friends using the name Lesbia.
  2. There is a Greek island called Lesbos.  The most famous person from Lesbos was the Greek poet Sappho, who wrote in the 6th cen b.c.  She was probably the first poet to be known as much for her lifestyle as for her poetry.  Sappho was bisexual & supposedly killed herself because she fell in love with a  man who didn't return her affections.  At the time of Catullus, the term lesbian (Lesbous) indicated a woman who was sexually experienced and adventurous.  The modern meaning came along later.
1-6 "My Sweetest Lesbia" - the theme of the poem is carpe diem - "seize the day." This is the traditional theme that we must live now because we don't have forever.  The sun & moon set & rise daily, but when our day (life) is over, we won't have another one.

After line 6, Campion parts company with Catullus, whose poem reminds me of the one Roger Rabbit wrote to Jessica:

Dear Jessica. 
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000, 4-1000...

Instead of following Catullus and Roger Rabbit, Campion in stanza 2 says people should be like him - a lover, not a fighter.  Make love, not war.  But people seek to die painfully and prematurely in vain battle.

Campion concludes by looking ahead to his own death, which will be happy if he has known Lesbia's love during his life.